Sunday, March 27, 2011

Water and Where we Live--Some Old Writing

I've changed a bit in my stance on this but this place I lived in is now ten years old.

The Place Where I Live: Kirkland , Washington—2001

Where I live wasn’t here a year ago. I used to work for the county-reviewing building permits to protect environmentally sensitive areas. When I moved here I had faith that my former co-workers had done everything right to ensure that no stream or wetland values were compromised, no drainage design incomplete.  I didn’t know until I had already bought and lived in for a few months this brand new townhouse, in an infill development, inside the Urban Growth Boundary, built according to the Growth Management Act, that what was once here were three wetlands, a stream and many years accumulation of chicken manure.

One day I noticed a seep of rust colored water with a blue oily surface coming out from under the landscaping below my kitchen onto the main access road.  A thirty mile drive to and twenty minute wait at the county’s building department led me to a very familiar stack of documents in which I found the records of mitigation for a wetland under the other half of my duplex and a soil survey that showed the accumulation of chicken manure.  I complained to and harangued the builder, the county inspector and the onsite workmen, who were still finishing the development, until they built a French drain below the landscaping.  It was a partially cosmetic solution that redirected the groundwater flow to the stream so that I didn’t see the seepage and the drainage is somewhat filtered but now my ground no longer weeps and I know the water is there under my feet. I feel it moving underground and draw on its energy through the floor.

I look outside the kitchen window at the western style split rail fence from my craftsman style house.  There is some design confusion here but that is just one aspect of living in a new house in the northwest. A sign labeled NGPE (Native Growth Protection Easement) tells me not to go in there.  I’m offended that they would tell me not to go into a habitat restoration area but they did a good job on the restoration.  They left the old apple tree and fir and pine trees along the stream and put in thousands of new native plants.  Now the segment of stream that for years had been “just an old farm ditch”, according to the aggravated builder, will be one piece of restored stream. The stream continues into a catch basin and is then piped below a schoolyard next door.  Salmon will never return to this stream because a pipe under a schoolyard will never be unearthed but I can work with the homeowners association to encourage them to use non-toxic fertilizers on all of the landscaping and to make sure that the mitigation site is maintained so that the wild roses and other native plants will survive. (Ninety percent of restoration sites fail due to lack of ongoing maintenance and monitoring according to a study done by my same former coworkers.) This small piece of stream may not have salmon in it but the water can at least be kept clean and cool for those few further downstream.

As I get used to living here I think about the irony of being an environmentalist living in what many environmentalists think is the bane of life in the rapidly growing suburbs of Seattle. I used to feel the same way—that the new houses were a scourge—and to be sure the burgeoning development and growth that continue here are like the exhalation of a large monster spewing new houses like germs with every breath. The growth impacts all of the ecosystems as well as the spirit of the people.

All of the elements that have caused that need to be changed more than locally. I don’t say that to rationalize it. I want it to slow down but it isn't. Encouraging and achieving the right kind of development is difficult and with world populations growing we are forced, despite our desire not to, to compromise.  So I think, instead, about the hypothetical place in the forest, in the hills east of here, outside the Urban Growth Boundary, that wasn’t built on because the state required that building happen here where I live.  I hope that there is a fish jumping in a stream in the foothills and a bear is watching it—because I am living here. 

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