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!

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