Friday, August 11, 2017

BLOG: 8 Ways to Protect Water During National Water Quality Month

Water covers most of the Earth, exists in the cracks and crevices beneath the earth's surface, makes up most of the human body, and is vital for all living things. Needless to say, clean water is important. During a month when everyone is out enjoying lakes, rivers, oceans and having tall glasses of ice-cold water, it becomes even more apparent how important quality water is. August is National Water Quality Month. How can you have an impact on water quality? Here are some ways you can be part of the solution:

1. Don't flush medications.
Never flush old or unused medications down your toilet or the sink. Pipes can lead back into a general water source which then gets contaminated with your medication. Find a local take-back location (Nebraskans - you can take medications back to a participating pharmacy any time!), or utilize the DEA's take-back days in October and April. 

2. Don’t hose off the driveway.
Always sweep your driveway to keep it clean, rather than using the hose. When washing your car, use a commercial car wash whenever possible rather than doing it yourself at home. When chemicals run down your driveway into the storm drain they flow directly into lakes and streams.

3. Pick up the poop. 
Yep, it may be gross, but when it rains, that water picks up poop particles from your pet and it may be deposited into lakes, rivers, or streams. Nobody wants that - pick up your pet's poop.

4. Watch out for litter.
We all know to avoid littering, but go a step further and keep an eye out for any litter wherever you go. Whenever possible, pick it up and put it in the proper disposable bin.

5. Follow instructions when using any chemicals.
Pesticides and fertilizers can have a proper use, but avoid overusing them whenever possible. The chemicals can travel through runoff water and soil, thus contaminating ground water. Follow label instructions carefully!

6. Stay phosphate-free.
Help save our lakes and rivers by choosing nontoxic household products, and using phosphate-free items like detergent.

7. Join a cleanup project.
If you want to go a step beyond preventative care, be proactive by joining a local or national clean up project that works on water. This is a great project for a Groundwater Guardian team! No team in your area? Get one started!

8. Educate yourself.
Finally, take some time this month to educate yourself on what’s actually in your water, the quality of your water and how it can further be improved. Knowledge is power, and the more knowledgeable you are, the more you can make a difference.

Water sustains life - it’s vitally important to all of us. This August, celebrate National Water Quality Month by being aware of your water habits and taking steps to ensure clean water for everyone. When we have clean water, we can lead satisfying lives.

Want more ideas? See what else you can do.

Adapted from Firespring.org

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

It’s Water-Wise Wednesday with Frannie the Fish! {Food Waste Part 2: Save and Reuse}

This is the second part of Frannie’s dive into reducing food waste at home.  To read the first part, click here.
---
Do you like to cook? Frannie does!

There are ways to reduce food waste and save water even when you’re preparing food and cooking food.

To make sure our food is clean, we should wash our fruits and vegetables even if they come in a bag.  Before turning on the tap, put a bowl in sink to catch the dirty water.  When you are done washing your food, you can use the water on your houseplants or garden instead of letting it run down the sink.  You can also do this with the water you have used to boil fruits, vegetables, and eggs after, of course, you let it cool.

As pointed out last week, you can easily use vegetable peelings to start your own compost pile, but did you know you can also some vegetable food waste to make soup?  Save your carrot and celery ends and freeze them for up to six months and boil them in water to make a delicious vegetable broth.  You can also do this with vegetables that are beginning to get old by simply cutting away any bad parts and chopping them into large chunks.

Want a meat broth instead? Save bones and scraps leftover from your pork chops or chicken and add them to boiling water or the veggie broth.

When your bread goes stale, you can break it into pieces and make homemade croutons or breadcrumbs using recipes like this one.  If you want to try something a bit different, try these cornbread croutons!

Even cheese can be reused.  After cutting away the Parmesan rind, turn it into a nice cheesy broth for a Wisconsin Cheese soup or a creamy pasta sauce for your next Italian night.


Share with us some of your ways to reduce food and water waste while cooking on our Facebook, Twitter, or E-mail.  Bon appetite!

Friday, August 4, 2017

BLOG: Recharging Groundwater Education

Recharging Groundwater Education trains teachers to
further engage students in groundwater education.
The Groundwater Foundation is thrilled to begin work on a new project funded by EPA Region 7.

The Environmental Education grant was awarded in conjunction with EPA’s Office of External Affairs and the Environmental Education Program in Washington, D.C.

The grant project, “Recharging Groundwater Education,” will train teachers to engage students in problem-solving and critical thinking around local environmental threats to the groundwater supply in Nebraska; mentor high school students through outdoor internships and stewardship projects; and promote student exploration and awareness of career opportunities in water-related science and engineering fields.

“This grant helps teach Nebraska students about how to protect their Nebraska groundwater through hands-on experience with nature, and explore Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) career paths,” said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Jane Griffin, Groundwater Foundation President said, “We are excited about the opportunity to equip educators to teach about groundwater and to complement the lessons learned in the classroom with mentoring opportunities for students to learn about careers and to get involved in local protection efforts.  With over 30 years of experience our organization has witnessed how education is a catalyst to action. We look forward to working with our partners across the state to foster a new generation of environmental stewards and are grateful EPA makes these efforts possible.” 

The Groundwater Foundation is a nonprofit organization that seeks to educate the public about the need to conserve and protect groundwater. Surface water or ground water can serve as sources of drinking water. Protecting source water from contamination can reduce treatment costs, and risks to public health from exposures to contaminated water.

For more information about the Recharging Groundwater Education project, contact us at info@groundwater.org or 402-434-2740.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

It's Water-Wise Wednesday with Frannie the Fish! {Food Waste Part 1: Composting}

Food is an integral part of the water cycle.  Plants need water to grow.  Animals need plants to eat and water to drink.  The big trucks need water to keep their engines cool on the long interstate drives from the farm to the store to the table.  You even use water to clean and cook your food.

We know it’s important to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle, but did you know you can do that with your food, too?

Food waste is the name for our leftovers after we’re done preparing, cooking, or eating our food.  In this mini-series, Frannie will look at different ways that we can reduce, reuse, and recycle food waste.



Composting is one of the easiest way to reuse food waste from fruits and vegetables.  It reduces the volume of trash we put into landfills while creating nutrient-rich soils we can use to grow beautiful, healthy plants.

It starts with a box. Or a bin. Or hole in the ground. Or even just a pile in the corner of your yard that is out of the way and people know not to step in.  Any way you have it, the important part of the pile is the worms and fungi and bugs, decomposers that will take whatever you put into your compost and turn it into the dirt you want at the end.
 
Once you have your compost pile or box or hole, you can start putting things in there.  But wait, you can’t put all of your food waste in the compost.  Only put plant-based items in your bin, such as nut shells, fruit and veggie peelings, grass clippings, and weeds.  Things you should not put in your compost include meat, dairy, oils, or fats because they might attract some pests you don’t want near your home.

Once you have added your first compostable materials, cover them with soil or some already completed compost.  This will kick-start the decomposing process by introducing the worms and microbes (little bacteria) to the fresh scraps.

Add a little water for moisture, turn or stir it once a week, and voila! Your composted soil should be completely done and ready to use in just a couple months! Of course you can always add to the top of the pile and scoop out the finished compost at the bottom to keep the process going.

Like Frannie said before, the finished product that comes out of a compost pile is a nutrient-rich soil that you can use to start new seedlings or spread on the top of your garden like a fertilizer.


Share pictures of your compost piles and gardens for a chance to be featured in an upcoming blog! Happy Gardening!

Friday, July 21, 2017

BLOG: Lords Valley Country Club, Lords Valley, Pennsylvania


This summer, the Groundwater Blog will be profiling participants of the Groundwater Guardian Green Site program. The program recognizes green spaces (golf courses, parks, nature areas, educational and office campuses, etc.) for using groundwater-friendly practices to maintain the site. Find out more.




Site: Lords Valley Country Club, Lords Valley, Pennsylvania
Site Manager: Christopher Passenti, Golf Course Superintendent


Tell us a little about your site and its history
Lords Valley Country Club is an 18-hole private club in Lords Valley, Pennsylvania. The golf course was established as a private country club in the early 1970s, and has been Audubon certified since 1996.

What’s the most unique feature of your site? 
The golf course features a lake that surrounds several holes.



What groundwater-friendly practices are you most proud of?
Lords Valley has worked to protect water resources by reducing water and chemical usage throughout the course.

What would you tell another site manager about being a Green Site? 
Being a Green Site has helped Lords Valley focus its efforts on using less water and reducing the amount of chemicals on the golf course.

What’s the best part about your job?
The best part about my job is seeing the great results of the staff's hard work.

________


Christopher Pasenti has been the Course Superintendent at Lords Valley Country Club for 15 years, and a Golf Course Superintendent for 25. Find out more about LOrds Valley Country Club at www.lordsvalleycountryclub.com. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

BLOG: Beavercreek Golf Club, Beavercreek, Ohio


This summer, the Groundwater Blog will be profiling participants of the Groundwater Guardian Green Site program. The program recognizes green spaces (golf courses, parks, nature areas, educational and office campuses, etc.) for using groundwater-friendly practices to maintain the site. Find out more.




Site: City of Beavercreek, Beavercreek Golf Club
Site Manager: Zach Wike, Assistant Golf Course Superintendent



Tell us a little about your site and its history
Beavercreek Golf Club is owned and operated by the City of Beavercreek. It opened for play in 1996. Environmental stewardship is a top priority, and we have been a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary since 2014. 

What’s the most unique feature of your site? 
The 180 acre golf course is set amongst rolling hills and is comprised of many different ecosystems. The golf course is responsible for handling a lot of storm water from surrounding properties during rain events. Through pond and stream bank naturalization, we are able to filter much of the water before it leaves the property and flows into nearby wetlands. 

What groundwater-friendly practices are you most proud of?
We have greatly reduced the fertilization totals on property over the last few years. Providing enough fertility for a healthy stand of turf is essential for creating a natural filter, however, we utilize soil and tissue testing to apply fertilizer precisely as its needed as to eliminate or reduce any runoff or leaching.  

What would you tell another site manager about being a Green Site? 
Being a Green Site is valuable as it ensures proper practices are in place to protect groundwater. Many of the practices that site managers have in place are already beneficial to groundwater. This program ensures that site managers take into account all practices that impact groundwater and make the necessary changes to protect against groundwater pollution. It is also a great certification to show off to all stakeholders.

What’s the best part about your job?
The best part about my job is being able to see the sunrise every morning. It is certainly a view that never gets old. That coupled with working with nature is a very rewarding experience.

________


Zach Wike has been the Assistant Course Superintendent at Beavercreek Golf Club for eight years. Find out more about Beavercreek Golf Club by visiting www.beavercreekgolfclub.com or wike@beavercreekohio.gov.  Follow him on Twitter at @zachwike.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

It's Water-Wise Wednesday with Frannie the Fish! {Mulch}

Evaporation happens when water is heated enough to turn into a gas and expand into the atmosphere.  When Frannie is gardening, she wants to make sure that her plants get enough water but that it’s not wasted by evaporating in the hot summer sun.

In the past, she learned the best times of the day to water are dawn and dusk when it isn’t so hot.  But there’s another common and inexpensive option that she’d like to share with you: Mulch.

Mulch is a material that you use to cover the soil around your plants. Many people use it in landscaping because it comes in a variety of colors and textures, but it also does several important things to help keep your plants healthy and strong.
  1. Evaporation Prevention. This is one of the most important purposes mulch serves in this hot weather. Mulch absorbs the heat from the sun and prevents it from reaching the soil that the plant is growing in. Because the soil is cooler, it is able to take in and retain more moisture than it would were it exposed.
  2. Weed Prevention. No one likes weeds.  They take up all the water and good nutrients in the soil that we want for our own flowers and food.  Mulch, by stopping the sunlight from reaching the ground, starves out weeds and they are unable to grow in that area. It also stops any new seeds from landing in your garden.
  3. Soil Improvement. Ok, so we know that the soil in our garden is cooler with more moisture and fewer weeds, but it also builds up the soil.  All types of mulch prevent the wind from eroding the soil but organic or natural mulch can go one step further by enhancing the soil with nutrients as they decompose.  An area mulched with pine needles, for example, becomes acidic as the mulch decomposes and becomes suited for acid-loving plants like azaleas. 
Try using mulch this summer and let us know how it goes on our Facebook, Twitter, or send us an email. Happy Gardening!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

BLOG: Lake Tahoe Golf Course, California


This summer, the Groundwater Blog will be profiling participants of the Groundwater Guardian Green Site program. The program recognizes green spaces (golf courses, parks, nature areas, educational and office campuses, etc.) for using groundwater-friendly practices to maintain the site. Find out more.




Site: Lake Tahoe Golf Course, South Lake Tahoe, California

Site Manager: Bobby Jaeger, Golf Course Superintendent



Tell us a little about your site and its history. 
Our golf course was built in 1959. The land the Golf Course is on was purchased by California State Parks in the 1980’s, from there California State Parks hired American Golf Corporation to manage the property and has since been a huge success, attracting golfers from all over the world.

What’s the most unique feature of your site? 
The Upper Truckee River runs through the Golf Course. It is the largest tributary into Lake Tahoe. It makes the course challenging to play, provides habitat for wildlife, and makes for a scenic golf outing.


What groundwater-friendly practices are you most proud of? 
Our very limited use of fertilizers. We never fertilize the rough or native areas. Our tees and fairways get half the text-book recommended amounts of NPK  per growing season, and our greens are primarily fed from liquid foliar applications. Thus greatly reducing any chance of run off or leaching into ground or surface waters.

What would you tell another site manager about being a Green Site? 
It helps educate people in your community about what you do at your property and lets them know about your efforts in environmental stewardship.

What’s the best part about your job? 
The best part of my job is not only working outside in Lake Tahoe and providing great golf conditions for locals and visitors from all over the world, but knowing that my environmental stewardship efforts help in ensuring Lake Tahoe is clear and blue for many generations to come.

________

Bobby Jaeger has been the Course Superintendent at Lake Tahoe Golf Course for five years. Find out more about Lake Tahoe Golf Course at www.laketahogc.com or super@laketahoegc.com

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

It's Water-Wise Wednesdays with Frannie the Fish! {Groundwater Restoration}

If an aquifer becomes contaminated or overdrawn, then the people, animals, and plants living on top of it are in serious trouble.  We know that it is important for groundwater to be recharged through natural means like rain and snow, but is it possible for humans to help put the aquifer back in its original condition?

It is! We do this through a process called Aquifer Restoration. This process is done usually by the utilities department of cities and towns or by Natural Resources Districts.  Many people including engineers, data analysts, well drillers, and geologists have to work together to make the groundwater safe again.

Nitrate Concentration Map
for Hastings, NE 2015
Credit: Hastings Utilities
Let’s take a look at Hastings, Nebraska which is just finishing up Phase 1 of their Aquifer Storage and Restoration Project.

Hastings’ water system gets most of their water from the Ogallala and High Plains Aquifer and they do not currently treat, chlorinate, or store their water but they have started to experience problems with nitrates, volatile organic compounds, and uranium. 

In order to continue to provide usable water, Hastings’ Utilities team initiated the Aquifer Storage and Restoration (ASR) project in 2016.  They built dual pumping wells which help clean up nitrates and uranium floating that the top of the aquifer, a reservoir for managing irrigation, and are just beginning to construct reverse osmosis treatment centers to help consolidate and remove pollutants.


The reservoir holds enough water
 to fill 66 Olympic pools.
Credit: Hastings Utilities
Over the next few years, they plan to study recharge in the area and investigate why groundwater recharges faster in some parts of the city than in others.  They are combining research with restoration to make sure that their city has clean water and residents understand the need for and purpose of the ASR project.  To learn more, check out Hastings Utilities website.


To learn more about groundwater and try your own aquifer restoration activity, visit The Groundwater Foundation’s Groundwater Restoration website.

Monday, June 26, 2017

BLOG: Clean Car, Less Water

by Sally Phillips, freelance writer

If you're washing your car at home, you could be wasting a lot of water. The average home car wash uses about 80 to 140 gallons of water. This water picks up all the pollutants off your car, such as fuel, gas, oil, and tar and mixes it with the soapy car wash ingredients. This soapy, oily mixture then flows from your yard, to the storm drain, and ultimately to streams and lakes where it damages the environment and causes harm to marine animals. So how can we keep our car in top shape while still protecting the Earth and its fellow inhabitants? Here are some eco-friendly tips for washing your car at home.



Do Away with the Open Hose
Many people prefer washing their car at home, but to reduce the amount of water you use, try an automatic shutoff nozzle for your hose. This nozzle prevents the continuous flow of water and can save up to 70 gallons of water per wash. You can also use a power washer, which uses about 2-5 gallons of water per minute, compared to an open hose which uses 10 gallons per minute. Simply using a bucket is also a great way to manage how much water you use. Fill your buckets with water and refill only when necessary. This will allow you to calculate exactly how much water you’re using and force you to cut down.

Watch Where You Wash Your Car
Most people wash their car in their driveway, but this water goes directly to the storm drains. These typically don’t lead to sewage treatment plants but instead go directly into our lakes and streams. An eco-friendly approach to car cleaning is to move your vehicle to a grass or gravel surface. This allows the ground to soak some of the water and filter out the harmful contaminants that make their way into runoff water.

Use the Right Products
Many soaps that we use to wash our cars have chemicals that are harmful to the environment. These chemicals decrease water quality and damage the life of aquatic species. Instead, opt for a waterless cleaner. You can get a spray-on product and wash your car with minimal or no water at all. These solutions are also biodegradable so they don’t add any chemicals or pollutants to the environment. Simply spray on your car and use a microfiber towel to remove dirt.


Following these three tips will help reduce the amount of water you use when washing your car, and ultimately protect the aquatic environment from harmful pollutants.

__________


Sally Phillips is a freelance writer with many years experience across many different areas. She enjoys reading, hiking, spending time with her family, and traveling as much as possible. Reach her at sally@diamondmail.net.

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.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

BLOG: 7 Fun Ways to Teach Your Kids About Groundwater This Summer

by Jennifer Wemhoff, The Groundwater Foundation

Summer is a time for fun and adventure. Combine those with some hands-on learning about groundwater and you've got a win-win summer activity! 

Mini-terrarium
1. Build a mini-terrarium with a clear plastic cup, gravel, potting soil, a few seeds, plastic wrap, and a rubber band (get full instructions here). Learn about groundwater's role in the water cycle and in helping plants grow. It also gives kids a plant to nurture over the summer.

2. Dig a hole. Kids love dirt. Ask them to explore the hole. Is the soil warm or cool? Is it damp or dry? How does the soil change the deeper you dig? Pour a bucket of water in the hole - where did it go? It became groundwater, filling the cracks and crevices beneath the earth's surface.

Betty Crocker website
3. Make a contamination cake. Start by baking a white cake, then turn it into a poke cake (here's a recipe for a strawberry poke cake, but you can use any flavor gelatin you want). Cut a piece of cake, and talk about how the gelatin is like contaminants in groundwater, seeping into the ground (or cake). What happened to the gelatin when it was poured onto the cake? How is this like a contaminant being poured on the ground? Talk about these things while digging into a yummy piece of cake.

Edible Aquifers
4. Another yummy - but educational - dessert activity! Make an edible aquifer. Build a simple aquifer out of ice chips, cereal, ice cream, sprinkles, clear soda, and a straw. Find the complete instructions here. Have fun and be creative! Of course, the final step is to eat your aquifer creation.

5. Build an aquifer in a cup (get full instructions here). All it takes is a clear plastic cup, rock/gravel, and water. For more fun, add a clean soap or lotion pump to simulate a well and pump the groundwater out of the model aquifer.

Visit a water body
6. Visit a local lake, river, or stream. Talk about the connections between groundwater and surface water. Groundwater contributes to stream flow, and stream flow recharges groundwater. Add a community service project to your visit and clean up litter around the water body.

7. Find a cool spot in nature. What can you discover by simply looking around and listening to the surroundings? Imagine the path taken by a drop of rain from the time it hits the ground to when it reaches a river, groundwater, or the ocean. Draw a picture and/or talk about the paths it might take.

Keep the fun and learning going this summer! For more fun educational ideas, visit www.groundwater.org/kids

Thursday, June 15, 2017

BLOG: Be in Boise!

by Jennifer Wemhoff, The Groundwater Foundation

The City of Boise was one of the original pilot communities in the Groundwater Guardian program since it began in 1994, and it has been designated every year since. That kind of longevity and consistency has made them a leader in groundwater protection.

The Groundwater Foundation's 2017 National Conference will be held in Boise October 24-26, 2017. I've never been to Idaho, and am very much looking forward to my first visit! Boise seems like a pretty cool place, for lots of reasons:

  • It's pronounced "Boy-see" (not "Boy-zee" which is how I've always said it!)
  • It's located 2,730 feet above sea level with a population of over 250,000 within city limits (and over 680,000 in the metropolitan area)
  • It's nickname is the "City of Trees." French-Canadian fur trappers named Boise in the early 19th century. After crossing the hot, dry desert, the trappers crested a hill and saw the woods surrounding the Boise River and exclaimed "Les bois! Les bois!" ("Woods! Woods!") The wooded Boise River is now the scenic backdrop for a popular greenbelt path, and so many species of trees have been planted that today Boise is known as the "City of Trees."
  • Fort Boise was established in 1863 to keep peace in the mining camps and to protect Oregon Trail pioneers from Indian raids. The City of Boise was quickly established and served as a service center for both gold and silver miners in the nearby mountains and foothills.
There's a lot to do in Boise (besides learning about groundwater at the conference!)
Come early and/or stay late and check out some of these sights and attractions:
  • Basque Museum & Cultural Center - Only one block from the conference hotel, this unique attraction provides a look into the heritage of the Basque communities of Idaho. www.basquemuesum.com 
  • Greenbelt/Boise River - The Boise River Greenbelt stretches 25 miles along the Boise River, providing place for fishing, biking, roller blading, jogging, or a leisurely stroll. Bikes are available for rent at a variety of bike shops. www.cityofboise.org/parks
  • Downtown Muesums - Find art, history, human rights, and more all within walking distance of downtown Boise. www.boise.org
  • Southwest Wine Region - The history of Idaho wines dates back to 1864 when the first grapes were planted. A perfect combination of soil, climate and water, Idaho is home to more than 50 wineries to explore. www.idahowines.org
  • Idaho State Capitol - In the heart of downtown, the State Capitol of Idaho is one of the state's most treasured buildings. It's the only Capitol in the nation heated by geothermal water. The building is open 24/7. www.capitolcommision.idaho.gov
To find more attractions and to plan your trip to Boise, visit www.boise.org. Early bird registration for the 2017 conference will open in the next few weeks. Sign up for our newsletter to receive conference updates. We'll see you in Boise!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

It’s Water-Wise Wednesday with Frannie the Fish! {Awesome Aquifer Kit: Improperly Managed Landfill}

This week in Frannie’s exploration of the Awesome Aquifer Kit is all about why you should care what goes into your landfill.
 
We all know how to pick up litter and throw it away properly, but where does our trash go and how is it taken care of after the garbage truck drives away?

That’s right! The landfill!

All of the gross things we don’t want near are homes are going to a landfill.  When it rains, the water infiltrates the landfill.  In other words, it filters down through all the layers of trash to reach the earth.  Once the water has trickled down through all that trash, it starts to look and smell like a garbage soup.  Scientists call this soup “leachate”.

Leachate then seeps down into the ground where it can interact with our groundwater, the same water we pull from our wells to drink and use in preparing our food.  If we are not careful of what we put in the trash or if the operators of the landfill are not careful to check the garbage trucks for harmful and toxic items, then our wells are in danger of critical pollution.

Luckily, there are special landfills for dangerous chemicals.  These can be underground storage tanks, septic systems, or recycling plants that treat or transform toxic trash until it is useable again.  You can help at home by doing more recycling, even for items like broken electronics, batteries and light bulbs!

You can learn more about landfills here and visit your local landfill to see what they are doing to keep your ground and groundwater safe.

Monday, June 5, 2017

BLOG: The Wistful Recycler

by Julie Diegel, Nebraska Recycling Council

Are you a wistful recycler? Have you ever wondered if a certain material was recyclable, and not knowing for sure, put it in the recycling bin anyway? Lesser of two evils, right?

Actually, no.  Your hopeful gesture is creating a big contamination problem for recycling processors. And it’s sending volumes of materials to the landfill that otherwise would have been recycled.

This year at local Earth Day events, the Nebraska Recycling Council offered a Recycling Challenge.  A bag of 13 materials was given to intrepid recyclers to test their knowledge.  Two disposal options were presented:  one for landfill and one for recycling.  (Organics were not included in the interest of simplicity.)  Admittedly, there were some “trick” items, such as the Pepsi bottle containing a little bit of soda, and the pizza box with grease spots. Most people placed a high percentage of their materials in the correct bin; however, our little Challenge confirmed what we already know: virtually all of us are confused about what can be recycled and/or how materials should be handled (i.e. rinsed, flattened, emptied, etc.) before recycling.

Recycling is not as simple as it once was. For one thing, product packaging has changed.  Plastics and mixed materials dominate. Many of these materials are not recyclable, and if they can be, the recycling company that services your home or business may not accept them.  There is no universal guarantee of recyclability just because there is a recycling symbol on the packaging.

The automation of recycling processing centers has also complicated matters. Materials moved quickly through a system of conveyors and sensors. Flattened cans can be “read” as paper. Plastic bags jam equipment. Glass shards contaminate paper fibers, making them useless as feedstock for new items. Having said that, these high-tech processing centers and their companions, “single stream” collection bins, have allowed far more materials to be recycled by orders of magnitude, and it is a business model that won’t go away anytime soon.

So, let’s all step up our game on recycling.

From a grassroots perspective, there is a lot we can do. We can re-learn recycling practices and conform to the new reality. We can reject goods packaged in materials that have no place to go except the landfill. We can inform political leaders of the need for packaging standards, and demand new rules that divert more materials from our taxpayer-funded landfills.

These actions don’t all rest on the shoulders of product users, however; and they shouldn’t. New standards are needed up and down the value chain. Manufacturers need to keep the end in mind when they design packaging. Retailers should be compelled to “take-back” products and packaging for reuse and recycling. Haulers and processors need to take more responsibility for educating customers by providing ongoing, consistent messaging on what and how to recycle. Haulers should be licensed under strict standards to ensure resources meant for the recycling center are being taken there instead of the landfill.

Uniformity in signage and bin configuration is needed in public spaces and businesses so that recycling can become second nature to all of us. There is no excuse for a stand-alone trash bin without a recycling companion by its side. Color standards are important. Use blue for recycling, black for landfill and green for organics. Container labels should be consistent, with photographic imagery showing exactly what materials belong in each bin. These simple design changes are proven to increase recycling and reduce contamination.

Now, let’s move ahead and get on with it. Let me reiterate: let us remember to activate our voices for change, and rededicate ourselves to reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle, and re-soil (compost) repeatedly!


No more being wistful, no more being stuck, no more excuses.

__________

Julie Diegel is the Executive Director of the Nebraska Recycling Council. Reach her at jdiegel@nrcne.org. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

BLOG: Communities and Collaboration: Upcoming Groundwater Foundation Events

by Sara Brock, The Groundwater Foundation

June is an exciting month for The Groundwater Foundation as we bring many of our collaborative projects to fruition.

Working with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) and educators in Western Nebraska, we bring the Recharging Groundwater Education program to a teacher’s workshop in Ogallala. Among the other useful tools teachers can use to enhance student science learning, we’re providing classrooms with Awesome Aquifer Kits and supplementing the traditional curriculum with new and updated activities, worksheets, andtechnologies.

Mid-June is marked by an exciting collaboration with the University of Nebraska – Lincoln and Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute with the WELS2 program. It will bring Nebraska’s science educators the HydrogeologyChallenge program with an emphasis on model-based learning. Participating teachers will use the week to prepare and develop a groundwater curriculum that they will use during the 2017 – 2018 academic year. Understanding the concept of models and the Hydrogeology Challenge through Nebraska’s new College and Career Ready Standards for Science will empower teachers to incorporate groundwater education into their science classes, as well as provide students with a modern environment to learn and boost their problem-solving skills.

Finally, the Nebraska Wellhead Protection Network, another partnership with the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, will have its quarterly meeting on June 21st in Hastings, Nebraska.  Beyond sharing updates and ideas for education and outreach programs, attendees will also have the chance to learn about and tour Hastings’ brand new Aquifer Storage and Restoration facility. Begun in July 2016, the nearly-complete project aims to increase drinking water storage and quality and simultaneously reduce the economic burden of clean water on taxpayers. Interested in attending? Register here.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

It’s Water-Wise Wednesday with Frannie the Fish! {Awesome Aquifer Kit: Improperly Abandoned Well}

This week in Frannie’s exploration of the Awesome Aquifer Kit is all about why you should properly seal abandoned and unused wells.

Did you know that 42 million people in the United States use a private, or individual well to provide water for their families?  But as cities grow and develop, more and more people are turning to municipal systems to get clean, treated water directly to their faucets.  An unused well is basically a direct line for contaminants to enter the groundwater, so it is very important that, if a well is going to be decommissioned, then a well contractor should be called to seal it properly.

But what actually happens if a well is not sealed properly?

In rural areas, such as homes on or near farms, an open well can be contaminated with animal waste, fertilizers, and pesticides.  After a rain, runoff may simply pick up these dangerous chemicals and flow right over the open will, depositing them into the groundwater supply.   If a well is dug deep enough and is connected to other water supply sources in the area, it could contaminate large sections of the aquifers and prevent many other people in the area from being able to access clean water.

Forgotten wells are a big problem too.  Well casings may rust or break down and, even without the help of any outside contaminants, pollute the groundwater.
Wells that are dug, instead of drilled, are typically shallow enough not to majorly affect groundwater quality.  However, if these wells are not sealed properly, their wide shape may cause unsuspecting people and animals to fall into them and injure themselves.

To learn more about wells and to find out where you can go to test and protect yours, visit The Groundwater Foundation's Wells and Wellhead Protection webpages.