Sunday, March 23, 2008

Need more education

I'd like to post more often, but the demands of job, parenthood, and now, dog-training, altogether too often take precedence. Add to that my wish to retain at least a modicum of anonymity by posting only from home, and getting the time to post is often difficult.

There's considerable discussion both in the news and the politico-econ blogs I frequent about the economic fallout from the subprime mess, as well as plenty of talk about how it started and who's to blame. What doesn't get discussed is the amount of environmental damage to the desert southwest and its aquatic resources (not to mention T&E species habitat) as a result of the overwhelming amount of development brought on by low interest rates, and quite frankly, the greed of the development industry and investment banking.

I've heard that some of the most heavily developed areas in the southwest, such as the Inland Empire of Southern California, the areas around Tucson and Phoenix, the greater Las Vegas area, and the Santa Fe-Albuquerque area have also had some of the most significant impacts to riparian habitat and T&E species habitat in the country in the last 10 years. Those homes that were constructed and now stand empty, were constructed in areas that hosted habitat for a number of species such as the southwestern willow flycatcher, the California coastal gnatcatcher, the pygmy owl, among other plants, herps, mammals and birds.

Riparian corridors are crucial in the southwest to provide cover, forage, and nesting areas for most of the desert inhabitants. I'll saved the loss of water for another discussion, but the funneling of species into degraded, suburban or urban channels is clearly to their detriment.

Part of the problem, especially in the more arid areas, is there is not enough public education as to the function and the value of intermittent and ephemeral waterways, including amongst regulators and consultants. I frequently come across colleagues in my industry who have little understanding of the functions of an arroyo, which include pollutant attenuation, water infiltration, stormwater and sediment conveyance, and cover and corridors for herps, small mammals and birds, amongst other functions. Other colleagues don't understand that an arroyo's banks are where they are because they do convey that much water on occasion (and it isn't necessarily a hundred-year event when it does, more like a 2- or 5-year event).

If educated biologists, geomorphologists, and other environmental professionals in my industry have such limited understanding of how desert fluvial systems work (or just haven't bothered to keep up with the literature), how can we expect the general public to have any?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

First Post!

Welcome! Thanks for visiting my new blog, mainly focusing on natural resource issues in the greater southwest. I'll likely cover a variety of topics, ranging from geosciences, botanical and wildlife science, to environmental regulation, with an occasional rant on SW politics and women's issues.

In my first post, I'd like to give kudos to Dave Rosgen, Bill Zeedyk and all their philosophical adherents. These folks have done a lot to find ways of effecting bank stabilization and river/creek channel restoration without making it look like an explosion of concrete and rebar (or gabion baskets, just as bad in my book). I've seen at least a few of these structures get installed in AZ, NM, and CO and they seem to be working well to provide areas for riparian regrowth and increased fish habitat (where appropriate).

Zeedyk seems to be the only one that I know of (I'm sure there are more) who works on smaller intermittent and ephemeral systems. One of the nicest I've seen is along Ganado Wash near the Hubbell Trading Post in AZ. He used post and other structures in the wash to effect stabilization/aggradation which, in turn, provided ample opportunity for riparian revegetation. I'm pretty sure that the structures helped effect greater infiltration to the water table, as well. Aesthetically, the whole scene is very pleasing. Unless you know exactly what you're looking for, you would have no idea that any restoration had taken place in the wash. It's probably come fairly close to looking like (and more importantly, functioning like) it's pre-Columbian condition.

I like Zeedyk's general approach to restoration (and rural road building/maintenance for better/more natural water distribution to the land surface). He takes a low-tech approach, mainly looking for the easiest and cheapest ways to conduct the channel work, primarily using hand labor. Most of the restorations I've seen or read about were installed by hand using small structures or rock placement. I've included a link to the Zeedyk/Quivira Coalition's publication

Send me your favorite restoration, and I'll post a description and a photo here on OHWM. Please be sure to give credit where credit is due. We need to thank the folks who do this work and make sure to pass the word around so more restoration like this gets done!