This is my third summer here at Monte da Vida, and the driest and hottest so far. It is now early October and we have had one proper day of rain since May. Our stream only ran for a few weeks in the spring. I read that the local reservoir has dropped to 17 percent of capacity. It is dry and dusty, and the trees and plants are struggling.
Sometimes I awake to a misty morning after a cold night, relishing the the dampness in the air and appreciating the morning dew that gently moistens the leaves and grasses. Every day I check the weather forecast, that tantalises me by promising rain the next week, only to revert back to zero precipitation forecasts a few days later. My new copper rain measuring vessel stands waiting out on the field, occasionally catching a few drops of dew.
A well supplies our water needs, and it is very low – I have been checking each day to see if it still pumping water. A few days ago the “Source Low” light was on, signalling that the pump was no longer active. We have about 2500 litres of water stored until the level in the well recovers.
At times like this I question why I bought land without year round water-abundance. It was high on my list of ‘must-haves’ when I was searching for property. I wanted a year round running stream, or river, preferably with a waterfall and fresh springs as well. However this was the land that appeared at the right timing, and ticked many other boxes. It did have two wells, and a seasonal stream, and we envisaged a large lake right in the centre that would bring water nourishment to the land and to ourselves.
An answer to this question came to me the other day. I realised that being here, living with little water, connects me to the reality of millions of people around the world facing droughts and water scarcity far more extreme than we are facing. This realization made me acutely grateful for the water we DO have, and each day appreciating it. It also gives me a definite motivation to create solutions, to transform this small area and create an oasis in the encroaching desertification, turning the landscape green again, and to be an example for others to do the same.
Meditating one morning, I asked the land itself for guidance on this topic of water. I received a visit in my minds eye, from the ‘water being’ of the land. This ‘spirit’ appeared in the form of an old man, drenched and dripping, as if he had emerged from the thickest damp forest bog, with water weeds draped around him. Through this being I connected to a time, long ago, when this place was covered in forest, green and lush with flowing streams and springs, deep soils, light dappling through green leaves, the sounds of running water. I hold this vision within me, a dream of flowing water, and if I send my mind into the ground I can sense it there. Maybe this was not only a vision from the past, but also of the future?
There are many people lacking water, and many dreaming of water. Hardly anywhere is left on this planet where the water-cycles are not disrupted, or interfered with for lack of respect for this essential source of life. And the water we do have is increasingly polluted and mismanaged.
We have had the local borehole diggers here to give us an estimate, but we really do not want to dig a borehole. It is not a long-term solution to the lowering of the groundwater levels, and it is a cost we would rather use for improving our grey water and rainwater collection and storage systems, so we can live within the limits of the water we have at or near the surface of the ground. We do not know the effect on the water balance of the land of drilling 50-80 meters, and there is no guarantee of the water quality or quantity.
Like digging deeper and deeper to extract fuels from the earth, drilling deep for water is only postponing the problem for future generations to deal with, unless it is combined with strategies to harvest rainwater and replenish water sources and aquifers. This example from South Africa shows how the current use of boreholes to irrigate large scale agriculture can turn into a disaster: http://www.bdlive.co.za/business/agriculture/2016/02/01/drought-and-poor-control-of-boreholes-add-to-crisis
So what are the solutions? How can we manifest this dream?
In September leaders gathered in Stockholm for World Water Week, to discuss meeting the Sustainable Development Goals related to water. This report of the event shows how there is a lot of talk about how to meet the goals, and a big lack of action in terms of actually doing anything practical about it…. http://blog.cifor.org/44003/implementation-implementation-implementation-just-not-necessarily-in-that-order?fnl=en
However the remedy is not complicated. Planting forests captures and stores water in the ground and cools the earth lessening the evaporation of moisture. Established forests are big sponges that can store huge amounts of water in the ground. Earthworks such as dams and swales can help store more of the seasonal rainfall and prevent against soil erosion and run-off whilst the trees are growing. Surface water also cools the immediate environment, creating a micro-climate that supports the growth of plants and trees, and provides a habitat for wildlife and aquatic life.
We do not need to sit back and wait for governments and international policy makers to decide what to do. There are many examples around the world of people who have demonstrated the effectiveness of planting trees to restore water balance and have seen the reappearence of springs and streams. Even very small scale forests can raise the water table as was demonstrated in Bangalore, India: http://www.thebetterindia.com/56916/forest-bangalore-lowered-temperature-raised-water-table-iisc/
And on a larger scale, an example of water returning to the land can be seen in the work of Instituto Terra in Brazil, amongst many others. (see video below).
The work of people like Michal Kravčík demonstrates the importance of restoring the small water cycle and offers strategies for doing so. His short downloadable book, Water for the Recovery of the Climate offers a clear way forward.
At Monte da Vida We are in the process of designing a complete water solution which combines tree-planting and improving existing forest, with a system of earth-dam lakes and water storage tanks, that use solar pumps to keep the water cycling between them.
I dream of one day seeing a spring emerge from the forest. For now I await with anticipation the rain that is due to arrive later this week….
Forest Restoration at Instituto Terra:
A sweet film about taking care of forest watersheds: