Wednesday, April 18, 2018

It's Water-Wise Wednesdays with Frannie the Fish! {Rain Barrels}

If April showers bring May flowers, then what do May flowers bring?

June bugs!

All joking aside, it’s very hard to keep those beautiful May flowers alive and blooming through the hot and dry summer months. Frannie wants to share with you an easy, and even artistic, way to save and repurpose rain water this season.

Rain barrels are, broadly, any type of above-ground container that has been modified to collect and store rooftop runoff for non-drinking uses. During a heavy rain, gutters efficiently move the water away from the roof and out onto the ground below but all of the water can quickly over-saturate the soil. By collecting that water in a rain barrel instead, we can reduce the amount of water that evaporates or flows away.

Rain barrels can cost as little as $20 for a simple container installed by the homeowner or as much as $300 for a fancy set-up and you can be as creative with it as you like. Many people opt to paint the barrels with their favorite flowers or insects that help pollinate the gardens.

And in case you need another reason to start building your own rain barrel, the EPA suggests that the average home saves 1300 gallons of water over the course of the summer!

Save money and water this summer by installing a rain barrel and share your progress with us on Facebook and Twitter!

Friday, April 13, 2018

BLOG: Groundwater Perspectives: Part 2

by Bob Swanson, Retired Director, USGS Nebraska Water Science Center

I promised my perspectives on the Groundwater Foundation at the end of the first installment of this blog. It is surprising to realize that relationship is measured in decades.

Attendees at the 1990 Children's Groundwater Festival
To begin with, I was wrong. Not all the time, but certainly at key turns in my journey with the Groundwater Foundation. I first encountered Groundwater Foundation, like many Nebraskans, at the Children’s Groundwater Festival. I don’t remember if it was the 1989 or 1990 Festival, but I was participating with the Nebraska USGS team and thinking that this would be like our usual outreach events. That would be 10-30 participants for a class, a Scouting group, or other organizations. I was totally unprepared for the Festival that would eventually be replicated at over 40 other locations. It was usually difficult to get students enthused about science, in general, and groundwater, in particular.

I was wrong. Hundreds of students went through presentations all day long. They were excited. They had fun. They were engaged. That certainly wasn’t my last Festival and I was never surprised by the enthusiasm of a Children’s Groundwater Festival again.

Participants at an artesian spring at Groundwater University in 1995.
Fast forward a few years and I was participating as faculty in Groundwater University while stationed at North Platte, Nebraska. The idea of dedicating a week of time to accompany teens wasn’t foreign. I did that pretty often with my son’s Boy Scouts Troop. However, making the jump from one-day festival to week-long full immersion (pun intended) experience. That, I thought, was well too deep to pump and I selfishly wondered if I’d be bored that week. Wrong again.

The team of faculty, volunteers, and staff that Groundwater Foundation assembled for Groundwater University created an experience that few actual university students were receiving at the time. I found a kinship in the common interest, learned more than I thought possible, and came away refreshed instead of exhausted.

Bob Swanson receives the USGS Groundwater Guardian plaque in 2008.
North Platte was also my first experience with a Groundwater Guardian Community. My USGS Science Center was an affiliate, but I was involved with the community team in North Platte. I’d belonged to a few community-based volunteer groups in the past and my initial thought was that none of them produced much more than a membership card and I fully expected to pay my dues and read the newsletter. I reluctantly admit that I was wrong, yet again. I was introduced to those Results Oriented Activities (ROA) and found we had to actually do good things and proved that we did them. Imagine that....productivity and accountability.

Following a few years in a location without Groundwater Foundation interaction and upon accepting the position of Director of the USGS Nebraska Water Science Center I found myself involved in an early tradition of the USGS Nebraska Water Science Center and the Groundwater Foundation. One of my duties, as Director, was to visit Congressional staff and report on the activities of my Center. Early in Groundwater Foundation’s history, Susan Seacrest, founding President of the Groundwater Foundation, began accompanying the Center Director on those visits to leverage interest in groundwater science and to visit with leadership at our national headquarters. Jane Griffin continued that tradition when she became President of Groundwater Foundation. I would prepare to try to communicate in a 10-15 minute period the progress of the previous year’s science activities for a USGS Science Center. I could only focus on so many things. It seemed inevitable that I would pick projects and programs that the Congressional staff already understood. Susan and Jane have an innate insight into people and I found myself always focusing on the science. They would always point out the projects that connected critically with the people that the Congressional staff represented. Now maybe I wasn’t wrong, but I wasn’t focusing on the right thing and Groundwater Foundation helped me to learn that lesson. I found that insight to be invaluable. That leaves me proud to be wrong.

One last observation is that I never met a Groundwater Foundation employee that I wouldn’t count as a friend. Thanks, Groundwater Foundation.

Next time...Perspectives on data.

Robert Swanson was Director of the USGS Nebraska Water Science Center (NEWSC) from 2004 until his retirement in 2017. The NEWSC has 40 dedicated water science professionals, support personnel, and students and offices in Lincoln and North Platte, Nebraska. He oversaw a science program that is managed through two sections, Hydrologic Surveillance and Hydrologic investigations. The USGS operates over 130 streamgaging stations, about 70 continuous groundwater recorders, and compiles ground-water levels for over 5,000 wells in Nebraska.  

Prior to 2004, he gained a wide range of experience in the Hydrologic Surveillance (Data) Section as a hydrologic technician and hydrologist in the Lincoln, Cambridge, Ord, and North Platte Field Offices. He served as field hydrologist for the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program's Central Nebraska River (CNBR) Basins Study Unit research team and later as CNBR Study Unit Chief.  From 1999 to 2004, Bob was assigned to the USGS Wyoming Water Science Center as the Chief of Hydrologic Surveillance. He has also been Acting Director for both the Iowa and Missouri Water Science Centers. He has served on numerous committees for the advancement of science and technology in the USGS, as well as business practice committees.

Friday, April 6, 2018

BLOG: This May Not Seem Like a Groundwater Story...

by Chris Barnett, Groundwater Foundation Board Member and Indianapolis-Marion County Groundwater Guardian Team Leader

This may not seem like a groundwater story.  But it is….

A couple of years ago my wife and I started talking about a master bath remodeling project. When I went up in the attic to look behind the wall, I noticed a lot of unused space adjacent to the bathroom and the master closet. As an avid DIYer, an idea formed: I suggested the attic space could become a cedar storage closet. So the idea grew into a project, and I re-worked the master closet to install a door for attic access.

Now fully committed with a door to nowhere, I had to source the materials. I figured I’d just buy the cedar from my local big box store, but they sold thin “closet liner” material that was made to be glued or nailed into an existing closet, and I wanted something more substantial…1/2-inch tongue and groove walls and 3/4-inch tongue and groove flooring. Courtesy of Google I found a couple of sawmills that sell directly to consumers, and one of them was very interesting because of the Nebraska connection I have with the Groundwater Foundation. Here’s what I found on their website:
“The Sawle Mill buys and mills timber grown in Nebraska. Our Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) is primarily harvested from the Niobrara River valley where the soil, step bluffs, and climate combine to produce exceptionally vibrant, colorful, heartwood.”
Curious, and interested in knowing how my choices affect the environment, I didn’t stop there. It turns out juniperus virginiana is native to the US from the Plains east to the Atlantic and south to the Gulf. It is a pioneer species, which means that it is one of the first trees to repopulate cleared, eroded, or otherwise damaged land, and it is especially long-lived. (Hmm, maybe I don’t want to cause it to be cut.) But in many areas near pasture or cropland, it is considered an invasive species, even if native. It is fire-intolerant, and used to be controlled by wildfires. Especially in Nebraska, fires have been stopped with roads, plowed fields, and other fire breaks, allowing red cedar to invade and grow where it is unwanted. (Okay, invasive is bad, so I might be helping!)
In the Niobrara River valley of Nebraska, there is a significant connection between groundwater and the surface flows in the river and its tributaries (something I learned through the Groundwater Foundation), so invasive trees along the river valley are using groundwater while invading the banks and bottoms. And this is where the sawmill and their customers come in: harvesting and milling red cedar trees from the Niobrara Valley helps to manage the invasive species, reduces the water use by invasive trees in the valley, and makes beneficial use of the groundwater-fed trees to create jobs and income in rural Nebraska…just like Nebraska’s other ag products.

Not to mention the end-use: beautiful, useful, aromatic, and pest-free storage closets like ours!


Chris Barnett is the Executive Director of the Lawrence Community Development Corporation, as well as the team leader for the Indianapolis-Marion County Groundwater Guardian Team, the Marion County Wellfield Education Corporation. Chris also serves on The Groundwater Foundation's board of directors. Reach Chris at

The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the view of The Groundwater Foundation, its board of directors, or individual members.