In Part I on climate change, it was noted that a climate shift to warmer temperatures is already under way in New York state. It was also noted that Western New York is experiencing more frequent heavy rainstorms, more winter precipitation, and is likely to experience more frequent short-term drought conditions during the growing season. Water management to collect and store water and to facilitate its infiltration to be stored as ground water will help reduce the magnitude and impacts of future floods and drought periods.
To help minimize the impacts of climate change on our homes and businesses, and on our watersheds and waterways, there are many practices that governments, businesses and individuals can implement. For example, we can re-landscape our yards to collect valuable precipitation and direct it into the ground, rather than shunting it to the nearest street, ditch or waterway. Roof downspouts should be directed to flat ground surfaces, rain gardens or dry wells away from your building's foundation. We can strategically construct decorative landscaping berms to trap precipitation and get it into the ground to slowly recharge our wells and streams, rather than being wasted as runoff. (This will also provide bird habitat and visual interest in our yards.) We can nurture tree seedlings and plant trees to return much of our yards to forest to help cool our homes and provide water quality benefits. The surfaces of our yards, fields and forests should be as uneven and irregular as possible to trap and filter precipitation. Natural forests exhibit ''pit and mound'' topography from the root clumps and root cavities of toppled trees. It is hard for water landing on a natural forest to escape. It flows into pits and is blocked by roots, logs, trunks and mounds. If it can't escape, it either evaporates or sinks into the ground. The more we can approximate this uneven pit and mound topography across our watershed, the more we can prevent flood damage, maintain water tables for wells and summer stream base flows and maintain lake levels at desirable levels. Water landing in our yards should be entering a topographical maze from which it can seldom escape. Likewise, conserving and re-establishing natural vegetated buffers along the shorelines of waterways is essential to trap pollutants and control soil erosion.
We can also make the soil in our yards act to hold more water. How? By mowing grass clippings and leaves into your lawn. Organic matter not only returns vital nutrients back to the soil to be recycled by plants, but the humus from decomposed plant materials also acts to hold water in the soil. It makes your grass more resistant to drought and contributes to a healthy microbial soil community, which further benefits soil structure and plant growth. Core aerating our lawns and adding a mulch-topsoil mixture can break up compacted soils and facilitate water absorption.
Planting trees is a good strategy to address climate change.
Driveways should be contoured to direct runoff onto landscaped surfaces rather then into streets. Instead of concentrating street and parking lot runoff into larger and larger ditches and storm drains, and then directly into the nearest stream or lake, such systems need to be modified to direct runoff into natural or manmade storage and infiltration basins, with only overflows directly connected to surface water bodies. Natural sheet flow patterns across landscapes need to be reconstructed. Farm drain tiles should be directed to constructed wetlands or infiltration basins, rather than directly to road ditches or streams.
There are many actions that communities can take. Foremost, local governments need to adopt laws requiring new development and significant reconstruction of parking lots and buildings to incorporate storm water storage, infiltration and pollution control practices. State, county and local governments need to improve the way they manage storm water runoff from roads. Rather than rapidly concentrating runoff water and discharging it to damage natural waterways, they should turn their storm water ditch and pipe systems into storage, filtration and groundwater recharge systems. Many communities in other regions have begun to ''daylight'' buried storm water conduits, replacing them with natural-appearing meandering water courses, which can function to slow water flow, trap sediments, recharge ground waters and provide beneficial habitats. Municipalities need to protect their water courses, floodplains, wetlands and natural water storage basins with strict laws prohibiting their filling and development. These highly valuable areas are being lost and are especially endangered between Routes 394 and 430 and Chautauqua Lake in Ellery, Ellicott and Lakewood. Structures located in floodplains may have to be raised or moved.
Municipalities should team with landowners and conservation organizations (such as the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy, Foundation for Sustainable Forests, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and County Soil and Water Conservation District) to conserve, restore and enhance stream corridors and large acreages of tributary headwater forests across Chautauqua County. Building the expertise and resources these agencies have at their disposal will be essential to helping communities, farms and families address these changes. Community forests owned by the County, towns and/or villages could be established as important community assets to help temper the effects of climate change and provide a variety of water quality, ecological and recreational benefits. There is much we need to do. Engage with your elected officials, planning boards and these agencies to support these efforts and learn what you can personally do to address climate change on your property and with your lifestyle choices.
The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit 501(c)(3), member-supported watershed education and land trust organization. Donations made toward its Wells Bay Lakeshore Forest Conservation project will be matched up to $15,000, with $1 for every $2 donated between now and Jan. 6. For more information contact the CWC at 664-2166 or visit chautauquawatershed.org.