On Flood and Thirst: How Communities Are Adapting to the Age of Unpredictable Water

In Keene, New Hampshire, Duncan Watson looks out the window with trepidation as rain pounds the glass of his office at the Public Works Department; in 2005, a flood in his hometown killed seven people. And across the country in Santa Fe, New Mexico, forest fuels specialist Bill Armstrong fears he’s losing a race against the clock to thin and prescriptively burn the tree-crowded national forest before a prolonged drought sets the stage for another mega-fire.

What do these two men have in common? They’re on opposite sides of the same coin, dealing with the consequences of what Watson calls a “caffeinated climate” in which change is not so much about the slowly rising thermostat, but about more pronounced extremes, from very wet to very dry.

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Fighting Drought with a New Super Corn

Gothenburg, Nebraska to Belmond, Iowa

August 14-17, 2013

So how exactly do you win a tilling competition? We’re at the Prairie Homestead Antique Power and Country Craft Show in Belmond, Iowa, of all places, watching farmers on tractors practicing for the next day’s tillage contest.

Farmers practicing for the next day's tilling competition in Belmond, IA

Farmers practicing for the next day’s tilling competition in Belmond, IA

“You drive as straight as you can,” David Sieck, of Glenwood, Iowa, tells us. Sieck, a former president and current board member of the Iowa Corn Growers Association, has been growing field corn (used for animal feed and ethanol) in Iowa for over 35 years.

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Mesquite at the Table

July 19, 2013

Tucson, Arizona

When Laurie Melrood, a social worker who counsels undocumented immigrants, moved to Tucson a decade ago, her motto changed from ‘eat your garden’ to ‘eat your yard.’ It wasn’t an easy transition. For a while, she brooded about the soil conditions behind her house. Then, one afternoon, a Yaqui friend came over, climbed a tree, and started shaking down mesquite pods. Melrood hadn’t given the trees much thought before this moment—in fact, she’d swept the pods off her patio to throw them away. But the stubborn desert plant soon captivated her, and today, Melrood holds mesquite workshops at her home a dozen times a year. She teaches the history and uses of mesquite, then takes the group to harvest pods from trees at nearby Joaquin Murietta Park.

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Rainwater Harvesters Reap Bounty in Arid Tucson

Tucson, AZ

July 19, 2013

Brad Lancaster describes the strip of vegetation beside the sidewalk outside his Tucson, Arizona home as “an orchard and a pharmacy.” The desert ironwood tree has peanut flavored seeds and blooms that make a delicious salad garnish. Creosote is good for athlete’s foot. Chuparosa has a red flower that tastes like cucumber. The barrel cactus’s yellow fruit can be used for chutneys or hair conditioner. Mesquite pods make nutritious flour. And many more. Depending on the season, Lancaster gets 10 to 20 percent of his food from this sidewalk garden, and another in his yard.

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An Almanac in the Age of Climate Change

New Orleans, Louisiana

June 28, 2013

Julia Kumari Drapkin originally wanted to start iSeeChange, a media project that connects citizen observers and climate scientists, in New Orleans. As a Florida native who grew up swimming in the Gulf of Mexico, Drapkin never imagined herself living in Paonia, Colorado, (generous) population estimate: 2,000.

So when the producer at KVNF, the local radio station in Paonia, asked her to bring her Corporation for Public Broadcasting grant there, Drapkin found the town on a map. She had covered climate science from the Arctic to Mongolia to Australia and had a hunch that there was more to the simplified story about the ‘climate debate’ in the United States. After talking with the producer, Drapkin realized that Paonia—an eclectic town of coal miners, fruit farmers, and journalists in the North Fork Valley—was the perfect place to rethink that story.

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Dropping Lake Levels Cause Pentwater Residents to Innovate

Pentwater, Michigan

May 13-14, 2013

Long-time residents of Pentwater, Michigan—population 847 as of the last census—have seen many changes over the years, from the array of windmills sited in their fruit orchards to tourists descending on what used to be a sleepy one-room schoolhouse village beside Michigan’s majestic freshwater ocean. Yet 10 o’clock coffee remains unchanged by the decades. A group of a couple dozen Pentwater men have been meeting at a local coffee shop six days a week since coffee was a dime a cup. ‘The Ladies’ started their own coffee club a few decades ago, but sit at a separate table at Good Stuffs, a local café.

“Come to 10 o’clock coffee to find out what’s going on. If not, come the next day,” Jack Patterson, owner of Patterson Marina, told us over a cup. Continue reading