As a student of water, I have used this monthly column to communicate what I’ve learned from the Dungeness River, the aquifer system, different historical and modern irrigation practices, and from glaciers in the Olympic Mountains. The column sprung up during the 2015 drought when the mountain snowpack was gone by July, and irrigators and salmon were all suffering from extreme low flow in the Dungeness.
The point of starting the column, to its originator Jane Iddings (who moved away within a few months) and to me when I took over, was to bring awareness to the community at a teachable moment of our watershed’s dependence on the annually-finite winter snowpack. To this end, it was originally called “Water Matters.”
Five years later, despite constant support and assistance from my husband, I and my supply of watery topics are exhausted, and the column is going on hiatus.
I thank Mike Dashiell and the Gazette for the opportunity to contribute and my loyal readers for keeping me going. The process of writing a pedantic column once a month taught me tons about the craft and, more importantly, about myself.
Denial of denial
Speaking of education, as a student of geology in the 1980s I learned that the earth’s atmosphere had been changing from the combustion of fossil fuels ever since the start of the Industrial Revolution. I was in my early 20s at the time and this was a concern to me, but my naïve assumption was that decision makers would surely change course or find solutions to avoid the potentially damaging “greenhouse effect.”
It took me years to recognize that non-scientists were having a hard time comprehending that anything bad was happening regarding invisible greenhouse gases, and elected decision makers were having an especially hard time. Scientists’ facts about future consequences to the ecosystem were, literally, hard to believe … so decision makers chose not to.
Through the 1990s, as elected leaders found doubters in the scientific community — remember, scientists are trained to be doubters — there was great relief in denial. Followers of those public figures felt the same relief, and denial that there was anything big or important to deny became the social norm for a long time.
It’s understandable, right? It’s human nature to question information that makes one feel vulnerable and powerless. We are bombarded with doom and gloom messages that Greenland and Antarctica are melting, the ocean is rising, and drought, famine, hurricanes, and pandemics will all come more often.
On top of fear is shame. We are supposed to accept apparent evidence that our lifestyle — our residence in a developed country — is to blame for all this terrible news and that lower economic classes are being impacted the most.
It is hard to take, and each person grapples with their own capacity for vulnerability in facing it.
In 2020 my attention was first caught by social rebellion around the pandemic, and then even more so by the rebellion around implicit racism. As a member of the dominant race and white culture, I am compelled to learn more. One webinar I found recommended that those of us in privileged classes really listen, hear and be open to believing what people of color and other minorities say is happening to them.
This suggestion made an impression because I recognized the behavior: sometimes I am skeptical; I don’t fully believe what I hear some people say about inequity.
At that moment my own vulnerability and denial were staring me in the face.
I get it. Denial is the social norm for problems too vast, too deep, too hard to believe.
It is not easy to make the mental shift to accept uncomfortable facts and comprehend foreign truths. The process is unpredictable and scary. We expand the personal to the greater and suddenly see holes in the fabric of society and it makes us anxious.
Given the trauma we have all been through this year, it’s no longer naivety but a mandate to expect leaders to face our collective vulnerability and make a plan that leads us through the hard work of social and environmental justice. The year 2020 has, I believe, brought us closer:
• The pandemic has shown that we can work together to protect vulnerable people of all ages, colors, religions and income levels. We have seen compassion working.
• The racial justice movement is broadcasting difficult stories so easily lost in the noise, giving us all the chance to take new responsibility for our reaction. We can see empathy at work if we look.
• With the climate crisis more people and businesses are trusting scientists and innovators to grow a clean energy economy without radically changing our lifestyle. We see courage and it’s inspiring.
Farewell for now
Water is one lens through which to see environmental challenges like climate change — and through which to see opportunities for society and individuals to do better to ensure a sustainable water supply for our community of humans and all life.
Like water, our work is never done. And we’re never done learning.
This is my 65th and final monthly Water Column. I’ll write again the next time that water matters need to be shared, but at least three times a year: in April when accumulated snowpack is known, in August when late-summer streamflow predictions can be made, and in October to summarize the previous water year.
I thank readers of Geek Moment for joining me on this journey through the water column… and leave you with a couple open questions for any volunteer data-crunchers:
Cumulative precipitation for the 2020 water year in Sequim was about 20 inches (125 percent of normal); at the Snotel station in the upper Dungeness watershed, elevation 4,010 feet, it was 37 inches (81 percent of normal).
1. Is it a trend that the annual amount is going up at low elevation but going down at high elevation?
2. Is there a downward trend in the number of days that stay below freezing at Olympic Range Snotel stations?
Snotel precipitation and temperature data: tinyurl.com/SnotelPrecip
Sequim station 2E (Schmuck Road) rainfall data: tinyurl.com/SchmuckData
For the 2021 Water Year (started Oct. 1):
• At the Sequim 2E weather station (sea level): Total rainfall = 1 inch as of Oct. 23
• At the Dungeness SNOTEL station (elev. 4,010 ft.): Snow depth = 1 inch
• At the USGS gage on the Dungeness (Mile 11.2): Current flow = 140 cubic feet per second (cfs); daily mean for the past month = 104-424 cfs.
• At the Washington State Ecology gage at River Mile 0.8: Flow = 117 cfs.
• Bell Creek entering Carrie Blake Park: 0 cfs (intermittently dry); at Washington Harbor: about 3 cfs.
Ann Soule is a hydrogeologist immersed in the Dungeness watershed since 1990, now Resource Manager for City of Sequim. Any opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent policies of her employer, nor do they pertain to any specific local leaders. Ann is a passionate advocate for science, solar energy and EVs; reach Ann at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her blog at www.watercolumnsite.wordpress.com.