Discover more from Climate Water Project
2022 in review: Climate Water Project
exploring the topography of the regenerative water paradigm and highlighting the underutilized acupoints for eco and climate restoration through essays, podcasts, and workshops
Thank for all your support and readership of this newsletter/podcast as it has grown this year. I really appreciate it. Thanks for sharing the articles and getting the word out to the world.
Here are some of the articles and podcasts from this year, in chronological order with links to them in the Climate Water Project newsletter. A lot of the articles and podcasts interlink, and build on, and use each others ideas.
“Solutions to drought, fires and floods” was about the increasingly worsening feedback loop of drought-fire-flood cycle that many places in the world are caught in, and how we can shift out of it by restoring the landscapes ability to absorb rainfall, taking down dams and lessening the mass transportation of aqueducted water, by shifting our farms to regenerative agricultural methods that are more water efficient, and shifting our urban areas to recycle stormwater so they need less water from elsewhere.
“Rehydrating California to prevent wildfires” was a discussion on how we can stop the loss of continental water, and hydrate the landscape in California, bring back wetlands, and naturally cool and moisten the hot dry winds that cause the wildfires. (* see my podcast interview with hydroclimatologist Millan Millan where his work predicted California would be experiencing wildfires in the last couple of years because of the way Californians have been degrading the land and destroying the small water cycle)
“Secrets of groundwater” was a look at what scientists have been discovering about the behavior of tree roots and groundwater. Tree roots bring up groundwater during the dry season, and with the help of mycelia pass it around to the soil to hydrate the landscape. During wet season the tree roots can push the excess surface water downwards into aquifers below. This process is called hydraulic redistribution.
To me groundwater and hydraulic redistribution point towards an approach to lessening wildfires that a lot more people should be advocating. If communities work to increase the groundwater level to one where the tree roots can then bring the groundwater up, then landscapes can be more hydrated into fire season. Communities can do this with a variety of techniques, from swales, check dams and improving soil quality. In this podcast, Helen Dahlke talks about how we can replenish aquifers on a large scale by flooding our lands and farms with wet season excess stormwater.
“A pattern language for ecorestoration” was born out of multiple attempts to figure out how to put into a coherent form guidelines for water restoration, and was born out of a collective group discussion and intiative about how to collect the ideas of ecorestoration into a usable form. The idea of pattern languages was invented by Christopher Alexander in regards to working out livable ways for housing and village design, and has since been extended to various domains.
“Slow water” was inspired by Erika Gies, author of the recently published book, “Water always wins”, who called for a slow water movement. She suggested the use of the hashtag #slowwater. When I first read of her work, I remember thinking that’s a great name for building a movement around water: it connotes what we should do with water, slowing it so it can infiltrate into the landscape. It is a catchy name so it makes you want to inquire about it more, and it makes you think of Slow Food and Slow Money, other movements that it holds a lot in common with. I then got the pleasure of connecting with her in person months later and learning more about her work. I shared the slow water idea at a water conference, after which Brock Dolman, who invented the dictum “slow it sink it spread it” came up to me and told me he had also independently tried to get a slow water movement going back in the 2000’s.
My “Slow water” article was my attempt to wrap my head around all the different aspects of the paradigm, and what it could entail. It took me about 80 hours to ponder, connect different dots, flesh out ideas, and then write about it.
We have tentatively begun exploring the possibility of having regional slow water dialogues to help communities activate themselves. We’ve been talking to villages in Congo experiencing water scarcity, about them having community dialogues to discuss their water problems, and to look at how slowing and storing rainy season water for the dry season could help. I am intrigued with the possibility of towns in recently flooded places like Australia, Pakistan, Greece, British Colombia, South Africa, and Belgium, hosting slow water dialogues to activate the community around slow water flood solutions, and have reached out to some people in those areas in this regards.
A goal of mine in this water work is to awaken the world to the need to restore our water cycles for the environment, for the climate, and for our water needs. The world knows about how important it is to drawdown carbon, but it doesn’t yet know about how important it is to restore the water systems of the earth. As the drought-fire-flood cycles worsen, it becomes harder every year to ecoregenerate our lands to get out of this cycle. Water restoration is urgent.
As the readership of this newsletter/podcast grew this year, I began to realize that this was a good vehicle to get the word out about the importance of regenerative water to climate and ecology, to develop a coherent conceptual grammar to bring some cohesion to the multitude of approaches and ideas in this multidisciplinary field, to highlight academic research that could point to underutilized acupoints that people on the ground can use to restore our eco-water-climate systems, to bring attention to the successful work people in the fields are doing regionally, so that others can replicate it, to help people network with others in the field, and to be a cheerleader for a community-driven, decentralized approach to water restoration. Its a young field, and so is not characterized by a standard textbook approach like that for more established fields. Water is a complex system, and how all the different parts interact to emerge a greater whole is not necessarily evident if you only look at one aspect of it. Many linear cause and effect concepts like climate affects biology, rain affects plants, or rain affects groundwater, turns out to be in reality to be more a feedback loop of causality, with the arrow of causality also pointing in the other direction: biology affects climate, plants affect rain, and groundwater affects rain.
As this newsletter evolved I felt I was taking a role of a researcher-journalist-educator-cheerleader. A researcher in the sense of reading many scientific papers, studying field examples, developing conceptual constructs (I will talk more about my space-time diagrams for water, thoughts about how water works as a self organized criticality system and other ideas at some point), and trying to figure out theorems about how different parts of the ecohydroclimatological system was working. A journalist in the sense of reporting what different people were doing, crafting stories of what was happening in the water world, and studying the art of writing so that I can better convey the multitude of levels and angles from which one can understand any water related situation. An educator in trying to bring people up to speed on the various aspects of water. And a cheerleader to give props to people doing great things in the field, and to encourage other to follow their lead.
Many people let me know there were learning a lot through the newsletter which then gave me more motivation to spend more time writing and researching and recording these essays and podcasts. This year I have been teaching workshops, writing this newsletter, working with others to put on water events, helping facilitate water councils, digging swales, and building check dams, in a mostly volunteer capacity. If you appreciate please consider supporting me financially as a paid subscriber, or you can donate to my paypal at email@example.com . And thank you to those of you who have become paid subscribers this year.
As I began putting out articles for this newsletter earlier this year, Judith Schwartz, author of “Water in Plain Sight” introduced me to hydroclimatologist Millan Millan to do an interview, whose work I had been admiring from afar, and this set me on the path of recording podcasts with people. Thanks Judith.
Below is info on the different podcasts. You can download the podcasts to your phone on the Substack app. I have also started putting some of them up the Climate Water Project channel on Apple podcasts and Spotify.
Quotes below have been lightly edited for readability.
Thanks to all my guests for sharing their knowledge and insights.
Millan Millan “Land use and Climate Change”
Hydroclimatologist Millan Millan was one of the original researchers who brought to light how land degradation lead to less rain through the lessening of the small water cycle. He also pointed out the drought-fire-flood cycle, and how rain stagnation in Spain could lead to floods in other parts of Europe. His work in 1997 already pointed to how California fires would start happening twenty years later.
In the podcast excerpt below he talks about when he was working for the European commision, and was asked why the rain was lessening.
Millan Millan : “The information came in that there was a perceived loss of Mediterranean storms, and I was assigned to look into it. Most of the Mediterranean used to be covered with marshes as far as 2000 as years ago, and at that time it rained quite a bit, equivalent to 2000 liters per square meter per year. Recently, as people filled in the coastal marshes and lagoons, as power plants, oil refineries, and housing were built, the amount of water being driven in by the sea breeze went down, as did the frequency of the storms.
As sea breezes blows inland from the sea, the air has a water content of 14 grams per kilogram of air. It heats up by 16 degrees by the time it reaches 80 kilometers inland, which then requires a water content of 21 grams per kilogram of air to condense into rain.
The sea breezes develop because there is differential heating between land and coast. That differential heat drives the sea breeze, and at the same time it contributes to heating up the air mass that comes in from the sea, and that added heat, what it makes, is that the cloud condensation level starts going up. And if you overheat the ground because you get rid of vegetation or you build up concrete surfaces, they add heat but they don’t add moisture. In the old times you have a certain amount of heating, and a certain amount of moisture added from vegetation. The land cools itself by evapotranspiring the water. Eventually the air humidity reaches a condensation point and you have a summer storm developing some time in the afternoon. And that cycle would go on for almost every day. And the following day the moist soil would contribute to the vegetation transpiring and put the moisture into the atmosphere again, and you would see the same amount of water going around and around for many days during the summer. If you change the land use cover you change that cycle. Our calculations show that as soon as you change an area 6 miles by 6 miles the precipitation downwind is already affected.
That is also true in the Amazon. They find that as soon as they cut down about 36 square miles, precipitation stopped over that area. In the tropics 65% of the water that comes down during the rainy season in the summer, is water that precipitated during the three previous days. So 65% of the 2000 liters per square meter per year of rain, which is about 1300 liters per square meter per year, is the amount of water the forest requires to keep recirculating so that your net gain is the difference. The water that ends up in the river is the other 35%, capturing 700 liters.
Land use alters hydrological cycle immediately. When you cut a forest, or when you build a road, there is immediate change of a little bit. People say its too little, but its not too little, when you add a little, and a little bit more, eventually you hit a threshold, a critical point, and after you cross that point, your regional precipitation disappears.
Our results was first presented in San Diego, California in 1997, and the head of US forest service at the time, a fellow called Miller, said “if you what you said applies in California we will have serious problems with forest fires in about 25 years”
Angelina Cook “Green and grey infrastructure for water”
Angelina Cook is head of a water council of a Californian town.
Angelina Cook : “Grey infrastructure refers to the built aspects of any given water system, so these include pipes, spring boxes, wells and dams, whereas the green infrastructure refers to the natural part of our water system, from forests to wetlands to rivers to the riparian zone. The state of California, in their legislation which provides funding for water security, has in the past devoted most of that funding to grey infrastructure improvements. As this drought has become so incessant and extreme, we are beginning to see you can’t build yourself out of a water crisis, that eventually you have to understand that the natural components in a water system can provide clean, cold freshwater for free.
Take a small community like mine, in the town of McCloud, California where we are entirely reliant on volcanic springs to provide our freshwater supply, our town has three dedicated spring. Up until recently our spring productively has been relatively stable even in the face of dwindling snow pack. But just last year our spring productivity in all three of our springs by half, so all of a sudden our water system is not as secure as we thought it was. A grey infrastructure solution would be to drill a well and to start sucking up groundwater. A green infrastructure solution would entail alpine meadow restoration, beaver reintroduction, and resilient forestry practices above the springs that supply our town. These solutions improve the rate at which water percolates into the ground and feeds the springs. California has a huge legacy of draining our wetlands. By restoring our wetlands and restoring our healthy forests, the upper watershed can store snowpack, it can naturally filter and purify the water. It creates more of that hydrological cycle that humanity has relied on since communities existed.”
David Maher “Natural Sequence Farming, Climate Change and Water”
David Maher worked with Peter Andrews who developed the Natural Sequence Farming methodology, studied with aborigines on water management. He has restored water cycles on many pieces of land.
David Maher discussed how we can restore the wetlands and natural water flow in the landscape. He also expounded on how important it is that the ecosystem evapotranspires water, so that the atmosphere will then have less sensible heat, and more latent heat. The ratio of sensible heat to latent is called the Bowen ratio, and David emphasized the importance of this ratio in understanding water’s affect on our climate. This ratio guides how heat and entropy are distributed on the earth. David surmises that one of the results of healthy distribution is that there will be less hurricanes and large storm events.
David discussed the importance of the idea of dissipative structures in understanding our climate. We need the vegetation to dissipate the energy on land, otherwise we end up with more energy in the atmosphere which leads to more extreme weather in the atmosphere.
I feel like what he is saying is important and on the right track, but am still pondering these ideas to try and make sense of it all. As a physicist I know the importance of the Ilya Prigogine’s dissipative structure framework, and feel like it holds the key to understanding how water and climate interact. Please listen to the podcast and let me know what you understand of his ideas around water and climate, are. Part of his interest in doing the podcast was to get people to think critically for themselves about these issues, and to put pieces of the puzzle together.
Nik Bertulis “Pee, Poo, Wastewater as Nutrient Water|
Nik is a water permaculturist and water innovator.
Nik talked about how our current model uses chemistry and physics to treat sewage, the chemistry being the chlorine and chlormine to disinfect it, and the metal floculants to separate solids and water, the physics being the trucks, pumps, tanks, and fans. He suggests that we are better off using biology, with the wetlands and microorganisms to cleansing the water.
He also discusses how poop, of both animals and humans, used to be a way the ecosystem spread seeds and nutrients. He talked about how we have hijacked this waste cycle, and how we might restore this cycle.
Elizabeth Dougherty “Stories of our Watersheds”
Elizabeth discusses how we can get our neighborhoods to tell the stories of our watersheds, and how we can enable action in our towns by bringing together the permaculturists (who have the water knowledge), with the civil engineers and government officials. Elizabeth was instrumental in getting California’s greywater laws passed.
She talks about how many of our neighborhoods have paved over our creeks. In her native area of San Francisco Bay area, she talks of how Berkely, Oakland, and San Francisco have paved over the creeks and how its a distant memory, and how telling stories can awaken us to bring them back. Nik Bertulis (of the above podcast) has gotten Oakland to ‘daylight’ a creek, meaning bringing a creek back to the surface.
Judith Schwartz “Animals are helping our water cycle”
Judith, author of ‘Water in Plain Sight’ talks about how we she went to Chihuahua, Mexico thinking she was going to do write about how necessary water was for biodiversity, and came away realizing that how important also that biodiversity was for water, how animals help the ecosystem get water. The animals help plants, and the plants store and evapotranspire that moisture. Animals help build the soil so it can absorb more water. Birds can disperse seeds to spread ecosystems. And animals can carry water in their stomachs and transporting it to other places. She saw how the use of animals on one piece of land, led to it being much more verdant than neighboring lands.
Francina Dominguez “How forests create rain”
Francina Dominguez is a hydroclimatologist at the University of Illinois, who found that forests help create rain by creating friction to slow the water vapor down. This is an interesting chain of causality that gives further credence to the idea that forests create rain.
Her climate models got different results than that of other models eg that of hydroclimatologist Antonio Nobre, which showed Amazon deforestration also led to loss of rain downwind in countries like Argentina. This illustrates some of the difficulties of understanding in figuring out what is exactly going on with rain and climate because of the multiple variables that have to be taken into account in global climate models. Francina’s models suggest deforestration brings bigger winds from the ocean, which suggests deforestration could lead to more extreme weather.
I asked Anastasia Makarieva about how the idea of forest friction creating rain meshes with her biotic pump theory. She said that if the biotic pump brings in water moisture it can then use the friction effect to create rain. I haven’t yet asked her about the part of deforestration leading to bigger winds.
Francina’s work has also found that groundwater contributes to rain, when trees bring up that groundwater and evapotranspire it.
From the podcast-
Francina: All the wind patterns and the circulation is affected when you deforest, so you are actually shifting the rain downwind. In order to have rain you need convergence of this moisture in a certain region. When you deforest you are creating divergence, you are taking this moisture from the region, and having it rain downwind.
The Amazonian deforestration has big local impacts, and in terms of the affect downwind of it , I don’t have enough evidence to link any kind of drought in Argentina to Amazonian deforestration. I do get asked this question a lot. When I started this research I thought for sure this is the case, but now I don’t know, none of my studies have conclusively shown this. The difference is that you have more water coming in from the ocean, so that even if you have less local water, you do not see a huge change in the precipitation in Argentina.
Alpha: Why is there more water coming in from the ocean when you deforest?
Francina: Because of circulation, this is the crazy thing about this problem, our hypothesis right now is that when you deforest you are creating a surface that is less rough, so the wind accelerates, so you have stronger winds over deforested regions, When you cut down all these tall trees, then you have an acceleration of the wind that then brings in more water from the ocean.
Me: Doesn’t water vapor flow at heights as high as 1000m, the trees are only about 20m tall, how can something like a tree that is 20m tall affect something as high as a 1000m?
Francina: Because surface roughness is super important up until the entire boundary level, which can be 2000 meter in height. So the surface roughness is a super important characteristic of the low level winds.
Alpha: So by analogy you can imagine a smooth pipe and a rough pipe, where the rough pipe would create a lot of turbulent flow as water flows through it.
Francina : Yes. If you deforest the Amazon, it will be warmer at the surface, you will have more convection, but on the other hand you also have less roughness. You have two types of turbulence, one type of turbulence is convection/buoyancy, and another type is turbulence because of the roughness. What we found is that in the Amazon the roughness is winning.
Many of these processes are a function of the scale that you are looking at. Most of the work has been done is done with global climate models which are coarse resolution, so they have to approximate what happens in a grid scale, it’s too big to be able to a convective storm or details of the topography, in general when you go to higher resolution you are able to get more realistic picture of what is going on. This work was done at 20 km resolution. At larger cells there are many approximations and parametizations, so at higher resolution you make less assumptions.
On groundwater-rain coupling:
Francina: When you are doing climate modelling, you are really interested in sources of memory, parts of the system that vary at long time scales. The ocean is currently the most important source of memory for the climate system, that’s why we need to get the oceans to get the climate right. One of the things my group is working on is groundwater, and it’s a similar problem in that the groundwater varies really slowly. If you have vegetation that taps into that groundwater they have this continuous source of moisture than if they just rely on precipitation. We have shown for South America that when you include groundwater, there is this large region of the La Plata region, you are better able to represent the precipitation and temperature patterns because you are representing the groundwater better. If you do not have the plants that can tap into this groundwater then you are not getting that biophysical mechanism that links the below ground to the atmosphere. So what we are trying to do, is that say okay most models have a maximum rooting depth of 2 meters, but in reality you can have 20 meter root systems, especially in the Amazon. If you include the groundwater and the roots are we able to capture the longer scale oscillations are we better able to represent precipitation patterns.
Alpha: We have wet season and dry season. In dry season the groundwater can evapotranspire to create rain, so there are less extremes of rain
Helen Dahlke “The plan to replenish our groundwater”
Helen Dahlke is professor of hydrology at University of California, Davis and implementing a program where excess rainwater from wet seasons and wet years are guided onto to farms to flood them, and then have the water seep into the aquifers.
Helen: Groundwater overdraft was a problem in California. We had a four year drought beginning in 2012, farmers were quickly were quickly realizing that with surface water declining, everyone was going to groundwater. California passed in 2014 a sustainable groundwater management act, which basically required more conscious of groundwater reserves. Continued dropping groundwater levels or loss of groundwater storage was not supported, so everyone has now 20 years to find a way of to develop a groundwater sustainable us. One way is to intentionally put more water into aquifers. In California we have a flashy climate, where we have years of little rain, and then sometimes we have very wet years, like in 2017, where we see major flooding. There is interest in how to utilize that water we see in those rare wet years, and store it away for dry periods. That is the motivation of this managed aquifer research. Because California is so big, we are talking about huge amounts of water that we are using.
The storage we have in reservoirs is limited, typically it only lasts two or three years if we are going into a drought period. Longer term storage of water can only really happen if we store it underground. People should remember that 97% of the freshwater we have on land is stored in aquifers.
Alpha: How much of California’s water supply is from groundwater
Helen: Long term average is about 40% if you look at the last 100 years. It varies regionally. In the northern part of California we get more precipitation, the southern part is very dry. In those southern areas communities and agriculture rely much more on groundwater, and have traditionally used more groundwater than has been replenished by precipitation. In Bakersfield has precipitation of 5-7 inches of year, if you are growing pistachios, almonds, walnuts you need 48-52 inches.
Alpha: You have been working with farms to recharge the aquifers, is this a voluntary process?
Helen: I reached out to extension farm advisors who could help connect me to farmers who might try this practice on their land. And we found a couple of farmers who were supportive of the idea.
Don Cameron, manager of Terranova ranch in the Central Valley, has built out a large infrastructure system on his farm at the cost of about 12 million dollar so he can pump floodwater onto his farm fields so it can infiltrate into the ground. We are looking at several thousand acre-feet. He is looking at recharging 6 to 20 feet the groundwater table when water is available. We are always looking for locations that have high recharge zones. This does not always work where there is on clay soils where infiltration rates are slow. It doesn’t give as much recharge as nice sandy soil.”
Minni Jain “Communities can portect themselves against floods and droughts”
Minni Jain, is director of The Flow Partnership which has helped enable thousands of communities to create water structures to slow and store the water.
Months after recording this podcast with her, we were working to start Slow Water dialogues in Congo to help the villagers get water, and in Pakistan to deal with the floods. I asked her to jump on the zoom call with the Congo villagers, and got to witness her bottom up decentralized approach to village activation. She emphasized to the Africans how they have to get their fellow villagers activated in figuring out the solution, and in implementing it, rather than depend so much on outside experts.
From our podcast: “A johad is a check dam that is an intervention that you build in the landscape especially along the flow path of water coming downhill of hill slopes. You build it in the right place where maximal water pools. These are traditional structures in Rajistran in India, because Ragistran is very dry and very desertified, and traditionally they had to hold to the water when the water fell during the months of the monsoon, if they didn’t then they had a dry year ahead of them. Essentially they are holding the water as it falls from the sky for the dry season.
The work we do, or we enable, or facilitate, is community-driven, decentralized water management. In places in Rajistran, there are traditional methods that their ancestors used. As the older generation was dying out that knowledge was going with them, so in the revival of that, there are traditional methods coming back.
A lot of our work is in facilitating that interaction of understanding of what communities need to know, one is what they are already know about water management traditionally, and two is what potentially what could help them from other communities and the scientific body.
We create the learning space to come into and make that available for them to learn from each other. We organize visits between communities. We create online forums.”
This is a reader supported publication. Thanks for your support this year! And if you wish to help fund my work in this regenerative water movement, please consider becoming a paid subscriber.