Wed | Dec 19, 2018

Peter Espeut | Home sweet home: Water grows on trees

Published:Friday | February 23, 2018 | 12:00 AM
We need the forests to harvest our water for us.


As The Gleaner recognises Peter Espeut's 25 years as columnist with this publication, today, we continue a special series of articles from the natural resource manager and rural development scientist.

Where does our drinking water come from? Why? The tap, of course! Maybe most of us do not give this question a second thought, but the right answer is that our drinking water grows on trees!

Well, almost!

We get our drinking water from rivers and springs and wells, but "Old Man River, he just keeps rollin' along" until the underground water runs off. It is the rainwater that recharges the aquifers, feeding the rivers and springs and wells. When it rains, if the water just runs off (carrying topsoil with it), it quickly reaches the sea before we can use it (too much turbidity). The water has to get underground to be of use to us. And that is where the trees come in.

If the raindrops fell directly on to the ground, they would pound it, closing up the tiny channels that lead to the aquifers, eroding the topsoil. It is the leaves on the trees and on the ground that break the fall of the raindrops, allowing them to slowly get underground. We need the forests to harvest our water for us. So, no trees, no water!

At one point, Jamaica had the highest rate of deforestation in the world; and then we chopped down so many trees, we could no longer have a high rate of deforestation. Climate change has increased our rainfall, and our aquifers and reservoirs are full, but our drought years - soon to come - will hit us hard. We need to plan ahead by planting more trees.

It is all a question of planning: we need to chop down trees to get timber and lumber for construction, furniture, and art, so we can't ban tree-cutting. The problem is when we cut down more trees than we plant. Tree-cutting becomes sustainable and rational when we plant more than we cut. Surely, we can manage that. Can't we?

- Peter Espeut has been a Gleaner columnist for 25 years.