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Rain & Shine: Small Water Cycles


In a drying landscape one thing we can do to halt desertification is to restore small water cycles. What does that mean? It means keeping the water that does fall or comes down through irrigation and streams in local circulation. There are many ways to do this through the way we graze animals, to keeping our ditch water above ground, planting and caring for trees, and restoring soil health. The simple global principal at work here is that in the biosphere, water follows carbon. Where there is more carbon there will be more water.

The earth’s rotation creates a lateral circulation of moisture known as the “large water cycle.” In Colorado the large water cycle connects the mountains to the sea via clouds and rivers. A “small water cycle,” is a vertical generator of mild, local weather and operates within each watershed. In these small cycles, water that falls here or comes down from the mountains, sticks around and comes back to earth in the form of rain, dew, mist and fog. When it comes to precipitation, the small water cycle is responsible for around 60% of the moisture an area gets.

 Small water cycles happen right here and there is a lot we can do to support them.
In a landscape where trees are cut down, where grasses have been too heavily grazed, where soils have been ploughed and left bare, or where water has been moved from rivers and ditches to pipes below ground we disrupt and destroy these small water cycles- this leads to things drying out and getting even hotter. Scientists call this desertification. But, we can also reverse this! Practices like managed grazing, cover crops and no till, keeping water above ground and keeping the trees in our towns and in the forest healthy all help restore small water cycles keeping us green and buffering us from the negative effects of climate change.  

Small Water Cycles, Their Importance and Restoration
Gabe Brown, The Farm as an Ecosystem
Trees, Forests and Water: Cool Insights for a Hot World
The Connection Between Soil Organic Matter and Soil Water