Friday, December 9, 2016

BLOG: 6 Tips for a Greener, Simpler Christmas

by Jennifer Wemhoff, The Groundwater Foundation

Christmas is one of my favorite times of year. There's so much to enjoy. But it seems that the holidays often come with a lot of excess - too much food, too much stress, too many gifts to buy, too much to do, too much stuff, etc. How can we simplify?

Simplifying the holidays will not only benefit your sanity, but the environment. Here are six simple ways to simplify this holiday season and reduce the impact on the environment:

1. Scale back the holiday lights.
You don't need to outdo the neighbors extravagant display that's set to music. A simple wreath or lit garland add a nice touch to your home, and will take minutes instead of hours to put up. If a big display is your thing, use LED lights and save on energy use and put a few more dollars back in your pocket. Use a timer to set the on/off times to make sure they don't twinkle all night.

2. Gifts don't have to be "things." Give the gift of time, experiences, or a donation.
It's easy to get caught up in buying things for our loved ones during the holidays. But don't we all have enough stuff? Instead, think about meaningful alternatives. Give your spouse or kids a coupon book filled with fun things to do - a nature walk, trip to the park or library, baking cookies together, etc. Tickets to a favorite show, concert, or event; zoo or museum memberships; or a gift card for a massage are great alternatives to another tie or Christmas towel. Or consider a donation to the recipient's favorite charity (if they don't have a favorite, The Groundwater Foundation is a good one!).

3. Find alternatives to gift wrapping.
Reuse those gift bags and bows from last year. Gift bags are a snap to assemble and much easier than wrapping an oddly-shaped item. Encourage your gift recipients to reuse them for future gifts. If you like to wrap, look for wrapping paper made using recycled content. Avoid foil/metallic paper, as it's difficult to recycle. Upcycle paper you have around the house into one-of-a-kind masterpieces. Have the kids decorate old newspaper, scrap paper, paper grocery bags, or any other paper for a fun art project and quality time with you. Or channel your inner child and have fun yourself! 

4. Limit your travel plans.
This one is hard, as family is important during the holidays. But between all the shopping and visiting, parties and other activities, we drive more and burn more gas. Organize video chats to "see" family members. Consolidate your travel as much as possible, or just stay home in your pajamas and watch Christmas movies.

5. Make your holiday meal(s) low impact.
Buy local as much as possible. Skip disposable dinnerware and bring out the china and cloth napkins (this may go against the idea of simplifying - but enlist your guests' help and have a group dishwashing and drying session after the meal). Compost any food scraps. Send leftovers home with your guests, or keep them yourself and save yourself from cooking for a few days.

6. Slow down and enjoy the season!
Christmas comes but once a year. It's ok to say no to yet another holiday party or outing. It's ok to focus on the small things that make this time of year magical. Give yourself permission to just be this holiday season, and enjoy it.

It's a process to change our thinking about the holidays. Each year I try to simplify, but find myself falling into the trap of excess. I hope we can all focus on having a greener, simpler Christmas this year.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

BLOG: Thankful and Committed to Connections

by Jane Griffin, Groundwater Foundation President

Connections not only nurture us, they
assist us in getting things done.
It is widely documented the importance of connection – it is an innate human need that, when fulfilled, improves our life. Connections not only nurture us, they assist us in getting things done. 

This is the approach we use at The Groundwater Foundation. It is something we believe in so strongly that we have put it at the center of our new mission

We connect people, businesses and communities through local groundwater education and action, making us all part of the solution for clean, sustainable groundwater.

Over our 30+ years we have witnessed the strength, success and overall great satisfaction that is achieved through our community-based groundwater protection and education. In fact, our Groundwater Guardian teams connect different sectors of their local community to get the important work done. Communities across the nation are connected in order to share, learn and celebrate their successes. We are committed to growing and strengthening our Groundwater Guardian program so that we can move closer to our vision:

A network of people, businesses and communities proactively protecting groundwater for sustainable use today and tomorrow.

So, let’s keep in mind how important it is to connect within our communities to the people and businesses that can help us as we work to protect our life-sustaining water.  And let’s remember that what we do matters:

It’s the water we drink.  It’s the water that grows our food.  It’s the water that sustains our lives and livelihoods.

Sara Brock
In order to do this the best way possible – to focus our attention on furthering the work of connecting – we have also made some changes internally. 

I would like to introduce you to our new team member: Sara Brock. Sara joined our team as an intern this summer. One of the projects Sara has been working on is creating a story bank, so she has already connected with many Groundwater Guardians. This will continue as she will be doing a lot more with our Groundwater Guardians.  

I would also like to salute some of The Groundwater Foundation’s longtime champions: Cindy Kreifels, Lori Davison and Doug Sams.  Each of them dedicated so much to our organization. They connected with our Groundwater Guardians, our program partners, our members. Those connections are deep and meaningful, and we thank them for their excellent service and count on the connection continuing as they take on their new paths.

Let’s keep connecting.  Let’s keep the important work happening! 

May you have a Happy, Connected Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

BLOG: A Day in the Life of a Consulting Geologist

by Karen Griffin, Vice President, Olsson Associates

It is 6:30 a.m. and today I’m off to Riverton, Wyoming, to attend the annual conference for Conservation Districts. This is the first time I’ve been to this conference, and I’m excited to see some of the clients we’ve been working with and return to the only state in the country with a cowboy on its license plate. My mention of the cowboy will become abundantly clear as I describe one day on a recent trip to Wyoming. It was one of the most memorable days I’ve ever had as a consulting geologist.

For the past year and a half, we have been working on a watershed study for the Wyoming Water Development Commission (WWDC) and the Teton Conservation District (TCD) in Jackson, Wyoming. Yes, the study area includes the Grand Tetons, Bridger-Teton National Forest, portions of Yellowstone National Park and the entire National Elk Refuge. The watershed is 1.7 million acres of land in the center of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the largest intact ecosystem in the lower 48 – not to mention it includes one of the country’s most iconic mountain ranges. One that takes your breath away each and every time you see it.

The Grand Tetons at Grand Teton National Park
As I’ve headed out west to complete the project, I’ve had a lot of volunteers who wanted to join the project team. Who wouldn’t want to go to Jackson Hole every two months to see the seasons change across the amazing landscape?! And, luckily for us all, the scope of the project is almost as vast as the landscape and so I have been able to bring out several of our best scientists and engineers to help complete the project.

The team visiting Jenny Lake after meeting with the National Park Service at Grand Teton National Park. From left to right, Joan Darling, PhD (our wetlands and permitting expert), me, Jodee Pring (River Basin Planning Supervisor for the WWDC), and Brian Degen, PE (our irrigation engineer).
We were hired by the WWDC and the TCD to complete a Level I watershed study. A Level I watershed study is holistic evaluation of an area that is interconnected by water. The study evaluates the current condition of an area and looks at opportunities for water improvement projects that will restore, maintain, and enhance healthy watershed function. Specifically, a Level I watershed study looks for projects, programs, or activities that support sustainable, beneficial water use for current and future watershed residents – be they human, animal, or plant.

To learn the issues facing the water users in the district, we held public meetings in the town of Jackson and in the small community of Moran near the south entrance to Yellowstone. At the meetings, we heard from ranchers, land managers, wildlife conservationists, and the urban and rural residents about their issues with both drought and flooding. The summer of 2016 was no exception with dry conditions causing three major fires in the watershed. You may have heard about the Berry Fire that was reported on the national news because it closed the southern entrance to Yellowstone for several weeks. Conversely, in the winter, ice jams form in Flat Creek and they block the water flow through Jackson causing winter flooding in the residential and commercial parts of town. Water issues not only affect tourism and the urban residents; we heard from many of the local ranchers about the need to upgrade the irrigation systems that supply water to the green pastures that feed both livestock and wildlife across the watershed.

The greatest thing about these Level I watershed studies is that we start the project by completing a description and inventory of the watershed.  At the same time, we hold public meetings and go out to see the issues first hand. So the project team gets to see the big picture of the watershed as a whole by developing a series of GIS maps that document, for example, the geology, soils, land use, wetlands and sensitive habitats. And we also get to go see “the boulder that destroyed the headgate on our irrigation canal.” We then put together conceptual plans and cost estimates for the water improvements identified by the residents and stewards of the land.

Here is a prime example of the irrigation system improvement needs in the Upper Snake River Watershed. The Jensen Creek diversion used to provide water to several ranches just south of the Teton Village ski resort. The irrigation structure was crushed by a gigantic boulder during a debris flow. We prepared a conceptual plan and cost estimate for a replacement structure downstream this site.
That gigantic boulder was a pretty amazing thing to see, but the day I wanted to tell you about started at a public meeting at Fire Station #4 in Moran. We held a public meeting to find out what types of water improvement projects were needed in the northern part of the watershed. Several local ranchers came to hear what the study was about and realized that the issues they had with deteriorating and inefficient irrigation systems may be eligible for funding through the WWDC Small Water Project Program. Mort Yoakum, manager of the historic Pinto Ranch, invited me to come visit the ranch the next day. Before he left he asked me one question: “Do you know how to ride a horse?” 

I met him at the ranch headquarters the next morning where we loaded up two horses to ride across the pastures that needed irrigation system improvements. As we rode across the ranch, Mort told me the story of how the ranch was homesteaded and how at one time ran 2,000 head of cattle across this area. He showed me the flood irrigation ditches that crisscross the landscape. Some ditches were dug over 100 years ago, and we talked about some options that could be proposed to help improve water delivery, while improving water conservation. I asked him why he didn’t use ATVs to get around the ranch like so many ranchers do these days. He explained the ditches were too wide and deep in places for the ATVs to cross but the horses can jump across them easily. Next thing you know, he led us across a ditch and, yes, my horse easily leapt across without hesitating!

Mort Yoakum, manager of the Pinto Ranch takes me across their allotment on the Elk Ranch located in the northeast corner of Grand Teton National Park. The Tetons were covered in a haze that day because the Berry Fire was burning at the entrance to Yellowstone.
With that, I’ll leave you with my favorite picture of Mort, pointing to the main irrigation ditch as he described where he needed the water to feed his cattle, the antelope, and the heard of over 800 wild buffalo that share the natural resources of this area. 

Sunrise on the Elk Ranch at Grand Teton National Park discussing more efficient ways to deliver water to the cattle and wildlife that depend on this most precious resource. Yep, those are my horse’s ears in the foreground; we had a fantastic ride that morning.
Some days I wonder how I could be so lucky to have a job where I get to try to help folks find ways to conserve and protect this most precise resource – the interconnected groundwater and surface water that define this watershed. Especially when it means taking a ride across this iconic landscape with a rancher who is trying to maintain the legacy of a historic ranch while at the same time, preserving the natural resources that nourish a part of the greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.


About the Author
Karen Griffin is a professional geologist managing multidisciplinary projects focused in the fields of geology and hydrogeology.  She began her career in environmental geology in Santa Barbara, CA and moved to Boulder, CO to take a position as project manager for the restoration and cleanup of a 27 square mile superfund site called the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. She moved back to her home town in 2004 and is currently a Vice President and the Groundwater Technical Leader for Olsson Associates in Lincoln, Nebraska. Reach her at