Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Stormwater (11/1/2015)

I have been doing some literature research on the history of stormwater management.  OK, call me a stormwater geek or a stormwater nerd, but I just realized that I have been actually fascinated about it for probably more more than forty years and I never noticed it until this weekend.

It all started in 1972 when I read an article somewhere about an agriculture and reforestation project in the arid mountains of Algeria.  This fascinated me and prompted me to do a literature search on the subject of desert revegetation at my college library in Holland where I found a reference to a new (scientific) book by Michael Evenari and co-authors called: The Negev, The Challenge of a Desert.  It was published in 1971 and I borrowed it through inter-library loan.  It came from the Dutch Library of Congress, it appeared that I was the first one to read it.  I devoured the book.

In this book Evenari and his colleagues describe how the old Bedouin tribes were able not only to survive in the desert but actually to thrive by practicing agriculture in the Negev Desert of what is now Israel.  They built extensive drainage canal systems on hillsides that captured runoff from the sparse winter rainstorms and brought the water down to the agriculture fields.  Very different from what we did with stormwater until the early 2000s; which is, getting rid of it.  At least now we are back to teaching people to conserve stormwater; to conserve it and infiltrate it.

Walking to work in Richmond this morning (11/3/2015), ready to go back out on the road and teach about stormwater management and conservation, and erosion and sediment control. 

I have always credited Evenari for steering me into the field of desert ecology; his book has a chapter on plant survival in the desert environment and it was my first encounter with that subject as well.  Ever since reading that chapter I have been fascinated with plant physiological ecology, in particular the adaptation of plants to stressful environments such as deserts, the subject I specialized in for my PhD.

Events in real life kept reminding me of Evenari's book.  In Yemen I saw some of the same water harvesting practices that he described seeing in the Negev Desert.  I also saw the same plant adaptations in Yemen and in New Mexico as he saw, and it always brought me back to his book.  So much so, that  Evenari's book was one of the first purchases I made on the fledgling Amazon.com years ago, it was a book that always stayed with me.  So yes, it was fun to open it again this weekend and to leaf through it again.

Now 40 year or more later I can credit Evenari for even more than just turning me into an physiological ecologist.  Truth be known, I am more a stormwater geek or nerd now; maybe also thanks to that book, a realization I all the sudden have all out of the blue.  It is fun to see how your life comes full circle, all the way back to stormwater management, the most important subject in the book.  It is amazing how one event, or one book can have such a (subconscious) influence even if you don't realize it then, but only now 40+ years later.  I am sure that many of you have events, books or even radio or television shows that are somehow pivotal to your career or even your life, that you do not realize until many years later.  Cherish those moments, I cherish mine right now.

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