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

Nature Offers Solutions to Water Woes and Flood Risks

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.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Energy
Petrified Forest National Park. Andrew Kearns / National Park Service

Trump Opens Door to Dangerous Fracking in Northern Arizona

A new Trump administration plan proposes to auction off 4,200 acres of public land for oil and gas development in northern Arizona. The lands straddle the Little Colorado River, are within three miles of Petrified Forest National Park, and are near habitat for a federally threatened fish called the Little Colorado spinedace. Drilling and fracking would threaten to deplete and pollute groundwater in the Little Colorado River Basin.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Wild bumble bees provide natural pollination for blueberries in North America. John Flannery / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

Beyond Honey Bees: Wild Bees Are Also Key Pollinators, and Some Species Are Disappearing

By Kelsey K. Graham

Declines in bee populations around the world have been widely reported over the past several decades. Much attention has focused on honey bees, which commercial beekeepers transport all over the U.S. to pollinate crops.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
Brown bears in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska. NPS Photo / B. Plog

Trump Admin. Wants to Reinstate 'Cruel' Hunting Tactics in Alaska, Conservation Groups Say

The Trump administration has proposed new regulations to overturn an Obama-era rule that protects iconic predators in Alaska's national preserves.

Wildlife protection organizations condemned the move, as it would allow hunters to go to den sites to shoot wolf pups and bear cubs, lure and kill bears over bait, hunt bears with dogs and use motor boats to shoot swimming caribou. Such hunting methods were banned on federal lands in 2015 that are otherwise permitted by the state.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
An Asian elephant eating tree bark. Yathin S Krishnappa / CC BY-SA 3.0

5 Conservation Milestones to Celebrate on This International Day for Biological Diversity

Scientists are increasingly realizing the importance of biodiversity for sustaining life on earth. The most comprehensive biodiversity study in a decade, published in March by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), warned that the ongoing loss of species and habitats was as great a threat to our and our planet's wellbeing as climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Climate
Deep-sea corals may not be flashy, but they deserve a second look. Oceana

Ignoring Deep-Sea Corals Is Risky for the Oceans, and for Us

By Nathan Johnson

The deep sea might be cold and dark, but it's not barren. Down here, an incredible diversity of corals shelters young fish like grouper, snapper and rockfish. Sharks, rays and other species live and feed here their whole lives.

Brightly colored coral gardens, far beyond the reach of the sun's rays, don't just nurture deep-sea life. They also help advance medical research and understand climate change.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Kristian Buus / Greenpeace

Green Groups Balk at England’s Plan to Fast Track Fracking

Government ministers published proposals Thursday that would speed the development of fracking in England, igniting opposition from environmental groups and local communities, The Independent reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Energy

Before Royal Wedding Sermon, Rev. Curry Stood With Standing Rock Pipeline Opponents

Bishop Michael Curry, who delivered a passionate wedding sermon to royal newlyweds Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on Saturday, also gave a powerful message about two years ago to Dakota Access Pipeline protesters at Standing Rock, North Dakota.

On Sept. 24, 2016 at the Oceti Sakowin Camp, the reverend offered the Episcopal Church's solidarity with the water protectors, noting that, "Water is a gift of the Creator. We must protect it. We must conserve it. We must care for it."

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Coral bleaching like this (in the Great Barrier Reef) is killing the largest reef in Japan. Oregon State University / CC BY-SA 2.0

Only 1% of Japan’s Largest Reef Still Healthy After Historic Bleaching Catastrophe

In a sobering reminder of the impact of climate change on marine biodiversity, a survey by the Japanese government found that barely more than one percent of the coral in the country's largest coral reef is healthy, AFP reported Friday.

The reef, located in the Sekisei Lagoon near Okinawa, has suffered mass coral bleaching events due to rising sea temperatures in 1998, 2001, 2007 and 2016.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!