Tuesday, April 01, 2008

What Tools are in Your Water Shed?

Colorado Springs hosts quite the spectrum of potential water problems. On one hand, we can experience great droughts which in turn can result in fire hazards, expensive water access, even illness and death. If people can’t keep cool, their bodies may overheat; if they can’t fight off diseases because of dehydration, or if they don’t have access to clean water, they can take a serious toll on the community in various forms. Water shortages may even lead to economic hardships. On the other hand, because Colorado Springs is at the foot of large mountains, flooding can be just as much of an issue. Homes built on flood-planes may slide down the hill with slope movement, or even be ruined from within because of water movement. Flooding can damage roads which could cause an economic impact, as well as damage property; it may even cause reservoirs for drinking to be contaminated with waters from external sources. In this regard, the water shed is of vital importance; how it’s taken care of, how it’s cleaned, and how it’s utilized are details that must be considered, especially in places like Colorado Springs!

According to the article by the Water Environment Federation (WEF),[1] pollution is a major contributor to the expenses that arise at water treatment plants. Water that runs off of highways, and are polluting waterways, flow into the treatment centers. The expenses of treating the (polluted) water are high, which WEF says could be curbed to some manner through taking care of how the water flows into the treatment center, as opposed to simply treating the water that will flow out of the center. Their idea on protecting the watershed en masse is to delegate the responsibility of water pollution prevention to the public. Individuals are asked, in the article, to contribute.

How You Can HelpWatershed management requires everyone's cooperation. You can help by:
· Educating yourself about water resources and uses in your watershed
· Talking to your elected officials about watershed management
· Making sure your area schools are teaching about watersheds
· Ensuring that hazardous materials are not disposed or dumped on your property
· Removing or replacing any leaking underground storage tanks on your property
· Reaching out to other communities and crossing political boundaries in the interest of watershed management

All of which seem to be fairly basic recommendations to ask of people in the city. But, how will they actually succeed at making these suggestions come into action?

One way that can be successful is through government administration and enforcement of rules that would function to protect watersheds and thus decrease the expenses of water treatment, as well, make impacts on the entirety of a community, city, state, even nation! According to a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)[2], there are some specific areas of water treatment that are focused on, but still need improvement.

If EPA is committed to the watershed approach, it needs to make improvements in four key elements:
• Integrating watershed activities into its core water programs.
• Addressing stakeholder concerns to increase their participation.
• Refining and improving key aspects of its strategic planning process.
• Improving the watershed performance measurement system.

EPA adopted the watershed approach to help focus existing, traditional water pollution control programs in a more comprehensive manner and address emerging problems.

Similarly to the WEF, the EPA seems to be advocating watershed focused policy that would address and improve existing programs, as well, consider likely problems that may arise in the future.

Watersheds are what flow into the treatment plants that then flow through our pipes at home and give us drinking/cooking water. Watersheds are also how flooding can be destructive; depending on how water sheds over the surface of land, and how maximized the water table below the surface is, floods may have nowhere to go but into destructive lanes such as our home, or into our treated water reserves, bringing pollution with it! Even though water pollution is of great importance, which we attempt to remedy through water treatment means, how water moves is of greater importance. Water movement, if not worked with in a harmonious way, can cause landslides beneath homes, floods through industrious areas, and deterioration of architectural structures. So, water not only needs to be cleaned for our purposes of consumption, but also managed in a manner that allows us to progress as a community, city, state, nation, even as civilization. And the way to bring together the handling of water for consumption, as well, the issue of water as a force of nature, the solution lies more in understanding and working with the watershed than in trying to control it.

Unlike water conservation, which even if the use of private consumption was fully minimized, the overall impact is relatively small, individual contributions to the issue of watershed management could make for larger marginal social benefits. Contractors could design developments with watershed in mind, cities could zone according to geological and hydrological phenomena, and people on an individual level could be mindful of the waste they disperse through community-policing of such behavior. Government could offer disincentives, such as fines, to people who do harm to watersheds; as well, they could offer incentives, such as tax relief, to companies that successfully develop in accordance to watershed tendencies of a region. Individuals can simply read the two web pages and learn about ways they can positively impact the watershed in their area. The tools of government, as well as the resources for individuals can make those positive impacts.

Though flooding and droughts occur, understanding the tools we possess could lead to fewer and smaller impacts they have on us. In the tools we possess, understanding and protecting watersheds can be the key.
[1] http://www.wef.org/AboutWater/ForThePublic/FactSheets/FactSheetDocuments/HowtoProtectYourWatershed.htm

[2] http://www.epa.gov/oig/reports/2005/20050921-2005-P-00025-Gcopy.pdf

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