Nature’s Delicate Balance

Artwork by: Michael Grab

Artwork by: Michael Grab

 Recently I came across the art of Stone Balancing. I’ve seen this practice before along nature trails, but nothing as brilliant as the work of Michael Grab. Watching him put these structures together is fascinating, and you can see that it takes an extreme amount of patience and intuition to balance the rocks perfectly. It got me thinking about the vulnerability of nature, and how our actions on earth play into the cause and effect.

We learned in school about Newton’s Law of Motion, where all forces in nature have equal and opposite reaction. In other words, the forces of nature are working to find balance. When land is moved, wetlands are drained, minerals are mined, or any other major change to the landscape happens, the earth reacts accordingly.

Lately it’s been hard not to notice that the weather has been a little out of the ordinary. Whether or not humans have the ultimate ability to throw Mother Nature off course, it’s important to remember, like all things in life, our environment reflects its need to return to balance.

Think about what happens when it rains in a city. If the land is unable to absorb the precipitation slowly as it is supposed to, the rain causes flooding and the stormwater rushes into nearest stream. The stream then becomes overwhelmed and the outer edges erode, causing dirt and sediment to dump into the water. Not only that, but flooding also carries all other kinds of pollutants into the water. This is not how a watershed is supposed to operate, but obviously most of us living in the modern world do not want the earth to return to the way it was before humans settled it.

Alternatively, we could plan our development better to bring more harmony between  man and nature. Increasing the use of green infrastructure in cities, restoring wetlands and floodplains when possible, and applying best management practices to farming operations are a few ways help nature and development to coexist with fewer issues.

Storms like Hurricane Sandy have proven that the standards we once built cities from are no longer useable as the norm. As populations grow, development expands, and infrastructure degrades, we cannot afford to sit back and wait to see what will happen and deal with it then. Droughts and storms continue to cost this country a lot of money and the solution cannot be business as usual.

The earth will continue to ebb and flow, as it has since the earth began. Trying to find the culprit to today’s drastic weather patterns is one way to go, but I prefer to find ways to better adapt to what will come. Balance will always be a part of nature, and just like in the art of Stone Balancing, one small adjustment can have a major effect.

Want to know more about how Climate Change will affect water utilities? The US EPA is hosting a series of webinars on the subject starting January 23rd

Sewer Systems: Not just for Ninja Turtles

Combined Sewer Overflow

The availability of clean water is essential to support the health and economy of every nation in the world. A major source of water pollution is the failing infrastructure we use to control and maintain the water we use. Hidden beneath cities is an underground maze of pipes and tunnels that not only carries the water we consume, but also carries waste water, storm water, and the water used to power and drive our everyday lives.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that it could cost the nation $700 billion to $1 trillion to replace the physical water infrastructure. Not only that, but cities would have to be torn apart, causing major disruptions for upwards of 10 years. To make these kinds of major improvements, there must be agreements between political, social, and economic forces, which often bring discussion of water infrastructure to a dead halt.

The 2012 Xylem Value of Water Index, a nationwide poll detailing what US voters think should be done about the country’s water infrastructure and who should pay for it, is a great info-graphic report that provides a visual on what a sample of the population is thinking. This report is interactive, allowing you to navigate through the most important aspects of the study.

In the Mill Creek Watershed, located in the City of Cincinnati, the sewer infrastructure is a topic of major concern. Every time we get a heavy rain event, the combined sewer overflow system dumps the excess stormwater/raw sewage mix directly into the Mill Creek. This stream then makes its ways to the Ohio River, where many residents get their drinking water.

It is important to not only look at making infrastructure improvements in the future, but to also reduce the amount of runoff that makes its way into our sewer structures right now. We can do this by installing rain gardens, creating wetlands, using rain barrels, planting trees, and anything else that allows water to absorb and infiltrate back into the ground slowly. The more impervious surfaces (aka streets, buildings, parking lots, etc) we have, the more taxed our sewer system is during rain events.