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Can we turn this spring flooding into summer drought-proofing?

by Daimen Hardie on April 10, 2014

Catchment pond 10/04/2014 - Whaelghinbran Farm, South Branch, N.B.

Community Forests International  has only been farming in the Maritimes for a couple of years and we’ve already witnessed both flood and drought at Whaelghinbran Farm.  In August 2012 our farm apprentices were forced to siphon precious water from their swimming hole to keep thirsty veggies growing, moving our farm mentor Susan Tyler to remark in exasperation,  “Rain used to be one thing you could count on in the Maritimes!”.  According to New Brunswick’s Department of Environment we can expect to witness more of the same extremity as our climate changes (i).

Natural landscapes are like shock absorbers for extreme weather.  In times of heavy rainfall and snowmelt, intact wetlands and forests act as giant sponges that protect against severe flooding.  Water is soaked up and then slowly released into the surrounding environment, preventing drastic fluctuations in the level of rivers and lakes.  This slow-release regulation in turn keeps soil moisture available for relatively long periods of time, alleviating drought despite rainfall shortages later in the season.  Nature’s genius has created a shock absorbing system that effectively turns one season’s problem of flooding into another season’s solution to drought.

This genius is nowhere more practical than on a farm.  Excessive water causes soil erosion and prevents timely cultivation and planting.  When soil is waterlogged machinery cannot be operated safely or effectively, and seeds risk rotting before they sprout.  At the opposite extreme, in the peak growing season water can become a major limiting factor to growth.  No soil is perfect, and farmers often manage to raise a crop in the short-term despite various nutrient deficiencies - but nothing grows without water.

'Trees as shock absorbers' - Planting the flood plain at Whaelghinbran Farm 

At Community Forests International we often look to natural systems for design solutions.  The problem of flood and drought, now and in the uncertain future, begs the question:  "Can we design farms to function like a shock absorbers for extreme weather, just like natural landscapes do?"  We think so, and we plan to follow nature’s lead as we design Whaelghinbran Farm’s water management system going forward.  What do you think?  Could we employ nature’s shock absorbers elsewhere with the same positive impact?  In our built environment?  In our flood-prone communities?  One thing is certain - in all cases we need nature's genius now more than ever.

Susan Tyler, founder of Whaelghinbran Farm, assists in erosion control barrier construction - Whaelghinbran Farm, South Branch, N.B.

 

(i) How is Climate Change Affecting New Brunswick? Environment and Local Government – Government of New Brunswick.  Date accessed: 08/04/2014

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