Water management- another key to addressing climate change

Typical climate change policy follows a single narrative- “Climate change is global warming caused by too much carbon in the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels. We stop climate change by making the transition to renewable energy.” Although this is a key aspect of the story, and is making a huge difference in the preventing and mitigating climate change, it is not the whole picture. It is now understood that by sequestering carbon in the soil, we can remove a significant amount of carbon already in the atmosphere. Sweetwater has long advocated for and taught about this practice. However, the fact that destroying water-retentive landscapes is in and of itself a major cause of climate change is not part of the analysis or discussion in climate change circles.

“(Any) water crisis is usually seen as a symptom of climate change, itself caused by excessive greenhouse gas emissions. Droughts are almost always reported as the result of climate change. While no doubt greenhouse gas emission-driven climate change does have an important and negative impact on watersheds, warming temperatures and speeding up evaporation, there is another story that needs to be told.” Maude Barlow

The annual loss of 50,000 square miles of forest and 20,000 square miles of soil lost to impermeable surfaces/buildings per year globally have reduced the water that is able to circulate in small rainwater cycles. Restoring the hydrological balance can change the weather patterns fundamentally.

According to Michal Kravcik, the Slovak hydrologist, “Rainwater run-off does not only damage soil. It is also responsible for the rise of sea levels and global warming. We could prevent climate change if every person on Earth stored 25,000 gallons of rainwater in the ground.”

Rainwater run-off increased exponentially in the last century due to impervious surfaces and drainages created for urban development and industrial agriculture. Our aquifers nationwide are perilously low. Storing rainwater in the soil and allowing aquifers to recharge can be done locally, with enough focus and political will.

One simple action we can take as a community is to implement curb cuts into eddy basins or similar practices to slow and sink rainwater as it flows down our streets. For every inch of rainfall…a 10-foot wide paved street will drain 27,800 gallons of rainfall per mile.