I should have more accurately called this post, Saving All the Insects, or even Saving the Wildlife, because the answer to saving one is the answer to saving them all. We’ve been inundated for years – my whole lifetime, in fact, – with pleas to save our environment, stop whale slaughter, stop polluting, etc. I remember winning a poster contest in fifth grade on the subject of curtailing littering. Since Rachel Carson’s books woke people up to the hazards of DDT and how chemicals have many deadly side effects there has been a grassroots effort to stop the pollution. Since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth came out the push for environmentally friendly lights, cars, LEED-certified buildings and many more positive anti-climate-change actions have grown furiously. Too bad no one listened to him decades before. A drop in the economy and the radical change in weather patterns have people exploring organics, making their own clothes and foods, changing their shopping habits and thinking about what they are bringing into their homes. However, this week the World Wildlife Fund released the staggering results of a study that states that between the years 1970 and 2010, 52% of the world’s animal populations are gone. Over half. Gone. On our watch. In my lifetime. I am stunned with shame. So what about the next 40 years? Over 97% of California wetlands are already gone. There are only 3% left in Los Angeles. The Colorado River hasn’t met the ocean for decades, except briefly last year due to major earthworks. We are pumping all that water overland, open to the sun for evaporation, to treatment plants that fill it with chlorine and other chemicals, then sell it to us to spray over lawns and flush down the toilet or let run down the drain while the water heats up. It is madness. All the wildlife that depended upon the Colorado River along that stretch are gone. All the insects, the frogs, lizards, birds, mammals, etc. that need a clean drink of water no longer have access to it. The only water they can drink is usually chlorinated domestic water in ponds and bird baths. Too often this water is treated with algaecide, which claims it doesn’t hurt frogs but it does kill what the frogs feed upon. We are killing our animals with poisoned domestic water.
One of the largest reasons we have extinctions in North America is mismanagement of rainwater in drylands (other than polluting the waters. Poaching, over-fishing, destruction of habitat and climate change are the main reasons). We have cleared and flattened the ground, and channel rainwater off into the ocean. Look around at your streets and houses. Are they harvesting water or channeling it? Any property that is slanted is channeling water away. Any property that is level – like the bottom of swales – is harvesting water. So many properties are inundated with annual rains because there is no water harvesting above them. When you harvest water, it runs into rain catchment basins and swales instead of roaring down the hillside taking all the topsoil with it. Water becomes passive and percolates down deeply into the soil. That deep saturation draws tree roots down into the ground. The roots break up hardpan, make oxygen and nutrient channels into the dirt and produce exudates (sugars, carbohydrates and starches) through their roots to attract and feed the billions of microbes that turn your dirt into rain-holding soil. That underground plume of rainwater then slowly passes through your soil, re-enervating subterranean waterways, refilling your wells and bringing long-dry streambeds back to life. We must harvest rainwater to save our animals and plants, and consequently ourselves. We must reestablish sources of clean, unpolluted chemical-free water for animals to eat and from which to drink.
Healthy pond water is off-color due to tannins, and is filled with tiny creatures. Some such as daphnia are visible, but just like soil microbes, many aquatic creatures are microscopic. Fish and frogs feast from this level of the food chain, and these creatures make the water balanced. They eat mosquito eggs. They clean up algae. They are as vitally important as soil microbes. Oh, and 83% of the frogs are gone.
I spoke with Quentin Alexander from HiveSavers today; he performs humane bee rescue around the San Diego area and has been trying to re-queen Africanized hives with calmer European queens which will breed nicer behavior back into the bees rather than having to kill the entire hive. He has had no luck in the past two years with European queens, even those bred in California. With very little wetlands left, and those often sprayed with DEET by Vector Control, or polluted with chemical fertilizers and oils washed out of front yards, streets and driveways, these insects must resort to drinking from swimming pools and bird baths. Again, these contain highly chlorinated water. Animals are being forced to drink poison, or not drink at all.
We MUST stop using chemicals on our properties, and we MUST harvest rainwater. We MUST stop spraying well water into the air but irrigate with it in dripper form under mulch so that it is cycled back into the ground rather than evaporated. One inch of rain on one acre in one hour is 27,154 gallons of water! It is so easy to harvest rainwater – dig level-bottomed swales! Dig small ones with a trowel. Fire up the tractor and turn road ways into swales, or cross-cut vertical paths with swales that have dedicated overflows. Dig rain catchment basins to catch a flow of water. Catch water as high up on your property as you can. If you have level soil, fantastic! You have it so easy! Make gentle swales, rain gardens, rain catchment areas and sunken gardens to catch and percolate the water. Bury old wood perpendicular to water flow – its called hugelkultur.
Please watch this six-minute video by Geoff Lawton of the Permaculture Design Institute of Australia. You need to type in your name and email, but they don’t sell your information nor do they bug you with lots of emails. Here is the link. The title is Finding An Oasis in the American Desert, and it is about the Roosevelt swales dug during the dust bowl in the desert. If nothing that I say, nor anyone else says can convince you, then please watch this and see the effectiveness of rain harvesting. We MUST do this, and now before the rains come is the time. Catch all the water that falls on your property in the soil, and try to catch the water that runs into it. If there are flood waters channeled through your property, see if you can talk to the people who own land above you about harvesting water up there. It will reduce the flooding, save topsoil and benefit everyone’s property. Work towards keeping rainwater in your soil, reducing your domestic water, and making what streambeds are left come back to life. Keep our old trees from dying by watering deeply through rain catchment. If you have a pond or swimming pool and treat it with harsh chemicals and algaecides, seek out a natural pond professional. In the San Diego – Los Angeles region there is Bob Lloyd of PuraVida Aquatics, or Jacob Hatch of Hatch Aquatics. Jacob builds natural ponds and maintains large natural waterways. Bob maintains chemical-free backyard and display ponds that are full of wildlife. He can convert your pool into a clean swimming pond where the water is filtered by plants and thus is lovely year-round, provides abundant habitat and doesn’t need chemical treatments. No chlorine to burn your skin and eyes. How great is that? He can also create a constructed wetland that cleans your greywater with plants.
There are so many simple and inexpensive ways to harvest rainwater rather than allow it to flow into the salty ocean without penetrating the soil. Please, please, please do them, and if you already have THANK YOU and gently encourage your neighbors to do the same. We must stop the habitat destruction and start to rebuild what is gone.