Burning Water

There are two major uses to which contemporary society puts the high country above the dry Okanagan Valley: water collection for settlement use, and forestry. As I suggested yesterday, the two are very closely related. Today, I made a trip to Spallumcheen, to bring you a look at the local plywood plant, but from a more watery angle…

Plywood Plant, Spallumcheen

Using our petroleum resources to vent our water into the sky.

Let’s look at the numbers…Douglas Fir is approximately 55% water when harvested and about 19% once it has passed through the drying kilns. The rest of the water is lost to the air. But that’s not all.Douglas fir trees capture approximately 75% of the water that falls on land they occupy, leaving 25% of rain and snowfall available for irrigation and civic purposes. The sticky point is that there are more trees than there used to be, which means that while human population climbs, available water declines. Because of fire suppression, contemporary Interior British Columbia forests are often between 100% and 1000% denser than they were a century ago. It all depends on which forests, of course, but even using the lower range of figures, of a 100% increase in forest density, it suggests that if we brought back our forests to their traditional concentrations and managed them for water, rather than for fire, we would free up half of the 75% of water currently being used by trees, or 37.5% of available water.

Considering that we are currently drawing on 25% of water, and assuming that a third of the newly-available water would go into supporting lower vegetation and other natural processes, we could, perhaps, double the water available to residents of the valley.

Even if I’m 100% wrong with my numbers, which I doubt, there’s still this:

Waste Water

…or wasted water?

Using a drying rate of 62% on the Okanagan Annuable Allowable Cut of 3,375,000 cubic metres of wood, I estimate that roughly 1,046,250 cubic metres of water derived by very expensively hauling wood down from the hills and heating it in large covered sheds is vented to the air in the Okanagan every year.

That’s 230,142,826 gallons, or 1,150,714,130 litres. To put it another way: That’s 1 billion, one hundred fifty million, seven hundred fourteen thousand, one hundred and thirty litres of water. Gone.

We reclaim sawdust and bark that used to be burnt in beehive burners. We scrub smoke stacks for chemicals. And we throw that water away?


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