World Water Day 2015

In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly designated World Water Day, to be celebrated annually on March 22, with the purpose of raising awareness and making a difference for people who suffer from water related issues. It is also a day designated to prepare for how we manage water in the future. In 2015, the theme for World Water Day is Water and Sustainable Development.

Worldwide, over one billion people lack access to safe drinking water. That is more than one in six people lacking a basic human need. Each human, each day, requires at least 20 to 50 liters of clean water for cooking, bathing and drinking. Access to clean, pathogen free water is a basic human right. Yet 1.8 million people die annually from water-related diseases, while tens of millions of others suffer from serious illnesses which are otherwise easily prevented.

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If the Earth is covered two-thirds by water, what’s the problem? Most of the Earth’s water is seawater. Seawater is not suitable for drinking. Only freshwater is drinkable, which is water that does not contain significant levels of dissolved minerals or salts. Only about 2.5 percent of the Earth’s water is fresh water and two-thirds of that is frozen in ice caps and glaciers.

Even though World Water Day 2015 has passed, there is still plenty of work to be done and it begins by treating every day as if it were World Water Day. Here are some of the ways I am doing so.

First, as I have typed this blog, I have purposefully ignored my smart phone, refusing to even touch it so as not to disrupt an app I activated just before setting it down. By downloading and running UNICEFTAPPROJECT.ORG for 15 minutes, you are obliging sponsors and donors, such as Giorgio Armani, to fund one day of clean water for a child in need. Go longer, fund more.

The UNICEF Tap Project is a nationwide campaign that provides clean water and adequate sanitation to children around the world. UNICEF works in more than 100 countries around the world to improve access to safe water and sanitation facilities in schools and communities and to promote safe hygiene practices.

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Secondly, I have utilized rain barrels in my gardening activities for the last fifteen years. In fact, I have one on each side of my house so that filling a watering can is a cinch, no matter where I happen to be.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a rain barrel is a system that collects and stores rainwater from your roof that would otherwise be lost to runoff and diverted to storm drains and streams. Usually a rain barrel is composed of a 55 gallon drum, a vinyl hose, PVC couplings, a screen grate to keep debris and insects out, and other off-the-shelf items. A rain barrel is relatively simple and inexpensive to construct and can sit conveniently under any residential gutter down spout.

Lawn and garden watering make up nearly 40% of total household water use during the summer. A rain barrel collects water and stores it for when you need it most, providing an ample supply of free “soft water” to homeowners, containing no chlorine, lime or calcium making it ideal for gardens, flower pots, and car and window washing. A rain barrel will save most homeowners about 1,300 gallons of water during the peak summer months. This helps protect the environment and saves money and energy by decreasing the demand for treated tap water. Diverting water from storm drains also decreases the impact of runoff to streams. Therefore, a rain barrel is an easy way for you to have a consistent supply of clean, fresh water for outdoor use, FREE.

But my favorite part of having rain barrels is having water where I need it, when I need it, without having to go back and forth to the spigots connected to my house. Between the two rain barrels and the two tap spigots, my lower back gets a break in spite of my having flowers and vegetables in various and sundry locations, three out of four seasons each year.

Thirdly, when watering plants, I employ a couple of methods that insure the water is absorbed by the soil and the roots of the plants. Depending on the size of the container, one method I use is ice cubes instead of water. Because the ice cubes melt slowly, all the water is absorbed instead of running off. The other method is watering spikes inserted in the soil adjacent to the roots and then inverting an up cycled wine bottle or any other long necked glass bottle that is filled with water. This method keeps the roots watered for a couple of days in even the hottest period of the southeastern summers I am accustomed to.

For more ideas, visit The Water – Use It Wisely campaign’s 100+ ways to conserve water. This campaign began in Arizona in 1999 to promote an ongoing water conservation ethic.

What are some of the ways you conserve water? Please share in the comments. I would love to read your ideas!

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Finding Refuge

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Sandhill Cranes and other species find refuge at the Merced Wildlife Refuge in California. Photo credit Kirk Keeler

by Shauna Potocky

The morning is damp and cool—not cold, just wet and cool. A thick blanket of Central Valley tule fog keeps the Merced Wildlife Refuge in a dream like state of obscurity. In the gray mist the voices of thousands of birds rise in the morning air. Only a few Whitefaced Ibis, Pintail ducks, Cinnamon Teals, and Northern Shovelers are seen on the edge of the wetland as the fog begins to lift and the sun rises.

Pintail Ducks and more stand at the water line as the fog breaks.

Pintail Ducks and company preen in the emerging sunlight as the fog breaks. Photo credit Kirk Keeler

Today, what the fog is hiding is substantial. As California emerges from January with hardly any precipitation, it is clear that the historic drought that California is experiencing is set to continue into a fourth year. With it will come significant challenges—exacerbating last year’s remarkable issues. From critical and hard decisions regarding water allocations to agriculture, wildlife refuges, and rivers with native fish runs. To addressing tree mortality estimated at 40 percent in some areas of the state as well as having faced a prolonged fire season, with no shortage of extraordinary and fast moving wildfires.

Taking action, California is now employing significant steps to address the ongoing drought and provide for both human use and environmental needs. In November, California voters approved Proposition 1, which allocates $7.5 billion via a bond measure for water programs, projects and restoration. The proposition addresses seven key areas: Regional Water Reliability; Water Storage Capacity; Water Recycling; Groundwater Sustainability; Safe Drinking Water; Flood Management; Watershed Protection and Ecosystem Restoration.

Specifically, the proposition focuses on expanding and diversifying water resources and management options. It is clear that one method of water management cannot address the needs of the entire state. Thus, the goal is to diversify water collection and storage, protect and correct current water quality issues—primarily in disadvantaged communities where water pollution is a major issue. In addition, efforts will be made restore ecosystems and river functions and address both short and long-term water needs.

The importance of water has grabbed the attention of representatives, business owners, farmers, public land managers, and citizens. Collectively, the people of California are taking a forward-thinking, diverse approach to address another record-breaking dry year. Of course there may not be consensus on all the initiatives, yet it seems clear a diverse approach will offer more potential solutions than a narrow focus.

Faced with today’s water realities in California, a proactive forward-thinking approach is needed to address these challenges.

Habitat that received water despite overall reduced wildlife refuge water allocations.

Habitat that received water despite reduced water allocations. Photo credit Shauna Potocky

One example of proactive management includes the actions and planning of California’s Wildlife Refuge managers in addressing the dry conditions of this winter’s migratory season. Many planned for a large influx of migratory birds in December and January based on reports of a productive breeding season in the northern habitats of Alaska and Canada. With refuges situated along the Pacific Flyway, it was critical that managers provided habitat for migratory species, despite the drought conditions, which serve as resting and feeding grounds as the birds move through California.

Sandhill Cranes in flight at the Merced Wildlife Refuge in California

Sandhill Cranes in flight at the Merced Wildlife Refuge in California. Photo credit Kirk Keeler

Faced with reduced water resources, wildlife refuges have concentrated water in critical habitat.  Many California refuges received only a portion of their normal water allotments, making strategic management of the wetlands essential. In addition, visitor use activities have been limited including hunting and tours at various locations. Although difficult for bird enthusiasts, it is a good reminder that the refuges are for the birds. They represent only 5 percent of the remaining historical habitat in California’s Central Valley.

A Whitefaced Ibis forging on a mild winter day.

A Whitefaced Ibis forges on a mild winter day in California. Photo credit Kirk Keeler

As the fog lifts on this winter day, the Sandhill Cranes begin to dance for their partners. The Ross’ Snow Geese rise in great loud clouds of movement and the reeds that frame the wetlands shimmer with the flutter of Redwing Black Birds—their songs as sharp as their brilliant red and yellow shoulders. With the receding fog, we are reminded that as resources like water become scarce, we are all pressed to be wiser and more forward thinking in our planning, use and conservation.

The fourth year of California’s drought is the perfect time to examine how water is allotted, conserved, and protected. Although facing significant challenges, California is also perfectly poised to embrace responsible, innovative, and robust water planning and management. Its success is critical. Frankly put, citizens, wildlife and ecosystems are depending on it, as California seeks its own refuge during a paradigm-shifting drought.

A perched raptor watches quietly as the wildlife refuge comes to life as the morning breaks.

A perched raptor watches quietly as the refuge comes to life just after daybreak. Photo credit Shauna Potocky