An article titled “Pliocene-Like Monsoons Are Returning to the American Southwest”by author Jim Morrison on the Wired website, notes that because of climate change the monsoons that normally arrive in the U.S. Southwest in the summer months will now be on a magnitude of what those rains were like around three million years ago. That would seem like good news to an area that consistently struggles with drought and low rainfall. But, this article is all doom and gloom.
Granted, there is some cause for concern given the lack of resilience in these Southwestern soils versus what it was like when this area had lakes and forests. Floods like the 1,000-year flood in Death Valley in the summer of 2022 and the flooding of the casino in Las Vegas that led people to call the summer of 2022 the worst monsoon in a decade have exacerbated that fear. I would think the worst monsoon would be the driest year, but that is not how rain is being perceived by people who have to deal with flood control systems in Southwestern cities. And this focus on city infrastructure to deal with the “problem” of too much rain becomes the focus of the article, as well as the other “problem” of too much plant matter growing because of too much rain, which could lead to more wildfires.
The whole article left me a little flabbergasted that anyone would think what little rain we get as being a problem as well as the plant growth that follows. It reminded how far we are removed as a society from being excited about the abundance we might be able to harvest if we manage for it. Now more than ever we need to figure out how we might actually be able to appreciate this abundance and fecundity instead of dreading it because the good news is that they haven’t figured out how to adjudicate rain yet so we can use all of it we can get.
In my neck of the high desert, 14 inches of rainfall is considered average. Based on the average amount of bare ground in this area, I would estimate that at least 90% of the rain that falls is indeed lost to flooding or evaporation. So, from an effective rainfall standpoint, we are really only capturing maybe a couple of those inches. What if we could capture more than 10% of that rainfall?
In New Mexico alone we have 78 million acres of rangeland. If we could increase the soil organic matter by 1% across that landscape, we could capture an additional 20,000 gallons/acre or over 1.5 trillion gallons of water that can grow plants instead of causing flooding or evaporating. That would be like capturing the equivalent of gallons of water being held in the 10 largest reservoirs in New Mexico in the soil throughout New Mexico to increase soil resilience and water retention locally.
In turn, the plants that would grow in that healthy soil, that had effectively captured the rainfall, could be grazed by more herbivores (wild and domestic) to increase soil health and financial prosperity for a state that is the third poorest state in the U.S. The water coming off that landscape would actually be cleaner as it flowed into streams, lakes, and reservoirs, improving water quality for the municipalities that use that water as well as the farmland irrigated by it.
Rather than praying for poor rainfall and investing in urban infrastructure to deal with the onslaught of rains falling upstream on played out soils, let’s invest in creating resilience across the working and public lands we have that could be a wonderful carbon and water storage area along with all the other practical and aesthetic roles these landscapes play. Instead of investing in trying to control the catastrophic wildfires that are not caused by too much rain as much as governmental policies and programs that result in poor land management, let’s build our relationship with Nature in a way that brings prosperity and resilience to the rural communities that still depend on these working landscapes. Let’s invest in the people and labor pool necessary to manage and nurture these landscapes the same way we are investing in labor forces for the demand for renewable energy like wind and solar power.
If we harvest the tool of human creativity and passion for a rewarding relationship with Nature, rather than a relationship of fear, we are better able to utilize and appreciate the abundance and miracles of sunshine, rain, photosynthesis, symbiosis, germination, and so much more.
Read the full article by Jim Morrison on Wired at: https://www.wired.com/story/pliocene-like-monsoons-are-returning-to-the-american-southwest/.