by Katie Wolpert
Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote those words to describe the predicament of the ill-fated hero of his poem who was stuck on a ship in the middle of a becalmed ocean. Current weather patterns in the Eastern US have left many feeling similarly even in land-locked locales.
This year the Eastern US has already received a record-breaking amount of precipitation in and that trend is continuing into the fall. From the overflowing hog lagoons in North Carolina after Hurricane Florence to everyday runoff from our farms and cities, water quality and availability is affected by both flood and drought conditions.
As we face a future with more frequent and damaging extreme weather events we must adjust our water management and treatment systems to accommodate the changing conditions so that we don’t find ourselves in the same predicament as Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner.
There is only so much engineering that we can do to try to prepare for and mitigate storm damage. But, according to Sandra Postel, “watersheds, wetlands, floodplains, and river systems constitute a class of infrastructure doing valuable work, just as dams, canals, and treatment plants do. Assessments led by economist Robert Costanza showed, for example, that the ability of freshwater swamps and river floodplains to store water, mitigate floods, and break down pollutants delivered annual benefits to the economy averaging some $32,000 per hectare ($13,000 per acre; both expressed in 2016 dollars). It was foolish to continue to bulldoze, dike, and drain away these services as if their value were zero.”
A large part of our Appalachian Watershed and Stream Monitors (AWSM) program is teaching students the concept of a watershed and helping them understand how their community affects and is affected by their watershed. They also conduct water analyses in different areas of their watershed so that they can directly observe differences in stream and water quality.
All this learning is working towards a deeper understanding of their personal connection to their water, and their role in preserving the availability of this vital resource.
After a week with Experience Learning, I think that I will definitely remember how valuable water is, even when flushing toilets or taking a shower. — program participant