As it appeared in the Sunday Standard, Botswana on Sunday Nov 11, 2012 edition.
How high is the Water Table?
One of my favorite subjects of the work that I do here is working with the water cycle.
Well, all of us learned about it in school. In Grade 5.
Evaporation leads to rainfall. Rainfall leads to seepage and runoffs. Runoffs into rivers and lakes lead to evaporation, and so on.
Except the one difference in a systemic approach is it recognizes that this cycle is not a static process.
This means they do not remain active at the same levels of intensity over time. The intensities are dynamic. We did not learn about this fact in school.
And therefore, the cycle has the potential to either cause the rainfall levels to increase or decrease over time. These trends are not clear in the short-term. The patterns become distinct over longer periods of time, usually in years. But the shift is definitely happening.
We call it by different names including the likes of global warming today or periods of draughts or seeing unreliable rainfalls or when we have periods of more than average rainfalls. Their persistent behaviour over time is in effect the consequence of the water cycle in silent action.
It is silent because we do not see the water cycle directly as it is unfolding before our eyes.
Cycles can go two ways. They can either reinforce positively or negatively.
The next four articles in November is a dedication to this subject and it explores a range of issues from primary industry production to crop or raw material production to dairy and cattle production, water availability, water consumption choices and their effects on families, the nature and the economies. All of this will be discussed as we take a trip around the water cycle.
Where I came from, in Singapore, we typically have quite a bit of rainfall and so; it was not as much an issue in my mind, until of course when we experience floods there.
Singapore sits right on the equator and so year round, it enjoys a hot and humid tropical weather.
The nature of water is to flow
The inherent nature of water is to flow. The more it flows out naturally, the more it comes back to us. Naturally. When it is trapped, it dries up.
This is a subject that has become dear to my heart as I spent more time in the country.
And then something struck me. That the excess of or lack of rainfall is not only as a result of the terrain. There was also the inter-play of the reinforcing nature of these water cycles. Its intensity to reinforce positively or negatively will vary with its surroundings.
A case in point is the spread of the forests in the Amazons of South America. These span to the same latitude as that of Botswana.
[Insert picture of world map here – see Picture I below]
Chicken and egg
Question. Is the Amazon green because it has more rainfall? Or does having more greens cause more rainfall in the Amazons? Or does it happen because both exist together? Like the chicken and egg. Both would need to be there for them to reinforce their continued growth.
One way to appreciate the existence of the cycle as a causality of rainfall levels is to take an issue that is related to it and watch its behaviour for persistence.
If it is persistent, we would see the peaks peaking higher or the troughs digging deeper each time. This requires us to plot the past behaviour of the issue on an x-y axis. The X-axis is always time. The Y-axis plots the levels of its behaviour.
Should there be a persistent decline or incline on these graphs, then we know that these cycles or circles of causality are definitely at play.
So for the purpose of this exercise, we will take a factor. Let us say the level of the water table.
What would you say has been the behaviour of this factor, in this part of the world over a forty-year period? The further into time we plot these behaviours, the more it becomes clearer to us the persistent nature of these issues.
Would you say the water table levels have remained constant for the past forty years (Refer to Picture 2, Pattern A)? Or would you say it has increased during the same period (Pattern B) or would you say, it looks more like Pattern C, i.e. the water table has declined over the years?
Which pattern would you pick?
[Insert Graphic 2 here]
Did you pick Pattern C? Most of us do so, resoundedly. I have not had a dissenting view to that choice since I had been doing these programmes.
Now, if pattern C is true, then we have a circle of causality in our hands and it is causing problems to recur right here on this land. To take care of the problem of water shortages, we would have to take care of the water cycle. The whole cycle.
But before that. How can we say for sure that it is Pattern C?
Keep wondering. This will be the subject of discussion in Part II of this series of the column on “Have Greens, Will Rain!”. I am sure you will be listening to what we see and hear around us every day as you figure this question out.
Till then have a lovely week of discovery and learning!
This is the 1st of a four part series of this article. Each part will build on the earlier article to an eventual conclusion. We invite you to participate in the column as well as do your ‘own homework’ – searching and discussing the issue to build your own conclusions.
Ms Sheila Damodaran, an international Strategy Development Consultant in the use of systemic thinking for dealing with persistent issues at regional or sectoral levels, welcomes comments at email@example.com. For more information, refer to www.loatwork.com.
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