Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Our Eco-Location Part 1: Water

Giving directions to our home is easy - we're right off of Interstate 10, four quick turns and you're at our doorstep.

(Unless, of course, you miss the exit - it's the last before the bridge and you'll have to drive 17 miles, turn around, and come back all 17 till you can exit again. We know this because we've done it.)

There are so many required change of address forms with a move that our street address is branded on my brain. Including zip code. With the extra four digits.

In fact, even our three year old, Abbey, can reel off our address from memory.

But I want to know more about my location. I want to know the natural aspects of my home.

I'm inspired to start with the water aspect of my home ecosystem because 1) it's literally in my backyard and 2) I spent the last 15 minutes with Abbey, watching Lesser Scaup ducks diving back there. Holding their breath, feeding underwater for five or more minutes at a time.

So what, and what kind, of water are they diving in?

I can already tell you that we're in the Lake Pontchartrain watershed. So close to it, in fact, that any excess pesticides or fertilizers that I put on my landscape would be washed into the lake minutes after the start of even a light rain.

This is why I won't use either in this landscape. The lake is already challenged enough.

The water quality reports indicate a good amount of dissolved oxygen in the water at the testing site a mile from our house, but after every rain the Fecal Coliform Bacteria numbers (yup, poop germs) spike so high that you can't even swim in the water.

I don't know what the water quality was like before Katrina and Rita, but I just met some wonderful educators at the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Studies who taught me that 217 square miles of wetlands were destroyed by those hurricanes.

Wetlands are nature's sponge filters for surface water. They clean the fertilizer, pesticide, and most especially poop (wild, domestic, livestock - all varieties) out of the water before it gets to the lake.

A loss of 217 square miles - that's about the same size as the entire city of Austin, TX - is a significant set of holes in that water filter. It's bit like trying to use swiss cheese as a sponge.

Yes, I hear you - "But the hurricanes did it!"

But we are putting the vast amounts of additional chemicals (and pet poop - that's washing off and through the lawn, too) into the water to be filtered. We are polluting the atmosphere and warming the planet that increases hurricane intensity.

And it doesn't matter that we've just moved here (my family, I mean - though you know you're welcome to visit - just don't miss that last exit before the bridge) - we made our fair share of the mess by driving cars and using electricity and eating crops grown with chemicals.

In fact, since this area filters the Mississippi, and the Mississippi drains most of the agricultural land in the U.S., it's a good bet that we've all made our fair share of this mess.

In short, we've got a lot of work to do rebuilding America's Wetland, and I'm starting with my back yard.

Before spring rolls in (Laissez le printemps rouler?) around the middle of March, I'll complete a Backyard Habitat landscape plan.

I'll scan it and post it as it comes along - but I'm starting now, so feel free to start sending me ideas for native, eco-friendly and wildlife-friendly plants if you have any ideas!

In the meantime, air quality is up next on the list for examining my eco-location. Cross your fingers for low air pollution . . . but don't hold your breath!

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