21 Jan 2014

Water Everywhere?

Working with water; Working with tides (Bristol, Jan. 2014)
The year begins with a return to the topic of the endless dialogue between water and land; between the sea and the shore. Flooding is much in the news - along with mounting evidence of increasingly energetic couplings of weather events and rising sea-levels (including tides). There has been some very interesting coverage of the 'island village' of Muchelney in Somerset. Accompanying the typical deluge of media coverage of these latest floods (river and coastal), there is also to be found some more considered public discussion of strategic solutions - aside from the stock political/techno-fix response of "we must invest in more defences".
For example, there is some incisive ecologically-aware comment from George Monbiot, emphasising the link between tree-coverage (or lack of), upland management and flooding.

"To listen to the dismal debates of the past fortnight, you could be forgiven for believing that rivers arise in the plains; that there is no such thing as upstream; that mountains, hills, catchments and watersheds are irrelevant to the question of whether or not homes and infrastructure get drowned."

And this news feature covers similar ground.

A related ecological, holistic approach to water management is that of SuDS (Sustainable Drainage Systems). These are now - at least for the moment - the topic of front page reportingSuDS are an assemblage of techniques is based on understanding of natural systems and integrating the need for better water-quality and biodiversity, whilst addressing water-quantity (flooding) and public realm concerns. The approach is predicated on an understanding of the dynamic relationships between water, landform, soil, vegetation, micro-organisms and more. Below are some excerpts from a promotional poster I produced over 10 years ago - working with a wonderful illustrator, Stuart McKenzie.

For centuries, people have sought to establish a demarcation line between land and water. Water has been excluded, banished, drained from many land areas (including floodplains and coastal salt-marshes), and now returns to re-submerge - to take back its own. This is one of the themes of my installation project Submerged (Drowned and Dammed Lands), which will continue to evolve in 2014. I am interested in land areas that have been intentionally 'drowned' - by design (reservoirs), and areas such as tide-lands, where there is a much more dynamic dialogue between land and water. What does the future hold for these places, and their diverse communities (working, living, visiting; human, non-human...)? What are the ecological and cultural impacts of environmental change and new infrastructure development? Having spent much of 2013 exploring these issues on the Severn Estuary coast, I now have an extra reason to spend time there. Plus, over the coming months, I'll be expanding the scope of the Submerged project to include Chew Valley Lake/Reservoir and the Floating Harbour/Tidal River Avon in Bristol.

Chew Valley is almost an archetypal reservoir-with-drowned-village scenario. The village was just a hamlet, but the fascination is still alive and strong.

I am also revisiting some past landscape explorations as part of the Submerged project. The Colorado River is one of these. I'm interested to see that an ongoing drought situation is now causing unprecedented variations in the water levels of the enormous reservoir of Lake Mead (behind the Hoover Dam).

New York Times, 2014
"The sinuous Colorado River and its slew of man-made reservoirs from the Rockies to southern Arizona are being sapped by 14 years of drought nearly unrivaled in 1,250 years....many experts believe the current drought is only the harbinger of a new, drier era in which the Colorado’s flow will be substantially and permanently diminished."

The prognosis here is not good, as populations and water-demand rises in these southern states. Meanwhile the delicate ecologies of the river basin continue to suffer huge disruption and declining health.

We are - inevitably - entering a new era of hydro-citizen/ hydro-social relationships.
In this context, a new communities-linked research proposal has been approved, and my involvement will begin (appropriately!) in the Spring. Here's some press coverage; more on this very soon.