with Brock Dolman of Occidental Arts and Ecology http://www.oaec.org/
Focus on Food Ep. 31 – Water
, Water, Everywhere & We Need to Protect it
Amazing interview focusing on Los Angeles and more
Protecting Our Watersheds with Brock Dolman of Occidental Arts and Ecology Center‘s WATER Institute More about Chaffin, and Regenerative Agriculture: - OAEC’s WATER Institute - Restoring Watersheds by Brock
Hosted by Carter Wallace and Rishi Kumar
Brock Dolman is a Sowing Circle Communitymember and the Director of OAEC’s WATER Institute (www.oaecwater.org) andPermaculture Design Program, and he co-directs our Wildlands Biodiversity
Program. He co-instructs Basins of Relations and permaculture-related courses. Brock also co-manages the Center’s biodiversity collection, orchards and 70 acres of wildlands. Living up to his specialized generalist nature, and rekindling the dwindling art
of the peripatetic natural historian, his experience
ranges from the study of wildlife biology, native California botany
and watershed ecology, to the practice of habitat restoration, education about regenerative human settlement design, ethno-ecology, and ecological literacy activism towards societal transformation
Focus on Food is a radio program which airs regularly on KPFK 90.7FM in Los Angeles, CA. The show features interviews with the world’s leading urban ecology experts such as Vandana Shiva, Geoff Lawton
, and Toby Hemenway
, the latest news in the world of food, as well as gardening
tips and recipes. Focus on Food is hosted by Institute of Urban Ecology founders Carter Wallace & Rishi Kumar.
Focus on Food airs regularly in Southern California on KPFK 90.7FM Los Angeles on Thursdays at 2pm www.kpfk.org Outside of Los Angeles, subscribe to our podcast using the two links below, or listen in http://www.instituteofurbanecology.org/focus-on-food-fm/
Basins of Relations:
Restoring a Watershed State of Being
By Brock Dolman
Watershed, catchment, drainage, basin, cuenca by any name they function the same, and everyone on the planet lives in one, sailors on the sea alone excepted. Watersheds at all scales are uniquely evolved geomorphic, hydrological, and biological entities that provide permaculturists a most efficacious benchmark for judging the wisdom of our past, present and future land
The exciting art and science behind thinking like a watershed nurtures our hearts and sparks our imaginations. I emphasize HEART here because as a global society, the quality we most urgently need is an open heart, a humility that allows us to perceive the Earth‚s watersheds not as human commodities but as living communities. Corporate oil versus community
water paradigms do not mix well.
In light of recent events and global climate trends the current commodity based path seriously threatens the continuance of our own and all species. Solar power
Watershed processes, but it will take SOUL-ar power to restore healthy watersheds.
Bring your hands together and cup them, creating a vessel. Envision the rim of your hands being a water-parting divide with thumb and fingertip ridgeline spires. Fingers become the mountain slopes, palms the hills and floodplains. Each wrinkle and crease a watercourse conveying over-hand flow to the mainstem riparian ecotone of adpressed hands, spilling forth towards the mouth of articulated wrists.
Soul-ar-powered watershed regeneration rests in the hands and hearts of each one of us: the power to restore ourselves by restoring our relations with our home basins.
Watersheds in the Mind
Ecological illiteracy is epidemic and the time for a heightened campaign on how to read and interprete the landscape is long overdue. Effective watershed restoration must be based in watershed literacy. The word "watershed" has many different meanings and
intentions, the least of which being a shed for water. In its most literal sense, watershed refers to the parting of waters, the actual ridge dividing drainages. In 1852, Darwin refered to the "Line of Watershed dividing inland streams from those on the coast" the continental divide of North America being a primary example. In 1878 Huxley first invoked watershed as a landscape entity or catchment basin stating "all that part of a river basin from which rain is collected, and from which therefore the river is fed." This definition encapsulates the basic physical definition of a watershed today. Our challenge is to move beyond a static, hydrologic definition towards a dynamic understanding of the wholeness of watersheds and how they literally underlye all human endeavors.
It's all watershed
"Watershed‰"is continually used in reference to a significant event. Lodged deep within our collective psyche is a subconscious recognition of the profound meaning each distinctive drainage basin holds: new creatures, new places, new experiences, a new face of divinity awaits. A certain excitement of impending discovery, an archetypcal intrigue, arises as you pass into a new "watershed." Watershed as metaphor brings awareness to a critical transition
or point of demarcation, as, for instance, „they reached a watershed in the peace negotiations.‰ What does it imply to "reach a watershed"? How does this resonate with the feelings of awe and apprehension at cresting a ridge and gazing down into a new, unknown, and promise-filled "Basin of Relation"?
The figurative watershed moments in one‚s life are often where a certain clarity is achieved, marked perhaps by a rite of passage fulfilled or by the unexpected reappraisal of deeply held beliefs. In Aldo Leopold‚s, A Sand County Almanac, he describes a personal "watershed" moment after shooting a she-wolf in the Gila Wilderness in1922: "We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then and full of trigger itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer
, then no wolves meant a hunter's paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view."
The earliest descriptions of North America by Europeans evoke a vision of snow-capped peaks, forested ridges, wooded slopes, rolling prairies, flood plains, riparian jungles, beaver wetlands, and river mouth estuaries brimming with wildlife˜an ecstatically pervious world that cleansed and cycled and savored its own water to the benefit of
Let us dive into that vision for a moment: Rain falling at 30 mph is slowed and sweetened by outstretched leaves, these in turn drip nutrient-laden tea from the canopy
to a forest floor of fluffy duff. Infused with humus capable of absorbing ten times its own weight in water, this protective sponge spreads the life-giving liquid over a flocculated soil shot through with nutrient-grabbing mycorrhizae, fungal threads connecting all the rooted plants. These vegetated landscapes of yore seeded and combed the aqueous clouds,
rehumidifed the downwind air, buffered their own climates, and passed on the surplus to recharge groundwater aquifers that sustained the flow of springs, creeks, and rivers.
Approaching the Tipping Point
Now imagine this hydrological wonderland after some centuries of development based on dessication: Cutting, clearing, burning, draining have hardened the upland capillaries and aquatic arteries of the landscape. Clearcut logging, mining, over-grazing, plow agriculture, housing, commercial development, road building, and parking lots, all add up to extreme imperviousness in a watershed.
In a Baltimore Sun story by Tom Horton, October 6, 2000, he reports on studies in Maryland indicating that "once development hardens even 15% of a stream's watershed, aquatic health falls off sharply, (at) 25%, degradation is severe. Native brook trout may disappear after as little as 2%." Tom Schueler, Center For Watershed Protection in Ellicott City
, MD, further states that "around 10%, which is equal to single family homes on 1-2 acre
lots, is often the tipping point where you begin to see decline."
This 10% tipping point is a critical "watershed" divide in relation to fundamental system thresholds and carrying capacity. "Tipping" initiates an accelerating feedback reaction of mutually failing inter-dependencies, the breaking of links that once formed the foundation of ecosystem health and resiliency. The synergistic effects of cumulative impacts present a daunting challenge to would-be restorationists. Fragmented habitat, species extinction, soil erosion, sedimentation, flooding, loss of ground water recharge, contaminated water, reductions in stream flow, salted soils, microclimate alterations, reduced ecological carrying capacity, social disruption, community collapse, and economic hindrance form a litany of issues screaming out for holistic
Certain "canaries" in the watershed coal mine can help us begin to think
like a watershed. Freeman House‚s recent book, Totem Salmon, examines the plight of chinook salmon˜a species decimated by the effects of human ignorance, and provides an inspiring view of one community‚s response. Residents of California‚s Mattole River watershed have adopted the chinook as their totem animal. Let's meander down the stream of salmon consciousness for a moment to see if we can understand why.
Chinook, like other salmon species, are anadromous, i.e., they‚ are hatched and spend the early years of their lives in cold freshwater streams; then swim to downstream estuaries to adapt physiologically for life in salty oceans fattening up on a smorgasbord of prey rich in eons worth of minerals leached from the land. After a species-specific number of years they return home to the farthest headwater reaches of their natal streams to procreate, die, and leave their weighty corpses of reclaimed elements for future progeny and myriad other life forms.
The anadromous nutrient pump
is no trivial concept: University of Oregon researchers studying cannery records from the turn of the 19th century found that roughly 390 to 500 million pounds of salmon flesh was annually returning to Pacific coast watersheds in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and California. In contrast, today‚s figures are roughly 5 to 7
million pounds. Other researchers have chemically analyzed the isotope ratios of specific elements such as nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, and calcium in riparian forest trees
, grizzly bear
bones, and young fish. Research has shown that up to 60% of the nitrogen in protein tissues of young steelhead trout is of marine origin. These juvenile fish could only have metabolized this nitrogen by consuming, directly or indirectly, the bodies of decomposed adult salmonids.
The idea of sustainability
begs the question of ability to sustain what? The critical answer
is cycles. Apparently one of the most profound generators of the nutrient fertility cycle of Pacific Northwest forests is anadromous salmonids and Pacific lamprey. One can safely extrapolate that historic populations of Atlantic salmon provided a similar function
in their waterhseds. With the near extinction of salmonids disappears a cornerstone of the watershed systems ability to feed
itself. Salmon return, spawn, and die: Bears, eagles, otters, crawdads, coons, and multitudes of aquatic macroinvertebrates eat them and go forth throughout the watershed dispersing these nutrients via their excrement or corpses.
Salmonids are a watershed keystone species, in that their presence disproportionately elevates the web of life. But salmon are not only a keystone species, they also represent the keystone process of nutrient cycling. Watershed starvation resulting from the near extinction of totem salmon is a reality of untold proportion.
is a design science with a pragmatic attitude of applied positive action. As specialized generalists, permaculture
designers are well prepared for the task of watershed regeneration. So where are the fecund edges that permaculturists can begin to work for the benefit of the whole? Archimedes argued that with a lever big enough
and a fulcrum in
the right place, he could move the world. Analogously, how do we design an (energetic) lever to move attitudes about, and thus the fate of watersheds; where do we apply it, and how many people
can we convince to help us pull it?
The following is a short list of various strategic lever placements for permaculturists interested in watershed protection and restoration:
1. Create a community-based watershed council: Watershed or sub-watershed boundaries are one of the best means of literally finding common ground between neighbors. Creating a community-based watershed council that embraces all residents, stakeholders, and agency representatives helps bring focus to the unique needs of each watershed.
Build community by having regular meetings to share information; identify priority restoration projects, education, and research needs; host field trips to get to know the watershed, organize watershed clean-up days and hands-on community restoration projects.
2. Get or make good watershed maps: Maps may be the most effective tool to catalyze people's consciousness about their relation to their basin. Indicate on the map where roads cross both watershed divides and creeks. What about other landmarks?
3. Watershed signs: Work with your local
county or state road agencies to place signs both at creek crossings and at watershed and sub-watershed divides. Signs offer a profound opportunity to educate people as they move about the landscape they inhabit. Build watershed divide interpretive displays at strategic locations with public access.
Have each council representing the adjoining watersheds manage the information displayed as a public outreach/education tool.
4. Watershed Welcome Wagon packets: A perfect initial project
for a newly formed watershed council. Compile a succinct citizen‚s guide to information for watershed landowners about watershed processes, maps, wildlife, native plants
, erosion, fencing, chemical use, forestry management, rural roads, alternative energy
, impervious surfaces,
, and other regionally appropriate land use issues. These packets can be provided to all existing residents and through real estate
or county offices to all new people who purchase property in the watershed. Most people will attempt to do the right thing if they have good information.
5. Education, adopt a watershed: Working at all levels within the education system. There are some very good watershed curricula available such as Adopt-a-Watershed and The Streamkeepers Field Guide. Host workshops such as OAEC‚s four-day training, "Basins of Relations: Creating Community Watershed Councils."
6. Watershed monitoring: Design a monitoring program that collects data in a standardized manner with consistent quality control for accuracy and reliable analysis.
* Analyze channel types, whether confined or unconfined;
* Determine bank full width; select an appropriate unconfined study reach that is roughly 10 times as long as the bank full width;
* Survey the channel cross section of the reach; determine the embeddedness of gravel by doing pebble counts;
* Paint flow gauges on bridges; distribute a number of rain gauges to council members; work with existing local weather data;
* Do riparian habitat assessment using aerial photos; determine riparian canopy density using a densiometer; assess the impact of invasive plant species; determine revegetation project needs;
* Use GIS for watershed analysis issues, data collection, and storage;
* Perform wildlife or endangered species surveys; evaluate habitat connectivity and wildlife movement corridors;
* Initiate water quality monitoring for pH, dissolved oxygen, temperatures, and conductivity; perform benthic macro-invertebrate assessment;
* Assess fuel load conditions in upland vegetation communities;
* Map upland erosion sites and road networks towards developing a priority restoration plan; assess percentage of watershed with impervious surface cover and map locations and types;
* Study historical and present land use changes and practices.
7. Roads: Paved and unpaved roads are cause destructive watershed impacts such as: salting and toxic runoff
, habitat fragmentation, road kill, fish passage issues, and direct delivery of sediment products to active channels. According to Danny Hagens of Pacific Watershed Associates, roads need to become "hydrologically invisible," and "nothing in nature mimics a road." Road drainage must be disconnected from direct discharge to waterways. All creek crossings must not divert the flow from its natural channel by installing a critical dip. Critical dips have a reverse grade on both sides so that when the culvert backs up the overflow only washes out the crossing fill instead of being diverted onto the road network to discharge disastrously downhill. Rural dirt roads can be safely outsloped with no outside berms
and graded with numerous rolling dips to divide the road into a series of sub-watersheds that discharge small volumes of runoff. Berm material can be used to fill the inside ditches and often results in greater road widths. Where a road section absolutely needs to be insloped then adequate ditch relief culverts should
be installed so that they discharge at the base of the fill into energy dissipation structures. More culverts discharging smaller volumes are preferable with insloped roads.
8. Instream Restoration: Use biotechnical methods whenever possible to stabilize failing streambanks and gullies. Use locally harvested willow and cottonwood sprigs for woven walls, mattresses, and bundled fascines. Using biological intelligence is cheaper, provides habitat, shade for streams, food for animals, sequesters and buffers pollutants and sediments, is more aesthetically pleasing, and hands-on community groups and students can do the work with minimal technical supervision. Increasing woody debris for structural complexity and installing boulder clusters to create pool habitat and sort spawning gravel has proven effective for many salmon streams. A critical caveat is that until we stabilize the hydrological condition of the uplands the functional restoration of the active channel will be impossible, but some critical bandaids may be justified to stabilize specific situations.
9. Cost Share/Grant Programs: Numerous federal, state, county and city programs exist that provide cost share/grant funds to landowners or watershed councils to perform restoration projects or educational programs. Federal agencies include: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Fisheries Service
(NMFS), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USF&WS), and Forest Service (FS), to name a few. For technical and financial help
contact your state, county or city agencies that provide support for agriculture, forestry, natural resources, fish and game, wildlife, water quality protection, flood control, environmental quality, education departments, stormwater management, regional water supply agencies, road departments, cooperative extension, resource conservation districts.
: Become involved in the democratic process. Work with political officials at all levels. City councils and county boards of supervisors are especially pertinent for local watershed-related issues. Become involved in your county general plan or similar process, and support the development of watershed-based general plans
planning units. Because most politicians and their planning staffs may be reticent to look favorably on the watershed idea, you need to make a convincing case that it is in their best political, economic, constituency support, and regulatory-compliance interests to think like a watershed. All public and private landowners are mandated to comply with
Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA) regulations. Become knowledgeable about EPA regulations such as their new Phase II Stormwater Management program, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, and non-point source pollution issues. Where streams or lakes are on the impaired water bodies list, counties have to comply with impending total maximum daily load regulations (TMDL‚s) for watershed specific pollutants. Obviously at the state level numerous regulatory agencies are also pressuring county, city, commercial, and
private authorities and landowners to comply with a barrage of seemingly impossible and costly regulations. Absent a holistic watershed-based strategy, these myopically frustrated entities will be right in concluding that regulatory compliance is impossible. By bringing watershed literacy to politics you will actually be helping them do their their job
, save money, and support improvements in watershed function and health.
10: Impervious surfaces: Imperviousness presents the most insidious impact on watershed health. By addressing impervious surfaces the majority of the agency issues above can be mitigated. Increased frequency and intensity of flooding is directly correlated to increased area of impervious surface in the drainage basin. Lack of ground water recharge and thus compromised water supply issues are directly related to imperviousness. Water quality degradation and its ecological consequences from toxic and/or sediment-laden agricultural, urban, and industrial runoff is again related to excessive impervious cover.
This may be where the permaculture
movement is most advanced in its understanding and strategic application of solutions. Increasing roof catchment, infiltration of runoff into groundwater recharging, wildlife friendly, botanically diversified, phytoremediating, aesthetically pleasing swales, contour ditches, detention ponds, settling basins and
constructed wetlands are simple and cost-effective solutions. Daylighting (bringing out of
pipes) urban streams increases quality of life and connections with nature for starved denizens of the concrete
jungles. The East Indian proverb "Catch rain where rain falls" is most relevant here. We must stop using storm drains that are connected to sanitary sewers that eventually overflow and pollute the ecosystem. Many pervious paving options are available that infiltrate runoff and bioremediate the runoff of urban chemicals, oils, and gasoline
. These ideas are being mandated by water quality agencies the time is ripe and affordable.
At an urban scale I would refer you to the Nine Mile Run Model in the Pittsburgh area. For a suburban model I would refer you to Village Homes in Davis, California, and at the rural scale Keyline principles can be further elaborated.
The challenge before us is to design development patterns based on principles of rehydration instead of dehydration. Water is the ultimate resource not the problem. The old school engineering practices of capturing, concentrating, and removing water from a site as quickly as possible are now unequivocally recognized as disastrously flawed. A new paradigm based on Waterspread restoration is being heralded. Spread the water out, slow it down, facilitate its proper percolation, instead of shedding the water away to flood your downstream neighbors with topsoil-laden, toxic fish-killing effluent.
To quote David Orr "It makes far better sense to reshape ourselves to fit a finite planet than to attempt to reshape the planet to fit our infinite wants."
There is an old bumper sticker that reads "Minds are like parachutes, they only work when they are open." Watersheds are similar in that they only work when they are open and porous, permeable, and pervious to the bounty of falling water. Restoring a watershed state of being means we open up our mind-sheds so they become permeable to new ideas. With cerebral swales we can best absorb the idea that biological understanding holds the optimal promise of solutions for the seven generations to come. Receptivity to
water wisdom is the path bringing us closer to „living like a watershed.‰ With those who share your watershed, your fundamental connection as a community is directly related to your shared existence amidst each Basin of Relation. Water movement over and within the land is a watershed‚s primary energetic commodity and our local currencies
should carry the message "In Water We Trust." Water is the defining element that unrelentingly determines a community‚s ecological and economic carrying capacity. From living water all things spring and bubble forth: totem salmon, totem soil, totem forest, totem wildlife, totem watershed, totem planet.
Brock Dolman holds a BA in Biology and Environmental Studies from University of California Santa Cruz. He works professionally as a wildlife biologist, watershed restoration consultant, ecological educator and is OAEC's Permaculture program director. He is a founding partner of the Sowing Circle Intentional Community
and the Occidental Arts and EcologyCenter, 15290 Coleman Valley Rd., Occidental, CA 95465, and may be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
and www.oaecwater.org or www.oaec.org