Brock Dolman signs off his e-mails this way: “Mostly Water, Brock.”
He considers storm water a crop to harvest just like sugar snap peas.
He talks about how sediment running off a landscape into a creek affects salmon as well as the neighbors, and mends creeks eroded by water dumped from culverts with plugs of fir branches thinned from overgrown forests.
He’s a watershed poet and advocate, though he didn’t set out to be either. After studying biology and environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz, Dolman was working with endangered species when he experienced his “watershed moment.”
In trying to understand what caused their extinction, he realized “that, in addition to the basic issue of human land use and habitat loss, the final blow for so many species was when we compromised the hydrology of a place – dehydrated or polluted it – such that the carrying capacity for biology was accordingly diminished.”
Today, as the director of the Water Institute at the Occidental Arts & Ecology Center in Sonoma County, Dolman fosters watershed moments for the hundreds who attend his lectures or workshops each year.
“Brock has a real gift for articulating a vision that we can all share about water,” said Paola Bouley of the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network (SPAWN) in Marin County.
Bouley first heard Dolman speak during a rain garden building workshop in 2004. Through SPAWN, Bouley is now involved in the installation of 12 rainwater harvesting projects at schools, homes and environmental education centers.
At home, Bouley has installed a permeable driveway, a rain garden, and a cistern and rain barrels that together harvest 1,000 gallons of rainwater off the roof of a shed. She uses it to irrigate her vegetable garden. This winter, she’s installing an additional 1,500-gallon rainwater cistern.
“It gets addictive,” Bouley said.
No water, no life, Dolman reminds people. The abandoned orchards and walls of civilizations that forgot, refused or became unable to balance their water use with their water supplies mark the course of our past 10,000 years, he said, adding that we should call it planet Water instead of planet Earth.
Other planets have soil; what they lack is water. Disrupt the water cycle to too great an extent and communities fragment, governments topple, and the quality, abundance and diversity of life diminishes, Dolman said.
He gives 50 to 60 talks a year to groups ranging from the Audubon Society to the Rotary Club, where he attempts to increase understanding of how water moves through urban and rural landscapes and how humans can participate wisely in its course.
Dolman and his co-workers teach workshops on how to install rain gardens and roof water harvesting systems, how to reduce sediment flow into creeks and rivers (which compromises fish habitat while washing valuable topsoil downstream) and how to mend eroding waterways. The Water Institute’s signature four-day “Basins of Relations” seminar promotes collective action.