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Conservation

Saving Water in the Yard

Often you don’t appreciate something until it’s gone! That can really be true with water. Taken for granted when it is plentiful, its importance is truly appreciated in the garden once it becomes scarce.

Water Conservation

If you find yourself in a drought, there are some things you can do to help conserve water and make the best use of what you have available.

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This year, my school has had the theme of water. We have studied the water cycle, learned about water resources and most recently, read about water pollution. I used to picture water pollution as a pretty simple phenomenon. I thought most of it was industrial pollution dumped into the waterways where it would kill fish, aquatic plants and hurt the ecosystem. It turns out that the issue is more complex than that; there are many causes of water pollution and they all contribute to environmental degradation in different ways. One of the things I didn't understand about water pollution was how much it can change the local environment. I always thought of water pollution as poisoning the water, but some sorts of pollution actually encourage plant growth. For example, farm runoff enriches the water with minerals, causing algae and other plants to grow. These algae, in turn, limit the amount of sunlight that can penetrate through the water and reduce the oxygen levels, killing fish. By helping some organisms grow, the pollution damages other organisms that are native to the waterways. Another thing I didn't realize about water pollution was how much of it is passive. For example, in my community all of the storm sewers drain directly into the river. When it rains, water washes litter, oil from cars and even sewage into the storm sewers, causing them to pollute rivers. Just by virtue of living near this sort of sewer system, we are contributing to water pollution. I've also learned how much we can do about water pollution by being active in our neighbourhoods and communities. Our class has recently done a volunteer program where we go around, labelling storm sewers with helpful signs. The Signs tell people not to dump oil and other hazardous household chemicals into the storm drains. Many people don't realize that there is a difference between storm drains and the sewers that carry waste away from your house. By educating people about these differences, our class helps to cut down on the amount of untreated pollution that is dumped directly into the rivers. Next week, we are going to learn more about water pollution and how to fight it by volunteering with a river cleanup. Our class is taking a trip to a river where we will pick up trash from the shores and shallows. We're actually starting at a beach near to my house, which means I'll be able to enjoy a cleaner beach thanks to our volunteer crew. It's nice to be able to simultaneously help the community and help myself!

Something that is not really new, but may be new to you, is to collect rainwater for later use. People have been capturing and using rainwater for a long time, but today you can find systems that are more complex and useful than ever before. Most people use barrels to gather rainwater, but you can buy all types of neat systems now that can save more water and also make things much easier once it has been set up. The reason why you may want to consider looking into rainwater collection systems is because water is short in many areas of the world. If you live where you are not getting enough rainfall, or if you are under drought conditions, you know that there are many things that you should not be doing, including watering your lawn, garden, washing your cars or even the exterior of your home. These things are wasteful when there is a shortage of water for people, animals and farming needs. Rainwater can fix all that - when you get it. It can also help with overall water conservation even if things are fine in your area. You can use the water you gather in rainwater collection systems to water your grass, garden and for any other use you may have. It may not be the best for drinking unless you have a good and approved filtration system. However, these allow you to use water for things (even swimming pools) when you are otherwise forbidden due to drought conditions. The rain can water your lawn, but if you can collect it, you can use it when a few days or even weeks have passed and your lawn is turning brown. Use it for whatever you wish as long as it is safe. You can use barrels for rainwater collection if you wish. You can have them under your eaves and gutters so that they catch what would normally run away into the ground or even out into the street. However, nowadays you can find more sophisticated units that have a bladder to which you would attach a hose that can be turned on and off. These can be as big or as little as you wish. Get the size you can afford and what you have space for. Some are made to fit under porches and decks to stay out of sight. Rainwater collection systems can be found in some home improvement or garden supply stores, or you can look online to see what you would like to have. You can even try to find some that are made from recycled material if you are into being kind to your world and immediate environment. These systems are not a steady source of water, but they can be a great way to store what falls from the sky for when you need it the most or saving water.

Soil erosion is a serious environmental problem that affects everyone from the industrial farmer to the small, private gardener. Although soil does naturally erode over time, usually there are other forces in play which replenish the soil. Rocks gradually wear down through wind and rain into fresh soil which replenishes that which is washed away into the oceans. As plants drop leaves, animals drop faeces, plants and animals die and decay, their organic matter helps to build up new soil. Unfortunately, sometimes the causes of soil erosion begin to wash the ground away faster than it can be built up again. When that happens, it can destabilize houses and other buildings, strip away topsoil needed for agriculture, cause landslides, sinkholes and generally disrupt human habitation and activity. Water is one of the biggest natural causes of soil erosion. When it rains, drops of water impact the soil, sending small particles up into the air. These particles, along with the rainwater, can run downhill in sheets, pulling other particles from the soil with them. This is called sheet erosion. Sometimes, the rain starts to form channels called rills in the soil. As the soil wears away, the rills cave in at the sides, growing larger and larger as more and more soil is worn away. Over decades, centuries and millennia, what starts as rill erosion can end up forming creeks, rivers and even canyons as more and more soil is worn away by water flowing through. Rainfall can cause soil erosion in another way. Sometimes, too much rain will saturate a hill, causing it to get heavy and waterlogged. At the same time, the rain decreases the friction inside the hill, causing it to become less stable. Gravity does the rest, turning previously stable hills into huge mudslides. This sort of erosion is a particularly bad problem in areas with a lot of clay in the soil, since the clay soil does not drain well and becomes very slippery when it holds too much water. Wind is another big cause of soil erosion. Wind can pull particles of soil from the surface, carrying them away. It can also gradually wear down at rocks, eroding them over centuries. A big wind storm can also cause cataclysmic soil erosion, breaking off big chunks of a hillside by giving them that final push. Wind can also blow over trees, destabilizing hills and contributing to erosion in the process. Of course, there are also manmade causes of soil erosion. Modern agricultural techniques often leave the soil fallow without enough plants to hold it in place. This soil is much more susceptible to other erosion causes, and can wash away more quickly than it can be replenished. This is a major problem in farming, because loosing topsoil can stop a farmer from being able to grow crops in the future. Fortunately, farmers are more aware of erosion than ever before, and many newer agricultural techniques safeguard against soil loss.

Earth Wildlife Habitats and the their Ecosystems In recent years, much emphasis has been placed on environmental conservation. Wildlife habitats have not been spared from the on-going destruction of natural environment by mankind. A large number of animal and plant species are already on the endangered list and many continue to be added. In addition to habitats being destroyed, habitat fragmentation is also a common problem where once continuous habitats become divided resulting in reduced viability. Edge effects like fires can result in some species disappearing altogether. One of the habitats that contain the largest diversity of life is coral reefs. Coral reefs are home to thousands of different flora and fauna. For example, the Florida Keys coral reefs sustains 5 species of sea turtles, 1700 species of mollusks, 500 species of fish and hundreds of species of sponges. Life’s diversity here is simply breathtaking. Coral wildlife habitats have however not been spared by the threat of global warming. Coral bleaching takes place with only a one degree rise in temperature, and temperatures have already increased by one degree in the last century. Forests occupy a third of the land cover on Earth and come in various types. Forest wildlife habitats, like the tropical rainforests, host some of the most diverse pockets of biomes on Earth. Temperate deciduous forests support animals like the red fox, woodpecker and hawks that adapted to cold winters. Unsustainable forestry practices and climate change however are threatening these wildlife habitats together with their inhabitants. The marine ecosystem, covering 70 percent of the earth’s surface is teeming with life. Supporting a great diversity of life and containing a variety of habitats, the world’s oceans are also affected by the climate and weather. Threats include oil spills, over fishing, climate change and pollutions. Wetlands, the link between land and water, are some of the most productive ecosystems on our planet. Swamps and bogs are filled with grasses, shrubs, moss, and provide habitats for a wide variety of wildlife. These ecosystems are responsible for filtering and cleaning water for other ecosystems as well, acting like kidneys. These wildlife habitats also act like sponges keeping rivers at normal levels during floods. Indeed the more we learn about our planet and the habitats it supports, the more we come to understand how fragile these systems are, how life is interconnected to them and the need to protect them.