How Water Gets Around

190

As if it wasn’t enough that trees are integral to our very sustenance (week #1) The air we breathe (week #2) And the ground we walk on (week #3), trees help regulate and maintain the global water supply as well. We need that water. So we need those trees.

Trees have an incredible influence on planetary water management. Where to begin! The roots of trees soften the soil so water can penetrate and not flood. The water that seeps into soil continues to travel down through the earth to fill up the underground water table, streams, rivers and oceans. Trees drink up plenty of water, also, preventing run off, erosion and flooding. When they uptake water, they cleanse it of chemicals and pollutants, so less gets into the water supply. Their root systems stabilize soil, which also prevents erosion and helps keep streams in their banks. When streams are healthy the surrounding eco-systems are healthy, supporting other plants and wildlife. The canopy of leaves from trees slows down rainfall, which prevents flooding and erosion. The leaves cool the surrounding area, preventing evaporation, and cool nearby water, which controls the temperature for the aquatic habitat.

Water gets pulled up into the tree to nourish the leaves and upper branches and is then released into the air as part of the plant’s respiratory cycle. This moisturizes the air and helps create clouds, which then rain, again moisturizing the land so flora and fauna can thrive. In this way trees actually help create weather patterns.

There are wonderful programs to get involved with if you would like to help plant vegetation to keep the water cycle flowing along. Here in Maryland, I had the good fortune to speak with Mr. James Eierdam of the Maryland department of Natural Resources. He runs a program called Backyard Buffer. Participants in this program can help restore nature’s balance by planting trees and shrubs near waterways. Larger plants, planted even within 300 feet of water have a remarkable effect on the environment.

KJ: How does your program work?
JE: Participants are given 25 seedlings, small trees or shrubs that they can plant near waterways on their property.

KJ: And what is the advantage of doing that?
JE: Larger plantings near waterways do a great deal to stabilize the soil and prevent erosion. The roots absorb decaying matter and excess nutrients from the soil before it seeps into streams, which then flow to larger bodies of water, like the Chesapeake, where it disrupts the natural ecosystem, affecting populations that include crabs and oysters. The leaves filter the air and intercept rainfall, which also reduces erosion. Nature naturally recycles itself!

KJ: Do you always recommend planting trees?
JE: There are other ways to create filters that may be better suited to some people or properties.  Grasses act as filters also, for example, and may be useful if shade is not desirable.

KJ: Have you noticed any measurable effect from this program?
JE: Maryland used to be all forest. As trees were removed people noticed the impact on the water. With fewer trees the water became cloudy and the water temperature went up. Trout, for example, do not survive as well in warmer water, and their population was diminishing in inland fisheries. As a tree restoration program was implemented, the water became clearer, because of the filtering capacity of the trees, the water temperature dropped and the trout population improved. People think we have the power to fix nature, but the best solution is to understand that nature recycles and balances itself, and if we support that, we will see much better long-term results.

KJ: Is the program popular?
JE: It is! In the four years that we have been doing this program, requests have been increasing each year. People call after storm damage and because they are interested in cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay. All the small waterways going through public and private land end up in the bay.

If you are in Maryland and would like to know more about this program, please contact Mr. James Eierdam at (410) 442-2080 or write to him at james.eierdam@maryland.gov

If you are not in Maryland, perhaps you could look for other restoration programs in your area or state.