I was walking through Barre today, admiring the massive dump of snow Vermont picked up over the last 36 hours, and I came across this trash can overflowing with over a foot of snow.
The scene brought a silly mental image of someone piling soft, clean snow in the trash can, hoping to send it to a landfill. Setting aside a few choice moments yesterday when I was shoveling salt-encrusted snowplow leavings from my driveway, the idea of throwing away Vermont’s beloved snow, or any fresh water, is preposterous.
Especially in a time where most of our country is experiencing very severe drought – the worst since the Dust Bowl.
The photo was good for a laugh on the Slow Water Movement facebook page, but the truth is we do treat water like garbage, in our cities and suburbs, along our highways, even in our parks. We dump it into drains meant to rush it away as quickly as possible. In some cases, we literally dump it into the sewer with our feces. During big storms, when there is too much water for our sewage treatment plants, this water is hastily dumped into rivers, lakes, and the ocean – feces and all.
Any water draining from this drainspout is being flushed down the toilet. (We also flush treated drinking water down the toilet which is in many ways even more ridiculous, but is a subject for another time). Sometimes the big water toilet overflows. The water is not used or enjoyed.
I’ll bet just about anyone, even the engineers who build gutters and drainspouts, would stop to enjoy a babbling brook in the woods… maybe even stick their feet in. There has been a neat movement over the last decade or so to invite nature – native plants, animals, and such, back into human-created landscapes. But I don’t hear a lot about water. You can divert rainwater from a rain cistern into a little landscaped stream after the rain is done, and enjoy a little clean babbling brook right in your yard. You can then route the water into a little wetland like this and let it soak in and replenish the groundwater:
That neat little wetland was at CMU in Pittsburgh. The water gets a chance to slowly soak in or is used by plants and wildlife. And despite what you hear from some people, it is incredibly easy and inexpensive to keep mosquitos from spawning in your little wetland.
Pragmatically, I think dumping water down the drain is a waste, but I’m more compelled just by the aesthetic issue. I absolutely love flowing water and think it is a shame to waste the potential created when water falls on a roof or parking lot from the sky. Heck, you can even have fun with icicles…
My least favorite ‘use’ of water is lawns in dry climates. Water is removed from rivers elsewhere, treated so that it is suitable for human consumption (something many if not most people in the world don’t even have reliable access to), then dumped on a manicured monoculture of mutilated foliage. I’m not talking about soccer fields here (which can be irrigated easily with reclaimed water). I’m talking about the silly square lawn in front of every house and business in southern California. These ‘features’ use up to 70% of LA’s water.
See this white stain in the desert?
It used to be a massive lake. If everyone in LA got rid of 2/3rds of their lawn, including businesses, and all of the golf courses and sports fields were shifted over to reclaimed water and rainwater cistern irrigation, we could probably almost completely restore it. If people gave up on having their own swimming pools and switched to community pools instead, we could probably restore the whole darn thing. If you live in a dry climate, replacing a lawn with native plants, cacti and succulents, or a vegetable garden (uses water but produces food, reducing the need for farmfield irrigation) is one of the most important things you can do to lessen your negative impact on the world around you. If you live in a wet climate like Vermont, lawns are less of a problem, but consider an unmanicured meadow that provides habitat, and don’t over fertilize… fertilizer often ends up in nearby waterways rather than in the grass blades of your lawn.
I know I’m preaching to the choir here. Still… that trash can full of snow really brought it to mind. I still am so transfixed by running water that I can’t help but poke at water running down the gutter. I wish the first few hours in the city after a heavy rain resounded with the rush of water in every corner and crevice… just as it does in the rocky canyons. I know not everyone is as obsessed with water as I am, but I think if we tried it, dug our water out of the garbage and put it back where it belonged, we’d really like it. A city without flowing water would seem to be missing something.
And now I am wishing I had knocked that pile of snow off of that garbage. Maybe tomorrow…