Friday, July 4, 2008

Catchment care for sustainability

Timothy O’Riordan, cited in Red Orbit: …Finding creative ways to manage stream and river catchment areas may help address agricultural runoff as well as climate change. For example, using soils and vegetation as buffers can slow down rapid, pollutant-laden runoff during intense rainfall and help retain carbon. Also, designing catchments in preparation for drought and flash floods is an important adaptation technique, as both are likely consequences of climate change.

The key is to manage ecosystem services across the landscape so that the catchment acts as a unifying ecological whole. To achieve this, landowners and managers need to cooperate across natural drainage areas so that their activities are compatible with the functioning of water movement, soil stability, buffering vegetation, and reservoir location…

The environment is not the only beneficiary of such catchment care. Highway authorities gain by not having to invest in expensive road and culvert clearance programs; insurance companies can save on insurance claims; and water companies can reduce the expenditure on water treatment and the unpleasant clogging of sewage works.

Yet while coordination across property boundaries can benefit the greater public, such schemes pose a number of difficulties. Property rights become unclear, and because land management practices differ, the economic effects of meeting an ecosystem safeguard will vary greatly from one farm property to another. As a result, each will be affected differently by the expected land use prescription, and no clearly justified incentive structure will exist to encourage landowners to work together in this manner.

….Another snag is the dearth of solid science behind the full benefit of a catchment's ecosystem services. Catchment care demands new institutional arrangements, which are being assessed by case study research.…

Such schemes are in their infancy. The current interest in intensification of agriculture militates against these innovative ideas. But climate change is causing serious flooding and drought these days, which are proving very costly for business. Bringing the parties together for cooperative land use management is beginning to result in a whole new perspective. Sustainable catchment care is on the agenda, and long may it flourish.

The River Len flows into the River Medway in a culvert at Maidstone in Kent by the Archbishops Palace (in the UK, naturally). This photo is by Clem Rutter, found on Wikimedia Commons, under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2

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