Tag Archives: water scarcity

OKANAGAN BASIN – GAME ABOUT DROUGHT

IMAGE WITH SUN

This article, The Name of the Game is Drought, appeared in the July/Aug. issue of WaterCanada.
The Okanagan Basin Water Board engages regional stakeholders in a tournament of thirst, by Kerry Freek

FACING DROUGHT IS A GROWING NECESSITY

DROUGHT

In the United States, drought ranks second or third of natural disasters, depending on the year, in terms of economic impact. In Canada, dry periods—especially in the western provinces—are becoming more frequent and prolonged. It’s not news that severe water scarcity can devastate unprepared communities. But when people, nature, and economic activities share a watershed’s resources, how should local governments determine a pecking order in the event of an emergency? More importantly, how do they begin the tough process of creating emergency plans in advance?
The answer, some might say, is to make it fun, but keep it meaningful.

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This past fall, the Okanagan Basin Water Board (OBWB) kick-started the drought conversation in its region. In partnership with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and the B.C. Ministry of Environment, the organization brought together key players in government, as well as regional water suppliers, and reps from the agriculture, fisheries, and ranching communities to participate in a game about municipal thirst.
As part of the exercise, participants were divided into teams, given a drought scenario, and asked to identify and work through some of the issues anticipated with a drought, such as water reservoir management, the need for water for food production, and water for fish. The teams were given options for managing their water supply, and referees and other teams scored their decisions. Finally, the decisions were entered into a sophisticated computer program, known as the water evaluation and planning tool. With output from this tool, participants could understand and assess how their decisions would play out in a multi-year drought.
Teams quickly learned that any choice would impact water supply land, depending on how the scenarios were managed, they could increase or reduce conflict within the community. They also learned success comes down to collaboration, says Nelson Jatel of OBWB. “In these situations, it’s critical to communicate clearly and work together. The game allowed us to think through some of the complex partnerships that are key to surviving a drought.”
Gaming is gaining in popularity, and is beginning to be seen as a way to work through potential conflicts in the real world. “When we play a game, we tackle tough challenges with more creativity, more determination, more optimism, and we’re more likely to reach out to others for help,” says game designer Jane McGonigal in her June 2012 TED talk video – 

Osooyoos Mayor Stu Wells, who participated in the Okanagan game, believes drought in the region is a matter of when, not if. “To ensure the most positive outcomes, we need to know where the need for water is going to be, and what the consequences and trade offs of our decisions will be. “Our town has a drought management plan, but after this tournament, we need to review it and look at providing more incentives for water conservation. We want to prepare to be as resilient as possible.” The game has continued to improve. AAFC says it is working on a tool kit so people in other Canadian regions—and beyond—can run their own versions and have a bit of fun in the process.

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IS THE GRASS ALWAYS GREENER?

         

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A lush lawn can be a drain on scarce water resources, but it may also be a boon to cities with storm water issues ~ published in Water Canada magazine, Nov./ Dec. issue ~by Kerry Freek

LAWN BLOG PARCHED LAWNYour city is suffering from an extended summer drought. Every blade of grass has recoiled from the sun. Every lawn has large, crispy sections which look more like hay than turf. One home’s lawn, however, defies the sun, looking lush; thriving in the sun. Feelings of jealousy override any rational belief that you’re part of the water conservation solution, making a small sacrifice for the greater good. Your aesthetically inclined neighbour has clearly ignored the citywide watering ban, but you have to admit that his lawn looks good.

LAWN BLOG TURFIn this era of climate change, extended drought and fiercer rain events, municipalities are finding that their storm water systems are inadequate. Cash strapped councils are beginning to see the benefits of low-impact development best practices, which include increasing permeable surface coverage with comparatively cheaper plants and grasses to help with infiltration. “Turf grass is an incredible filter,” says Alan White, president of Burlington, Ontario-based Turf Systems, who says that healthy, well-kept lawns can also help cool concrete urban heat sinks, manage carbon emissions, and increase oxygen production.

LAWN BLOG6Picking the right plant ~ Jealous neighbour jokes aside, watering bans are growing increasingly common across the country. However, while water scarcity is concern, it doesn’t always make lawns entirely out of the question. In fact, healthy lawns and water conservation practices may be able to coexist—at least for short periods of drought.

LAWN BLOG grass seedlingIt’s all about the right plant in the right place. Richardson says the key is to select the proper species and cultivars. “In extremely dry regions, it’s always prudent to use warm season grasses if they are adapted, but cool season grasses can be used with proper selection of species and cultivars.”

BLOG LAWN GRASS SEEDFinding the right grass can be difficult, partly because the broad use of the term “drought resistant” has many people confused. The current seed and sod market is saturated by companies with big claims and no proof. “Everybody has put ‘drought resistant’ on their packages…

LAWN BLOG RAIN GARDENChristine Zimmer of the Credit Valley Conservation Authority (CVC) says grass plays a role in a landscape’s ecosystem services, but the real key is biodiversity – especially when it comes to storm water management practices. How does a permaculture or rain garden stack up against a lawn made up of one species of grass, for instance? CVC is currently monitoring the differences in retention between low right-of-way rain gardens and grasses. Zimmer is also worried that the drought tolerant label could confuse consumers. “With new developments, people want a landscape to look nice right from the start. But when developers use turf, you don’t have stabilized roots right away,” says Zimmer. Even if the grass is rated drought tolerant, rain events will shuttle sediment into retention ponds until roots dig into plots.

LAWN BLOG TURF2Turf in cities ~ Still, a standard may go a long way in convincing municipalities and developers to acknowledge turf’s potential. Interest is growing, says Sean Moher of Manderley, Canada’s largest sod producer. “You’d be hard pressed to find a city that isn’t talking about water-wise landscapes and grasses. Drought tolerance is still so new, though. Industry has to be able to catch up to demand.”

LAWN BLOG LANDSCAPEDFor White, however, it’s not just about lawn advocacy. “If I can help people to avoid  installing artificial turf, that’s a win for us,” he says. “But there’s a bigger discussion going on here – landscape is a vital tool; it’s part of our cities’ infrastructure.”