Too much, too hot

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This year, the Santa Fe area has seen six months of drought and an epic storm de­liv­er­ing up to 3 inches of rain in a few hours in some sec­tions of town. Is this the new nor­mal? “The South­west­ern part of the United States has been in per­sis­tent drought for the last 19 years and if it con­tin­ues through this year it will be of­fi­cially clas­si­fied as a megadrought,” said Jonathan Over­peck, dean of theUniver­sity of Michi­gan School at Sus­tain­abil­ity and re­cent key­note speaker at the 2018 Next Gen­er­a­tionWater Sum­mit. As he clar­i­fied in his sub­se­quent com­ments, this drought is not a nor­mal drought. It is due as much to ris­ing tem­per­a­tures as to lack of pre­cip­i­ta­tion.

The Santa Fe-area sta­tis­tics for a 100-year rain event is a lit­tle over 2 inches in 60 min­utes and 3 inches in one day. As the re­cent storm may indi­cate, there may be new rain­fall records for our area.

Flood­ing is oc­cur­ring not only here but around the globe. Last year’s flood in Hous­ton was one for the record books. Al­ready this year flash floods sent cars float­ing down Main Street in El­li­cott City, Mary­land; a del­uge in Hawaii dumped four feet of rain in 24 hours; and ma­jor storms ear­lier in the year caused mas­sive high tides in the North­east. Ad­di­tion­ally, flood­ing has af­fected Is­rael, Spain, Cam­bo­dia, Liberia, Pak­istan, and Sri Lanka. Ja­pan is installing a $2.6 bil­lion flood tun­nel un­der Tokyo.

The in­creased tem­per­a­tures are speed­ing up evap­o­ra­tion and dry­ing out the soils. With these new con­di­tions, what are some of the pru­dent ac­tions we can take? Choose heat-tol­er­ant plants for gar­dens and land­scapes. Con­sider that trees and plants pre­fer­ring our tra­di­tional cooler moun­tain tem­per­a­tures will be less likely to adapt to con­sis­tently warmer tem­per­a­tures. With higher tem­per­a­tures, mulch and soil amend­ments are even more im­por­tant. The warmer and drier tem­per­a­tures make our clay soils less able to ab­sorb rains. Mulch helps re­tain the mois­ture we do get and keeps the in­tense sun off the top­soil to re­duce evap­o­ra­tion. Ad­di­tion­ally, it helps to re­duce runoff dur­ing storms.

If cap­tur­ing rain­wa­ter/stormwa­ter on­site is an op­tion or nec­es­sary, larger tanks and large berms, swales and basins must be in­te­grated into your de­sign. Ad­di­tion­ally, when plan­ning for cap­tur­ing any of this wa­ter on­site, re­mem­ber to plan ap­pro­pri­ately for over­flows. Re­gard­less of the tank or re­ten­tion pond size, these larger storms will over­flow. Plan for it and don’t be sur­prised.

Record rain­fall and tem­per­a­ture highs are likely to oc­cur more of­ten lo­cally and around the globe. The rain events we are get­ting are more in­tense and less fre­quent. In other words, this year is what we are likely to ex­pect but with even more in­ten­sity: the new nor­mal. We need to pre­pare for this chang­ing cli­mate and pro­tect our prop­erty, our neigh­bors, and our com­mu­nity for this new nor­mal.

Doug Pushard, founder of the web­site www.Har­vestH2o.com, has de­signed and in­stalled res­i­den­tial rain­wa­ter sys­tems for over a decade. He is a mem­ber of the Santa FeWater Con­ser­va­tion Com­mit­tee, a life­time mem­ber of the Amer­i­can Rain­wa­ter Catch­ment Sys­tems As­so­ci­a­tion, and an EPA WaterSense Part­ner. He can be reached at doug@Har­vestH2o.com.

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