It's the Environment, Stupid.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Washington State facing water problems

A common misconception out here on the East Coast (at least when talking to folks who haven’t ventured west of the Mississippi, or those who stick to major metropolitan areas) is that Washington State is all green, all the time. They think Seattle = trees & rain (lots and lots of rain) = the entire state. That's like comparing Manhattan to Utica, NY - vastly different.

People are shocked when I tell them Washington state is, in fact, divided by the Cascade mountain range, which makes Western Washington the green, rainy machine everyone has come to know and love. Eastern Washington is more like Montana than it is Seattle. Across the mountains there’s agriculture and apple orchards (not to mention a massive nuclear facility/superfund site called Hanford). It gets hot in the summer and cold in the winter, or so I’m told by the tv weather men - I’ve only driven across in the summers to the Gorge (a fantastic concert venue), Spokane (a long time ago) and the Grand Coulee dam (where they’ve got this great, cheesy, narrated laser light show, which is borderline propaganda for the controlling of the power and strength of the “mighty Columbia”).

I bring this up because Eastern Washington is having water problems and gov, Christine Gregoire, recently signed off on $200m to investigate new dam sites along the mighty Columbia. According to the P-I article, dams are increasingly being dismantled nationally – so why is WA looking seriously at it? Will new dams be the answer to the regions water problems? Are there other solutions? A few dam critic’s alternative picks are listed in the article, but even these are conservation and efficiency measures, which in themselves may not be adequate to meet the demand.

Water is not like power. We can't just create a technology to generate more. Water, as we’ve learned to use it and rely on it, must be controlled, managed, stored. However, with increasing development and changing weather patterns , it will be difficult to manage water with technologies and solutions that have worked in years past. We need to come up with new solutions. Perhaps there are ways of capturing rain water on a large scale, or more efficient ways of stormwater management. What if there was a way to prevent winter floodings in the Skagit Valley and help out farmers on the other side of the mountains?

Developing new ways of thinking about how we deal with water isn't impossible. I’ve used the example of Tree People in LA before. Tree People founder, Andy Lipkis, branched off into watershed management (Tree People began in the 1970’s as a reforesting organization). He was able to convince the city to let him try out a new storm water management system in LA. Instead of building more concrete culverts (as the Army Corp of Engineers was set on) he found a way to retrofit school yards and back lawns with cisterns and infiltrators to help handle the flow.

The T.R.E.E.S. project might not be the solution for Washington, but it is a clear example of how an alternative can be viable when we start thinking beyond the boundaries of solutions past.


  • HAHAHAHAHA dumb people don't know how to treat the environment... i say we leave earth and pollute uranus or something

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 23:10  

  • Hmm, if going green can't be the solution, having a cleaner environment can solve your water problems there in Washington. You can start a campaign on keeping rivers and creeks clean, because trash can clog down drainage systems severely. After five years, what's the situation now? I hope there has been a development. :)

    By Anonymous Sharon Strock, at 11:14  

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