Water Matters: Raised consciousness

As a “non-essential,” mostly-office worker, I’ve been in a lot of Zoom meetings lately with others also working from home. As awkward as online meetings can be, I have to say it’s good respite from sequestration to see someone else’s cat wander up to the camera, or a babe in arms for a few minutes.

One recent trend that allows a small chance to reconnect is to be asked during online introductions to share something about your personal COVID-19 lockdown experience with the group. Many answers are universal and not surprising (paraphrased):

“I’m gaining weight – the kitchen is too close.”

“My home internet sucks but the commute is great!”

“My kids are driving me crazy!”

Obviously we’re all healthy or we wouldn’t be on the call. And we are fortunate to have jobs and can work remotely. Some are home-schooling their kids, but compared to many others we generally have it easy.

For instance:

“I’m worried about paying my staff as well as my lease.”

“My dad has asthma and I can’t go see him.”

“My daughter is a nurse.”

What’s next?

As a water resource manager I regularly attend meetings comprised of biologists, oceanographers, educators, and other professionals. We are continually learning from each other, discussing, and implementing projects that protect and improve water supplies, water quality and other natural resource functions – all of which also benefit people.

It is our business to make connections between human well-being and threats from and to the natural world. Take, for example, the direct connection between the gradual warming of the planet, the gradual loss of snowpack in our mountains, and the dependency of our farms and fisheries on diminishing snowmelt in the Dungeness River.

So, given the experience of my colleagues in thinking about ecosystems and global processes, it was interesting to note responses at a recent online meeting to the following question: “In a few words, what do you hope for after the COVID-19 pandemic?”

Out of 30-plus attendees, everyone had a ready answer (representative ones are quoted here). Clearly, this particular sampling of our North Olympic Peninsula community has been thinking about it.

Some had well-founded economic wishes: “Federal relief to small businesses.”

Several expressed hope for greater appreciation and “Prioritization of the connections between people and the natural world.”

Even with major disruptions to normal operating society, some have found peace and hope to “continue the slower pace of life.”

While some just want to “see my loved ones again,” or “a good hug,” others are imagining big change: “Income equality,” “Universal health care,” “Bigger commitment to clean air,” and my personal favorite, “Green jobs.”

Indeed, some actually hope for “Total revolution.”

Clear vision

While these answers represent a wide range of hopes, it was a actually moment of clarity, showing that the impact of the lockdown has been broader than the economic challenge staring us in the face.

The lockdown has raised our consciousness and moved our hearts in small and large ways.

While stuck at home, some have found the slower pace a big benefit and enjoyed quality family time. All have found new appreciation for health care workers, teachers, and scientists.

We have seen smog and traffic disappear from our cities and fish and birds return.

We have witnessed societies around the globe working together to fight a public health crisis. We have witnessed public health prioritized over everything else and this awareness has brought hope – hope that perhaps long-term global problems can also be resolved.

A vaccine to end the COVID-19 crisis will come, thanks to cooperative medical science. After months of sacrifice, we will be glad for the chance to return to normal routines.

Resolving the growing economic crisis is an opportunity for more cooperation — of governments, industries and communities working together. My hope is that we take this moment of clarity to commit to the vision of a clean energy future. Our scientists and engineers know the way.

Let’s not return all our normal routines. Let’s use this opportunity to choose a cleaner, greener world where we’ll all be healthier and more resilient against the next global crisis.

(And, as I’ve learned, commuting less and meeting online instead is an easy place to start!)

Geek Moment

I discovered during this pandemic that the first week of May is “Air Quality Awareness Week,” co-sponsored by several federal agencies including the National Park Service and EPA. This is ironic, since COVID-19 causes respiratory disease, making those living with poor air quality and/or asthma especially vulnerable.

It’s also ironic that EPA enforcement of federal clean air laws has recently been curtailed.

Speaking of special occasions … as I write this column our small town would normally be celebrating its annual Irrigation Festival, originally focused on the commencement of irrigation diversions from the Dungeness River from April 15-Sept. 15.

As you might have guessed, water managers again predict drought conditions across the western U.S.

The Olympic Mountains are slightly better off than other areas, but with 70-degree weather even at 4,000 feet, what snow remained is rapidly melting.

Dungeness River flow tells the story: winter-season flows were down to 150 cubic feet per second (cfs, a third lower than normal) in early April; snowmelt flows began the second week of April (earlier than normal) and have risen to over 700 cfs now.

For the 2020 Water Year (started Oct. 1, 2019):

• Snow at the Dungeness SNOTEL station, elev. 4,010 feet, as of April 28 = 0 inches (about 10 days earlier than the 20-year median); Number of days temperature stayed below freezing all winter = 13. Despite decent snow depth, overall precipitation is only 72 percent at that elevation.

• Rain in Sequim at the Sequim 2E weather station (sea level): Total rainfall = 15.5 inches; NEW high temperature = 75 degrees Fahrenheit on May 10; Low = 20 degrees Fahrenheit in Nov.

• River flow at the USGS gage on the Dungeness (Mile 11.2): Highest maximum daily mean = 1,880 cfs on Feb. 1; Low = 98 cfs on Dec. 16. Range for the past month = 150-700+ cfs.

• Flow at Bell Creek entering Carrie Blake Park = 0-1 cfs, depending on rainfall; Bell Creek at Washington Harbor: springtime flow generally 3-5 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. Reach Ann at columnists@sequimgazette.com or via her blog at www.watercolumnsite.wordpress.com.