A Community Related by Water


bioregion (bīˈō-rēˌjən)

  • n.  A natural ecological community with characteristic flora, fauna, and environmental conditions and bounded by natural rather than artificial borders.

bioregionalism (bīˌō-rēˈjə-nə-lĭzˌəm)

  • n. An approach to social organization and environmental policies based on the bioregion rather than by political or economic boundaries.

The concepts inherent in bioregionalism were developed by Peter Berg and Ray Dasmann in the 1970s, with one of the central organizing features of the bioregion being the watershed, an area of land where surface water converges to a single point at a lower elevation, such as a river, lake, or ocean.

The picture above is of the San Lorenzo River watershed, the central feature of our local bioregion in Santa Cruz County. Just by happenstance, our county lines stick pretty close to the boundaries of this watershed.

Recent concerns about water availability in Santa Cruz and the unincorporated County during this most recent drought have thrown considerations of the health of our watershed into sharp relief.

Water for most of the residents of Santa Cruz comes from the San Lorenzo River watershed, a couple of smaller streams up the coast, and the Pajaro River watershed to the east. None of our water is derived from snow pack; we depend on seasonal rains, which in “normal” years come in late fall to early spring. We get almost no rain from May through September.

In times of drought, such as the past two to three years, San Lorenzo River runoff has diminished severely, to the point that human withdrawal of water has threatened the viability of endangered fish species that spawn in its watershed. Concern for the future of the water supply spawned an eighteen month long process of study and deliberation to devise a plan to optimize our water supply system to provide dependable water for human residents without depriving necessary river flow from the non-human species that also depend on it.

From an initial push by the Santa Cruz City Water Department to build an ocean water desalination plant to provide more water for County residents and to free up water for fish species, the City’s Water Supply Advisory Committee (WSAC) developed a plan that uses a combination of conservation, aquifer recharge, and repair and maintenance of the existing water transportation system to more efficiently manage water from the San Lorenzo River during periods of maximum availability, so as to have a more reliable water supply available during the yearly dry months, especially in times of drought.

As a result of education efforts in support of water rationing and strict conservation measures, Santa Cruz residents have become intimately aware of their source of water. As a result, Santa Cruz water customers exceeded water rationing and conservation goals during the past two years of water rationing. The extent of local response to this drought bodes well for the future success of the WSAC plans for future watershed management efforts.

Santa Cruz is not the only place that is learning a bioregional approach to water management. of the Irish Times writes about the Irish Environmental Protection Agency’s approach to watershed (catchment) management that views watersheds as communities that include the people who live within them:

“Integrated catchment management connects land, water and people from the mountains to the sea,” Donal Daly told a workshop in Dundalk last month. Source: Why rivers are crucial to our relationship with the environment

The Irish EPA’s report, Public Engagement in Integrated Catchment Management, engages the public in a process of learning from their bioregion about how to live cooperatively with all life in the watershed, while maintaining the quality of life for its human residents as well.

Engaging the people in learning about the amazing biological diversity in their bioregion and the crucial role played by the watershed in the lives of all its inhabitants, made them enthusiastic participants in maintaining their own health as part of the overall health of their watershed.

“We found we could hardly get the children away from the river,” said Bernie O’Flaherty, who works with communities on water-quality issues for Monaghan County Council.

The Irish EPA’s report begins with a quote that applies to all of us in our watersheds and bioregions around the world:

‘A family is a community related by blood; a business is a community
related by ink; and a catchment is a community related by water.’

California Drought and Anasazi Transformation

    Lots of arm-waving, gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair on the Left Coast these days over The Drought. Of course, those whose interests are served, and pockets lined, by spreading fear of GLOBAL WARMING, and other myths, pound on about how climate change is the cause of The Drought, and, of course, humans are the cause of climate change.

    Rather than sorting through the rhetoric, I decided to ask someone who might know about these things, atmosphere, weather, climate, etc. Here’s what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Program Office has to say about the California drought:

    “The current drought is not part of a long-term change in California precipitation, which exhibits no appreciable trend since 1895. Key oceanic features that caused precipitation inhibiting atmospheric ridging off the West Coast during 2011-14 were symptomatic of natural internal atmosphere-ocean variability.

    So there we are.

    This doesn’t let Homo sapiens californicus off the hook by any means. There’s still plenty of growth maniacs running wildly about the place, ignoring natural limitations of resource availability, planning new housing developments, industrial parks, airport runway expansions, new dams on rivers, if there are any rivers and creeks left untrammeled. No matter what the human problem is, from poverty to urban crime to childhood obesity, growth is the first solution pulled out of the hat.

    It’s time to stroll down to the local haberdashery and get a new hat.

    What’s needed is a whole lot less growth and development and a whole lot more simple adaptation.

    The Anasazi of 12th Century New Mexico figured it out. When times got tough and rain scarce in the Southwest, they abandoned their Great Houses in Chaco Canyon and vicinity and scattered into the uplands, where summer temperatures were cooler, rain more frequent and predictable. They reinvented themselves as Pueblo people and continued to live in place. They’ve lived there for 800 years or so, far longer than the upstart Europeans who repeatedly tried to drive them off or wipe them out, and failed.

   Now it’s our turn to be the Anasazi, if we’re smart enough, if we care enough. The imported European lifestyle just doesn’t work on this coast or this continent. Natural cycles far outspan the puny timescale, unbounded hubris and unrealistic aspirations of American endeavor. If we are to continue as a culture, a prospect looking increasingly doubtful, it will have to be as a very different culture, one which lives as a part of the natural world, not apart from it.

    Not to worry. Those things that can’t go on forever, don’t. Mother Nature bats last. It’s hard and it’s fair.

Report: Global warming didn’t cause big US drought

Report: Global warming didn’t cause big US drought | Business & Technology

“Last year’s huge drought was a freak of nature that wasn’t caused by man-made global warming, a new federal science study finds.

“This is one of those events that comes along once every couple hundreds of years,” said lead author Martin Hoerling, a research meteorologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Climate change was not a significant part, if any, of the event.”

Other scientists have linked recent changes in the jet stream to shrinking Arctic sea ice, but Hoerling and study co-author Richard Seager of Columbia University said those global warming connections are not valid.

And one more time, with four-part harmony and feeling:

Hoerling noted that in the past 20 years, the world is seeing more La Ninas, the occasional cooling of the central Pacific Ocean that is the flip side of El Nino. Hoerling said that factor, not part of global warming but part of a natural cycle, increases the chances of such droughts.



Grazing Through Climate Change

Tarplant in 2007

Today’s article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, Coastal panel staff back Arana Gulch plan, includes the following from the California Coastal Commission (CCC) Staff Report for the upcoming hearing on the Arana Gulch Master Plan:

“The report notes that tarplants in the former dairy site have dropped from 100,000 in the 1980s to 32 this year. The report cites the end of grazing, invasive species and “unmanaged public access” that led to unauthorized trails.”

Tarplant numbers were not studied in the 1980s during grazing on Arana Gulch, therefore we have no baseline on which to compare current trends. A contributing factor that has not been studied is change in the timing and amount of precipitation in the area.

Tarplant in 2011

We have just come out of a multi-year drought and we are observing a significant change in precipitation patterns, for example, earlier rains in the fall/early winter season, and extended rains into late spring and early summer, in addition to increased precipitation in our normal winter rainy season. Tarplant numbers at the airport and Tarplant Hill in Watsonville, and in Twin Lakes State Park, have fluctuated in parallel with those of Arana Gulch, yet the other sites have not had large scale grazing that ended in 1989, coincident with declines in tarplant numbers. This would argue that some factor other than cessation of grazing is responsible for the decline in tarplant numbers at all of these sites.

It is more likely that the decline has as much to do with natural local climate variation as with changes in herbivory with the removal of dairy cattle from Arana Gulch.

The recent increase in tarplant individuals suggests that changes in precipitation patterns is a possible contributing factor to tarplant success or decline and would therefore influence the success of the City’s plans for industrial scale grazing on Arana Gulch..