Friday, November 20, 2015

"Gobbling" Water This Thanksgiving

by Jennifer Wemhoff, The Groundwater Foundation

Ah, Thanksgiving, One of my favorite holidays. Why? It centers around a delicious meal, family, and appreciating the blessings in our lives.

We don't often think about the water footprint of a large meal like a traditional Thanksgiving dinner spread - turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce. And wine, of course. But think big picture about the amount of water required to produce that meal - from the water used to grow the vegetables to the amount needed to feed/house/process the turkey. Some estimates:

  • Turkey requires roughly 468 gallons of water per pound; so a 20 pound bird takes 9,360 gallons of water.
  • Canned cranberry sauce takes 1,559 gallons to produce and hold the shape of the can when it's removed.
  • My personal favorite - mashed potatoes. A whopping 2,528 gallons for the spuds.
  • And a close second - wine, which takes between 50 and 75 gallons for one 8 ounce glass (depending on where the wine is produced/shipped).
This doesn't even factor in other Thanksgiving staples, like stuffing, gravy, green bean casserole, or pumpkin pie!

It really is astonishing when you think about the "hidden" water in the foods we eat. Of course, we don't suggest skipping Thanksgiving dinner, but explore about ways you can shrink the water footprint of your meal:
  • Buy local! Reduce the distance your food travels before it hits your plate.
  • Go light on the turkey and heavy on locally-grown vegetables.
And there are lots of ways to conserve water directly when preparing your feast and during clean up:
  • Thaw food in the refrigerator instead of running hot water over frozen food.
  • Fill a bowl with water to rinse your vegetables instead of letting the tap run to wash them.
  • Don't let the water run when washing dishes by hand. Plug the drain and fill the sink with soapy water.
  • Skip the "prewash" and just scrape plates clean before putting them in the dishwasher.
  • Fill the dishwasher to the brim and run it while you take a turkey-induced nap.
Above all, be thankful for the clean and safe groundwater that we use everyday. It's the water we drink and the water that grows our food!

From all of us at The Groundwater Foundation, Happy Thanksgiving!
Groundwater Foundation Staff, from left: Jennifer Wemhoff,
Cindy Kreifels, Doug Sams, Lori Davison, Jane Griffin,
Jessica Wheeler, Anthony Lowndes.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Measuring Our Water: From Dowsers to Satellites

By Jane Griffin, The Groundwater Foundation

Last week I had the opportunity to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West.  I participated in one of the guided tours and learned so much about the architect, his work, and the architectural school, which is still active. To think that Wright arrived in the desolate desert in the mid-1930s and was able to envision what this place has become. Access to water was one of the many challenges living in this area posed.  For years Wright and his students traveled miles to get fresh water - until Wright armed himself with a dowser, determined there was water to be found underground.  He identified the spot for the well.  At 100 feet no water, 200 feet no water, 300 feet no water, 400 feet no water (the well drillers had been advising Wright to try another spot since about 200 feet down), but Wright was determined, and instructed them not to give up even when no water was found at 500 feet.  Good thing they didn’t give up; at 507 feet they hit the aquifer; and it has been supplying Taliesin West since!  In fact, the water is said to be so good that people who drink it will live longer, healthier lives (Wright himself lived a very active and productive life; he died at 91)!

Hearing about using a dowser to determine water availability got me to thinking about the presentation at our national conference by Jay Famiglietti.  Jay provided an overview of NASA's GRACE project, where satellites are used to detect changes in Earth's gravity field to determine how fresh water availability is changing. To learn more about his fascinating technique you can see his presentation on our YouTube channel. 

Satellite technology was not an option in the 1930s - nonetheless Taliesin West is a remarkable place - if you are ever in the Scottsdale area make sure you visit and participate in a tour of the place.   Here is a little information about it (from the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation's website) and a link to more information.

Taliesin West is a national historic landmark nestled in the desert foothills of the McDowell Mountains outside of Scottsdale, Arizona.  It is also the home of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and Taliesin, The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture.

Wright's beloved winter home and the bustling headquarters of the Taliesin Fellowship, Taliesin West was established in 1937 and diligently handcrafted over many years into a utopian world unto itself.  Deeply connected to the desert from which it was forged, Taliesin West possesses an almost prehistoric grandeur.  It was built and maintained almost entirely by Wright and his apprentices, making it among the most personal of the architect's creations. Click here for more information.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Learning From the Leaders

by Anthony Lowndes, The Groundwater Foundation

It has been two weeks since the conclusion of the 2015 Groundwater Foundation National Conference. As a first-time conference goer, the sheer amount of information to absorb was slightly overwhelming to say the least. After some reflection, I believe there are several very positive messages I received loud and clear.
I have known for a long time that it takes many people to provide safe, clean drinking water to the millions of people in our country, but seeing and meeting so many of them was something entirely different. Some, like me, were new to the world of water while others have been conserving and protecting groundwater for many years. The virtue I most noticed was the passion demonstrated by each person I had the pleasure of talking to. Each of them had a story, long or short, that illustrated how we are all passionately working together to protect the most valuable resource on Earth.

At the Foundation’s 30th anniversary celebration dinner, it was clear that we have many challenges ahead of us, including increased demand for water as our global population grows. It will take current technologies and continued advancement in water conservation and understanding groundwater resources to provide for the expected nine billion people by 2050. Several speakers focused on project successes they have had in exactly these areas.

These are not single issues to be dealt with individually, but rather a comprehensive approach should be used to bring all stakeholders to the table. This approach was successfully used in Israel, illustrated by Naty Barak of Netafim. Combining a clear legal framework with integrated water management, technology and innovation created a sustainable water economy. Technological innovation isn’t just in how we use water, but also how we understand groundwater resources.

In many areas of the world, including eastern Nebraska, the geology of local  aquifers can be difficult to pinpoint, thus making it difficult to manage. Lower Platte South Natural Resources District and the UNL Conservation and Survey Division have been utilizing Airborne ElectroMagnetic (AEM) survey technology to increase and build upon data collected from test holes. The advanced survey technique provides a virtual borehole every 150 feet along the flight path. The same technique was also utilized in western Nebraska and can be applied to many different types of aquifers, putting a valuable tool in the hands of geologists and groundwater managers.

Other tools, such as NASA’s Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment (GRACE) mission, provide information about water availability and demonstrate gains and losses on a much larger scale. Combining all of the tools in our toolbox will provide water managers a way to effectively make policy decisions and continue to provide their communities with safe water. There are still places needing further research. Technology has yet to reach many others, but the huge gains in our understanding and use of groundwater are, in my view, very promising.

The 2015 Conference has inspired me to instill the same passion for groundwater into those I work with as was demonstrated by those who were at the conference. As I help educate those around the state of Nebraska and beyond about groundwater, there will be a certain spring in my step given to me by those I met at the conference. Let’s get started!