Flood & Drought, repeat

Another storm is pounding the Southern California coast through Santa Barbara, Ventura and LA counties. No surprise, the flash flood warnings are coming out.

The most important thing we can do in times like these is build relationships. I have watched people and organizations rise to the occasion repeatedly since I have been here: first for the Thomas Fire, and the mudslides, and now for the Woolsey, Hill and Camp Fires — and possibly now for the mudslides again, as well.

The problem is that we’re responding, not preventing. We have the tools to prevent but we’re waiting for the potential energy of disaster to be unleashed. Where will it strike next? We conserve resources until they’re needed, but then they’re needed in such quantity and at such great speed that the efficiency and beauty of systems and relationships is at great risk of being lost.

We need more flood control long before the flood happens – before the fire happens, in fact. We need water and roots in the ground, well established, far in advance. We need fuel controlled, standing vegetation grazed down, water in the creeks, water in tanks around homes, and fire-resilient building materials. Not fire-resistant roofing tiles and siding, I mean, but truly fire-resilient homes: the kind that can sit through a megafire like the Camp, Tubbs, or Thomas Fires, and come out relatively unscathed. The only homes that are doing that with any grace and character are cob and strawbale, and yet we’re only now fighting the battle to bring the building regulations for these into county code.

But these are also opportunities: every business has a space to educate, inspire, encourage, and push the limits. A drink company that teaches about water sanitation, supply, and cycling, based on principles of zero-waste and locally grown ingredients; a building company that builds out of the ground and local materials, instead of cookie-cutter Home Depot plans and materials, and uses these to showcase the possibilities; a pet waste removal company that uses and installs home-scale methane digesters, worm composters, and other systems of dealing with faecal matter. The possibilities are ripe and waiting for the picking; they’re neither business-as-usual, nor driven by competition, because in most cases, thereĀ is no competition. It’s all blue ocean.

Tonight and over the next few days we could get as much as 5 inches of rain. That’s not only highly unusual, but potentially catastrophic given the last few years’ catastrophic fires and their complete removal of organic matter and deep-rooted vegetation. We need to adapt more quickly to this as normal; rebuild with longevity, not replacement in mind; and have more knowledge of what’s available, what’s possible, and what should and could constitute best practices.

We are an area of winding suburbs and gated communities. Create agrihoods, with agriculture buffering communities from fire. Build a local food system, that keeps our produce here while protecting and replenishing ground water, using rainfall as a source rather than a nuisance. Proliferate jobs, for young, old, capable, disabled, and all of us other folk: opportunities for small business, and for small businesses to collaborate, hire each other, work together.

The possibilities are so great, the opportunities so many. It’s an exciting, terrifying time.

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