Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Martian...and groundwater?

by Jennifer Wemhoff, The Groundwater Foundation

Image credit: Amazon
Have you read "The Martian" by Andy Weir?

I read it for the first time a few years ago, and couldn't put it down. Even my non-reader husband enjoyed it. If you haven't read the book, the story centers around astronaut Mark Watney. Watney and his crewmates are in the middle of a mission on Mars when a dust storm forces them to abort their mission. An accident has the crew believe Watney is dead, and they leave the planet without him. As it turns out, Watney is very much alive and has to figure out how to survive on Mars, communicate with Earth, and not starve. While much of the science was over my head (he "makes" water???), the story of his resourcefulness and the very idea of a man stranded on Mars was engaging.

I happened to catch the second half of the movie with Matt Damon on TV the other night (I saw it in the theater, and while I thought it was good, as is the case with most books made into movies, the book was far superior) and so I pulled out the book again and reread it.

So what does this have to do with groundwater?

It got me thinking about a human one day setting foot on Mars, and what they might find. NASA has indicated that there may be water flowing on Mars (or maybe not), that there once may have been more water on Mars than in Earth's Arctic Ocean, and that huge ice deposits on Mars hold as much water as Lake Superior. Future space missions could confirm the presence of water.

Image credit: Bustle
Watney's perseverance and ingenuity also made me think of the many people we work with at The Groundwater Foundation that are working to protect water supplies. Watney faces challenge after challenge. He problem-solves. Then he problem-solves again. Then he problem-solves some more.

While protecting groundwater isn't quite the same as making water from scratch ("If I want water, I'll have to make it from scratch. Fortunately, I know the recipe: Take hydrogen. Add oxygen. Burn."), people protecting groundwater face challenges, problem-solve, problem-solve again, and come up with solutions. The Groundwater Guardians and Green Sites we work with are among some of the most creative and innovative people we know!

It takes a collective effort to work to save Watney in "The Martian." (I won't spoil the ending for you) People, organizations, and countries come together to share ideas, invest resources, and work together. Sound familiar? Collectively, we are all part of the solution to protect and conserve groundwater.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

It's Water-Wise Wednesdays with Frannie the Fish! {Wellhead Protection: Nebraska Wellhead Protection Network}

This is Part 2 in Frannie's exploration of Wellhead Protection.   Read Part 1 here and look for more blogs to learn more about what it is, who protects the wellheads, and why it's important.


Wellhead Protection AreaFrannie knows that it takes a lot of teamwork to develop and enforce a Wellhead Protection Area. From members of government to city water operators to customers, everyone has to work together to protect the water supply.

Wells and wellfields are highly influenced by the surface around them. For example, if a community uses too much fertilizer on its lawns or crops, a well has the potential to act as a direct pipeline, funneling the chemicals into the groundwater below.  It’s important for people and agencies to communicate with each other about appropriate strategies for facing groundwater threats.

In Frannie’s home state of Nebraska, a special group meets 3-4 times each year to hold such conversations.  Back in 2001, The Groundwater Foundation, funded by the NebraskaDepartment of Environmental Quality, began to facilitate and record the meetings of the Nebraska Wellhead Protection Network (NeWHPN).  Members include the Nebraska Department ofHealth and Human Services, the 23 Natural Resources Districts in Nebraska, theNebraska Rural Water Association, local water systems and water supply operators as well as other people, businesses, and agencies who are involved with tackling groundwater and drinking water issues.
Nebraska Wellhead Protection Network
Network meetings often cover topics and hot button issues that are requested by and relevant to Nebraska communities facing threats to their groundwater, including nitrate contamination and depletion.   Many meetings include tours of the facilities being discussed or workshops that help network members develop skills that facilitate groundwater education and protection.

If you’d like to read about what the NeWHPN has covered in the past or you’d like to participate in future meetings, check out their page on The Groundwater Foundation’s website.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

It's Water-Wise Wednesdays with Frannie the Fish! {Wellhead Protection: What is it?}

This is Part 1 in Frannie's exploration of Wellhead Protection.   Look for her upcoming blogs to learn more about what it is, who protects the wellheads, and why it's important.


Frannie is learning more and more about how to protect the groundwater in her community.  Recently, she saw a sign just outside of her city that said "Wellhead Protection Area".  She didn't know what that meant, so she went to The Groundwater Foundation's website to find out.
"Wellhead protection" is a fancy term for the idea that we should protect the land around the area where a community gets their water. Many communities use wells to withdraw groundwater and then transport it to a water treatment plant where they treat it and pipe it into the public water system.  Growth and development in a community is important, but it also brings the potential to deplete or contaminate the water everyone drinks.
Each state has a different approach to wellhead protection but will generally involve 5 key points:
1) Delineating the Wellhead Protection Area.  Several maps, containing data on groundwater flow and geology and geographic boundaries, are combined into a single map that determines the land area that could influence the groundwater supply.
2) Conducting a Potential Contaminant Source Inventory. This just means that information is collected about all of the sources in the areas that could potentially contaminate the groundwater.  This may include farms, gardens, factories, or other types of industry.
3) Contaminant Source Management. All of the information that was collected in the Potential Contaminant Source Inventory is put to use to develop best practices where businesses can safely use their materials without threatening the groundwater.
4) Contingency Planning. No wellhead protection plan is complete without a plan for the worst case scenario.  In the event of a well that has to be shut-down due to contamination, natural disaster, physical breakdown, or any other cause, a community must have an idea of short-term and long-term drinking water supply replacements.
5) Education. A community is made up of it's people, so ultimately it is the people in the area who have to protect their water.  A community should make their wellhead protection plan available to the public as well as provide workshops or opportunities on social media for people to learn about the plan.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

5 Things to Learn About Groundwater with the Awesome Aquifer Kit

by Jennifer Wemhoff, The Groundwater Foundation

The Awesome Aquifer Kit is one of the most powerful and fun groundwater education tools in our arsenal - we just add water! The Kit's design lets users "see" groundwater in ways they can't in reality.

The Kit includes a step-by-step instruction guide, definitions and explanations, and materials to teach youth and adults alike about:

1. The connection between groundwater and surface water.
The kit's gravel is used to "build" an aquifer and a lake, and water is added to it to learn about terms like recharge, water table, saturated/unsaturated zones, surface water, and discharge.

2. Wells and how they work.
By using a hand pump and tubing, the kit teaches about well siting, pumping, drawdown, depletion, and safe yield. Kids (and adults!) love to pump their aquifers!

3. Porosity and permeability.
Experiments explain different materials' capacity to store water, and have water move through them.

4. How groundwater becomes contaminated and can be cleaned up.
This is perhaps one of the most eye-opening uses of the kit - to illustrate how a contamination reaches groundwater. Food coloring and water create a contaminant plume, and the well is "pumped" to show how the contaminant moves. Activated charcoal and coffee filters are then used to "clean" the contaminated water.

The Awesome Aquifer Kit can be used in a variety of education settings, from a classroom to a water festival and everything in between. Get your Kit today!

Video demonstration
Additional Groundwater Information