Thursday, March 22 marks World Water Day, a time to stop and think about this most basic of natural elements.
Water, we can’t live without it, as 70 per cent of our bodies are comprised of it, surging through our veins in the form of our blood, and comprising the tissues, organs and bones that make up our structure. Next to oxygen, it is the most basic need of life, for without it, life would not exist.
Yet despite the fact we cannot live without it, as humans we still have not been able to find a way to live ‘with’ it.
World Water Day’s theme this year is Nature for Water, exploring nature-based solutions to the water challenges we face in the 21st century. (Go to worldwaterday.org to learn more.)
A great theme, indeed, but upon closer inspection, it’s time to recognize the water does not challenge us, for it’s quite the opposite. We challenge water.
In St. John’s — as with most urban areas of North America during the last century and continuing on into this one — we saw, and see, the natural occurrence of water, our waterways, as the enemy. As cities grew through the 1900’s, rivers and streams were culverted and straightened, ponds, marshes and bogs were drained and filled in, allowing for the development of residential and commercial areas. The permeable land of the natural environment was covered by the impermeable surfaces of driveways, roads and buildings.
Nature, by design, is resilient. When it rains, wetlands hold on to the excess water, releasing it slowly, to drain back into the ocean from which it came.
When was the last time you heard of a moose complaining of flooding in the central Avalon wilderness area?
But in our urbanized centres, life became more difficult. Compounded by climate change, ever increasing high rainfall events now meant flooding in the places humans call home. In an attempt to control the flooding, what do we do? Build bigger culverts, berm more streams and contemplate placing weirs across our urban ponds and lakes.
Noble, human solutions, yet certainly not examples of ways to ‘live with’ nature.
In this city, as with most cities on this continent, we have not ‘lived with’ nature in hundreds of years. What we need to come to understand is that waterways are not the enemy, but are, in fact, our ally. In the future, finding ways to incorporate the streams, ponds and marshes that hold this most basic of elements, into our human expansion is not just important, but essential.
So this World Water Day as you walk the shores of Quidi Vidi or Long Pond, or drive along the streets adjacent to the Rennies or Waterford rivers, take a moment to think about water, and not just about how you can’t live without it, but how you can live with it.