Volusia County and its municipalities have followed the lead of the St. Johns River Water Management District’s encouragement to proclaim April as Water Conservation Month.

I would say, every month should be Water Conservation Month, just like every day should be Earth Day.

Ecosystem services

The phrase “ecosystem services” captures the idea that our current and future well-being are absolutely dependent on natural ecosystems that provide for us the resources and services on which human life depends: clean air; sufficient and clean water; mitigation of storm energy, floods and erosion; carbon uptake and storage for climate stabilization; wild-caught food (e.g., fish); pollination for fruit and vegetable food production; and more.

Natural ecosystems are finite, and each one we lose or degrade undermines these benefits to humans.

Urban and rural food production systems are also essential modifications of natural systems’ soils and waters that continue to support our still-growing population. While environmental economists have developed sophisticated models to put real price tags on those services and products, one can argue that they are, in fact, priceless.

We talk about “sustainability” as the capacity for current generations to meet their needs without compromising future generations’ abilities to meet their needs. The moral imperative of “sustainability” includes protecting for “tomorrow’s child” those ecosystem services, which are inherently renewable if not overexploited.

We also talk about “resilience” as a component of sustainability, and that refers to the abilities of natural systems and our societies to continue functioning in response to short-term disturbance, or to adapt in response to longer-term environmental change.

Climate change

Even the giant fossil fuel companies acknowledge now that we are living in a climate-destabilized world. Property-insurance companies have already adjusted their scopes of coverage in high climate-risk areas to minimize their losses from storms, wildfires, and sea level rise.

We are living in rapidly and radically changing times, and while we can be certain what direction the change is going — ultimately hotter and with more extreme weather — the nonlinear pace of change is still somewhat unpredictable.

How much more time do we have before things become very, very difficult? How much more time before clean, fresh water becomes dangerously scarce?

When we ask these questions on the global scale, we see that, in some regions — often the poorest regions — life already has become very, very difficult.

Sometimes, climate-related hardships hit even wealthier areas like the wildfires that swept through the unusually dry landscapes of northwest Denver last New Year’s Eve.

No place is immune from climate disasters, and all of us are impacted when those disasters disrupt food systems, energy systems and water supplies.

Most of us are keenly aware of our local climate risks: sea level rise, along with saltwater intrusion into our aquifer, intense storms, localized droughts and floods, and wildfires.

Many local farmers already acknowledge that they have adjusted their farming practices in response to changes in precipitation and temperature, and in anticipation of major storms.

And yet, we continue to convert our agricultural land for urban sprawl, to clear-cut our remaining forests, to fill in our wetlands, and to compact the sand to pave and build and lay carpets of thirsty sod that suck way more water from the ground than they will ever infiltrate back into it.

What can we do?

How, then, do we accommodate all these new migrants into our state and our county? Can we sustain an annual population growth rate of 1.6 percent in Volusia County? Are “smart growth” and “low impact development” just oxymorons?

How do we redefine quality of life and living in abundance without undermining those life-giving ecosystem services and resources on which we depend?

At right we list four ways you can help.

— Anderson is a professor of environmental science and studies at Stetson University, and chair of the Volusia Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors. She has been promoting sustainable community development for 20 years.

How you can help make a more sustainable future

Here are four (of many) answers:

1. Live as locally as you can. Concentrate your work, leisure, and shopping activities within a small radius around your home to minimize your daily driving and maximize your time building relationships within a tightknit community. Consider using active or multimodal transportation — bike, walk or transit — instead of driving for shorter trips.

2. Learn how to grow some food on your own land or in your neighborhood, preferably alongside others with whom you can trade different types of food. Convert that sod carpet into a garden! (State law allows that, even in an HOA!)

3. Capture stormwater for irrigation of food and pollinator-friendly gardens, minimize pumping from the aquifer, and nurture native landscapes that infiltrate stormwater back into the ground for future use.

4. Vote. The greenest thing we can do is elect leaders who understand how precariously close we are to undermining the natural systems that sustain us, and who will establish policies that provide guardrails to keep us from going over the edge in our current wild ride of economic growth and associated land conversion. Choose leaders who have a vision for a future that prioritizes local and urban food production, that protects our water supplies, and that builds strong communities who look out for one another.

P.S. Maybe we’ll eventually find that these loathsome, cookie-cutter neighborhoods that an increasing proportion of us live in, are, in fact, the perfect incubators for these kinds of solutions. Better yet, maybe we could intentionally design them to be just that.


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