Quantcast

Nature Offers Solutions to Water Woes and Flood Risks

Popular
Mural by Diego Rivera showing life in Aztec times in the city of Tenochtitlán. Wikimedia Commons

When the Aztecs founded Tenochtitlán in 1325, they built it on a large island on Lake Texcoco. Its eventual 200,000-plus inhabitants relied on canals, levees, dikes, floating gardens, aqueducts and bridges for defense, transportation, flood control, drinking water and food. After the Spaniards conquered the city in 1521, they drained the lake and built Mexico City over it.

The now-sprawling metropolis, with 100 times the number of inhabitants as Tenochtitlán at its peak, is fascinating, with lively culture, complex history and diverse architecture. It's also a mess. Water shortages, water contamination and wastewater issues add to the complications of crime, poverty and pollution. Drained and drying aquifers are causing the city to sink—almost 10 meters over the past century!


"Conquering" nature has long been the western way. Our hubris, and often our religious ideologies, have led us to believe we are above nature and have a right to subdue and control it. We let our technical abilities get ahead of our wisdom. We're learning now that working with nature—understanding that we are part of it—is more cost-effective and efficient in the long run.

Had we designed cities with nature in mind, we'd see fewer issues around flooding, pollution and excessive heat, and we wouldn't have to resort to expensive fixes. Flooding, especially, can hit people hard in urban areas. According to the Global Resilience Partnership, "Floods cause more damage worldwide than any other type of natural disaster and cause some of the largest economic, social and humanitarian losses"—accounting for 47 percent of weather-related disasters and affecting 2.3 billion people over the past 20 years, 95 percent of them in Asia.

As the world warms, it's getting worse. Recent floods in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal have affected more than 40 million people, killing more than 1,000. One-third of Bangladesh is under water. In Houston, Texas, Hurricane Harvey has killed dozens and displaced thousands, shut down oil refineries and caused explosions at chemical plants. Some say it's one of the costliest "natural" disasters in U.S. history.

Although hurricanes and rain are natural, there's little doubt that human-caused climate change has made matters worse. More water evaporates from warming oceans and warmer air holds more water. Climate change is also believed to have held the Houston storm in place for longer than normal, and rising sea levels contributed to greater storm surges.

A lax regulatory regime that allows developers to drain wetlands and build on flood plains has compounded Houston's problems. The city has no zoning laws, and many wetlands and prairies—which normally absorb large amounts of water and prevent or lessen flood damage—have been drained, developed or paved over. President Donald Trump also rescinded federal flood protection standards put in place by the Obama administration and plans to repeal a law that protects wetlands. Compare Houston to Amsterdam and Rotterdam, which sit below sea level. Regulation and planning have helped the Dutch cities lower flood risk and save money.

As climate disruption accelerates in concert with still-increasing greenhouse gas emissions, people are looking for ways to protect cities from events like flooding. In China, authorities are aiming to make them more sponge-like. A Guardian article explained: "Designers will concede to the wisdom of nature to ensure water is absorbed when there's an excess: instead of water-resistant concrete, permeable materials and green spaces will be used to soak up rainfall, and rivers and streams will be interconnected so that water can flow away from flooded areas." As well as offering flood protection, the measures will also help prevent water shortages.

Cities worldwide have employed many of these flood-protection measures, including in the U.S. If China goes beyond its 16-city pilot project, it will be the largest-scale deployment of such combined measures ever.

Restoring natural areas costs much more than protecting them in the first place, more intense and frequent storms and floods can still overwhelm natural defenses, and growing human populations will further stress resources, but restoring natural assets is a start.

Ultimately, we must work with nature to prevent and adapt to problems such as flooding, water scarcity, wildfires and climate disruption. When we work against nature, we work against ourselves.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

belchonock / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Hrefna Palsdottir, MS

Coconut oil is an incredibly healthy fat.

Read More Show Less
Wesley Martinez Da Costa / EyeEm / Getty Images

By David R. Montgomery

Would it sound too good to be true if I was to say that there was a simple, profitable and underused agricultural method to help feed everybody, cool the planet, and revitalize rural America? I used to think so, until I started visiting farmers who are restoring fertility to their land, stashing a lot of carbon in their soil, and returning healthy profitability to family farms. Now I've come to see how restoring soil health would prove as good for farmers and rural economies as it would for the environment.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
skaman306 / Moment / Getty Images

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

Radish (Raphanus sativus) is a cruciferous vegetable that originated in Asia and Europe (1Trusted Source).

Read More Show Less
Tinnakorn Jorruang / iStock / Getty Images

By Dan Nosowitz

The budding research on cannabidiol, or CBD, attracts a great deal of interest in the agricultural field.

Read More Show Less
Oksana Khodakovskaia / iStock / Getty Images

By Jillian Kubala, MS, RD

The loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) is a tree native to China that's prized for its sweet, citrus-like fruit.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released new numbers that show vaping-related lung illnesses are continuing to grow across the country, as the number of fatalities has climbed to 33 and hospitalizations have reached 1,479 cases, according to a CDC update.

Read More Show Less
During the summer, the Arctic tundra is usually a thriving habitat for mammals such as the Arctic fox. Education Images / Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Reports of extreme snowfall in the Arctic might seem encouraging, given that the region is rapidly warming due to human-driven climate change. According to a new study, however, the snow could actually pose a major threat to the normal reproductive cycles of Arctic wildlife.

Read More Show Less
Vegan rice and garbanzo beans meals. Ella Olsson / Pexels

By Alina Petre, MS, RD (CA)

One common concern about vegan diets is whether they provide your body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs.

Many claim that a whole-food, plant-based diet easily meets all the daily nutrient requirements.

Read More Show Less