Friday, August 1, 2014

Going with the flow

Welcome to August, the heart of Summer. Do you remember how much snow we got last Winter? How rainy and wet this past Spring and early Summer were? That all led to the "wet spot" in our "back yard" looking like this back in early May:

"wet spot" in early May 2014
"wet spot" in early May 2014
Photo by J. Harrington

According to MnDNR, "2014 will also be the wettest January 1-June 30 on record as well in the Twin Cities." July has had some storms, but not enough rain to keep the "wet spot" full. Here's what it looks like this morning.

"wet spot" on August 1, 2014
Photo by J. Harrington

Depending on what we're trying to get done, or avoid, this is one of the advantages, or disadvantages, of living on the Anoka Sand Plain. We can see on the land's surface what happens to shallow groundwater beneath the surface. In our case, although we're pumping deeper groundwater for domestic use, unlike a public water supply we're not providing a lot of treatment to make it potable and then distributing over an entire community to have it used to water lawns, flush waste and wash cars, none of which require potable water as far as I know. When it comes to water, it's not necessarily a case of "Use it or lose it," it's more like "Use it (once) then lose it." Given the cost in energy, chemicals and distribution, collection and discharge facilities, the way we manage our public water supplies and stormwater doesn't make a lot of sense in the 21st century.

Every green building program and sustainable development initiative I'm familiar with, and that includes most of them in Minnesota, emphasizes storm water management, water conservation and efficient water use both in the building and for landscaping. Some, like the Living Building Challenge, focus on really challenging performance:
"One hundred percent of the project’s water needs must be supplied by captured precipitation or other natural closed loop water systems, and/or by re-cycling used project water, and must be purified as needed without the use of chemicals.

All stormwater and water discharge, including grey and black water, must be treated onsite and managed either through re-use, a closed loop system, or infiltration. Excess stormwater can be released onto adjacent sites under certain conditions.

Refer to the Water Petal Handbook for clarifications and exceptions, such as allowances for a municipal potable water use connection if required by local heath regulations."
The Metro Council's Livable Communities Program, and local government comprehensive plans, as good as the current versions are, could probably, with minimal cost and effort, provide more and better incentives that would encourage new development and major renovations of existing development to use at least one green building certification standard. Places such as White Bear Lake might even want to consider becoming a model community and setting an example by encouraging all new development to have net zero water impact, and provide incentives to existing development to encourage retrofits of existing buildings for energy and water conservation and efficiency in use. We Minnesotans have the knowledge, skill and ability to do much better than "business as usual." We do seem to be coming up short on motivation and political will unfortunately. "More" development should be balanced with "better" development or our environment will continue to suffer and then so will our quality of life. In case this has tempted any of you to explore options for green building and sustainable development, here are some links to get you started:
[Full disclosure: I've been involved in green building for years and currently serve on the board of the Minnesota Chapter of the US Green Building Council. At home, which is a 1970's split level "sweat-equity" house that we purchased second or third hand, we've been trying, unsuccessfully so far, to find a cost-effective solution for an insulation and roof retrofit. Although I advocate for retrofits, I believe government incentives will be needed to make it popular and reasonably cost-effective to "do the right thing."]


Gary Snyder's poem helps us all sort it out, whether we think we're poets or not.

As For Poets
by Gary Snyder

As for poets
The Earth Poets
Who write small poems,
Need help from no man.

The Air Poets
Play out the swiftest gales
And sometimes loll in the eddies.
Poem after poem,
Curling back on the same thrust.

At fifty below
Fuel oil won't flow
And propane stays in the tank.
Fire Poets
Burn at absolute zero
Fossil love pumped backup

The first
Water Poet
Stayed down six years.
He was covered with seaweed.
The life in his poem
Left millions of tiny
Different tracks
Criss-crossing through the mud.

With the Sun and Moon
In his belly,
The Space Poet
Sleeps.
No end to the sky-
But his poems,
Like wild geese,
Fly off the edge.

A Mind Poet
Stays in the house.
The house is empty
And it has no walls.
The poem
Is seen from all sides,
Everywhere,
At once.


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