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

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! 

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

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. 
  • 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.
  • Downtown Muesums - Find art, history, human rights, and more all within walking distance of downtown Boise.
  • 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.
  • 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.
To find more attractions and to plan your trip to Boise, visit 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 Wednesdays 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 

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.