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Zero Runoff Should Be Our Goal

by Doug Pushard

Water is one of our most precious resources. Studies show that without drinking water we go into shock (last stage of dehydration) within one hour in extreme heat or three to five days in normal conditions.

Water is a precious resource and yet we allow it to flow away. In fact, in many cases we actually encourage it to go down the drain! We have done an amazing job of drilling, piping, and moving water to accommodate our desired lifestyle. It is one of the reasons those of us who live in Santa Fe can thrive in an arid desert area.

But at the same time, we have treated this same resource with distain. We don’t want it on our property, our neighborhood or even close by. We build our houses to shed water as quickly as possible. We build our lots to do the same. We build our streets with drainage systems to move this nuisance away as quickly as possible. But the time of cheap, easily accessible water is past and it is time to rethink our approach to this life sustaining resource. We need to keep every drop on our property, in our neighborhood and as much as possible in our cities.

Santa Fe, like most other communities, did not have significantly more water in the past. We pumped less water and the river was allowed to infiltrate our neighborhoods as it flowed off the mountain. This was before we dammed, channeled and blocked the natural flow. Although flooding is not something we should contrive to return to, infiltration is. It will recharge our local aquifer, our natural water storage system.

Today we spend large amounts of taxpayer dollars on channeling water off major highways which still flood after every major storm. We continue to build more homes and commercial establishments to contribute to this flooding. We end up paying taxes that are used for storm water upgrades throughout our cities as well as for improvements to our rivers to prevent further erosion. Yet, these taxes do not pay to eliminate the cause of the problem, just the effect.

I repeat, ZERO runoff should be our goal.

To do this, we need to rethink how we build and handle rain and runoff. Rain is not storm water to be diverted away; it is water that can help sustain us long-term. Instead of channeling it away, we need to berm it, pond it, slow it down; allow it to infiltrate here in our backyards. This will continually recharge our local aquifer and keep this precious life-giving resource here.

Imagine if our taxes were structured to reward people who recycled rainwater. For example, consider a rainwater tax which would only be paid if there is rainwater runoff; otherwise there is no tax. Today in many communities we can get a citation for letting water run off our property when we water our landscaping and grass. A rainwater tax would be the same, but occurs at the beginning, when a building is built and occurs every year until the runoff is retained onsite.

This will of course also drive our water consumption down. Instead of this water now being channeled away, it will be used onsite thus cutting onsite potable water use. Possibly any revenues collected could also be funneled back into the water conservation program. Our modern urban planning has created this problem, now let’s stop and rethink it. Why do we give away our most precious resource? Instead let’s recreate a cycle of savings that will last for generations to come.

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