This summer, we’ve seen severe drought in the Midwest and floods in New Mexico and Pennsylvania. These are not two different issues, but ‘two sides of the same coin,’" says Shannon Horst, executive director of Holistic Management International, the New Mexico-based non-profit that works with farmers and ranchers worldwide to create healthy land and healthy profits. "It’s the result of how we’ve built our cities and managed our water and our land.
Horst points out that we have covered most of our urban areas in concrete and asphalt, and our urban land-management practices have left us with thousands of acres of bare soil. The bulk of any rainwater that falls -- up to 83% -- will either evaporate quickly off concrete surfaces or simply run off -- taking the soil with it and often resulting in flooding.
"We also know that bare land without topsoil is far less able to withstand the affects of drought," Horst adds.
"We can improve land health to survive drought and prevent flooding," Horst notes, "but to do so, we must recapture a large portion of the water we’re losing to runoff and get it to soak into the soil and seep into underground aquifers. This requires actions and financial investments that few people are talking about today."
She suggests that specific steps individuals and organizations can take include keeping soils covered with biological material; landscaping with native plants (or even with rocks and gravel, which help soils retain water), and working with public officials to create new policies that:
- Provide incentives to and educate homeowners about the value of planting vegetation.
- Educate and assist owners and managers of large landscapes (ranchers, farmers, developers, government agencies and the military) to keep the soils covered.
- Require porous roads, roofs that "breathe" and homes with cisterns.
- Require new developments to be "clustered," leaving large areas of open space and parks that are high in biodiversity.
"Most of the technologies, designs and tools needed to take these important steps are readily available," Horst says. "All we need is the political will to use them."