Tuesday, February 27, 2018

BLOG: GET – The Next Generation of Groundwater Management

by Jim Schneider, PhD, Olsson Associates

While working at the State of Nebraska’s Department of Natural Resources (NDNR), I provided information to the state’s water managers regarding the effect of past, current, and future groundwater use on Nebraska’s aquifers and streams. This required the use of groundwater models, which are numerical representations of these stream/aquifer systems. 
While groundwater models can be extremely useful, they are technically cumbersome and traditionally require extensive financial or human resources to receive information. Unfortunately, water resources management agencies typically don’t have the resources available to get the most out of their models.

Here are two contrasting situations that illustrate this point. 

First, an extensive amount of financial resources had gone into developing and completing a model simulation. The NDNR faced a deadline for an annual report, and information from the simulation was statutorily required to be incorporated into this report. The information dramatically changed the perspective on the level of development in a large portion of Nebraska. A review completed after the report was published revealed the model simulation was an outlier, and additional analysis refined the results. The damage to the public trust took years to overcome.

In the second situation, the State of Nebraska faced litigation over a violation of an interstate compact. In response, a team of scientists and planners spent years completing hundreds of model simulations, and their work revealed the accounting system used to identify an overuse was partially flawed and artificially inflated Nebraska’s overuse. The information uncovered by these simulations led to the state creating a plan to ensure it would avoid future violations. The accounting change and compliance plan were ultimately approved by the United States Supreme Court. 

The benefits of using models extensively became abundantly clear, but how to efficiently provide that level of scientific inquiry for situations less dire than Supreme Court litigation was not.

When I moved to Olsson Associates in September 2015, I was able to develop more innovative techniques. Working with clients on a variety of projects, I became convinced that the solution was to provide water managers direct access to their groundwater models. Thus, the Groundwater Evaluation Toolbox (GET) was born. 

GET is truly a paradigm shift in the way groundwater models are used to manage water. It’s now possible for anyone to use groundwater models to answer specific water management questions, in real time, right at their own desk. The software platform empowers water managers with an easy-to-use interface that keeps their groundwater models running as many hypothetical scenarios as desired, again and again. GET is a cloud-based software service provided on a subscription basis, so a client pays once for an unlimited number of runs. For more information on GET please visit get.olssonassociates.com.

Jim Schneider is a Senior Scientist on the Water Resources Team at Olsson Associates, Inc. in Lincoln, Nebraska. www.olssonassociates.com

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the view of The Groundwater Foundation, its board of directors, or individual members.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

BLOG: Flooding, Groundwater Contamination, and Your Family’s Safety

by Sally Phillips, freelance writer

All 50 states in the U.S. have experienced some level of flooding in recent years. It is the #1 natural disaster in the country, and from 2005 to 2014, flood insurance claims amounted to an average of $3.5 billion annually.  

But it’s not all about flood claims and fixing structures that were damaged by such a disaster. A less visible threat is water contamination after a major flood. Groundwater contamination is a big concernas 50% of the country’s population get their drinking water from groundwater resources. It is also the country’s primary irrigation source.

How can flooding threaten groundwater?
In the event of a flood, contaminants from septic tanks, farms, storage tanks, uncontrolled hazardous waste, and landfills can flow into floodwaters. As the water subsides, these contaminants can enter groundwater. Water contamination following a flood can lead to serious waterborne diseases such as cholera, dysentery, and the like, affecting both public water systems and those relying on private wells for drinking water.

Contaminants from uncontrolled hazardous waste alone is a scary prospect. There are thought to be over 20,000 abandoned and uncontrolled sites in the United States today and if these areas are flooded, contaminants will find their way to the water source.

Living in a Flood Prone Area
If you live in a flood prone area, it is important to check your homeowners insurance for flood coverage, since many homeowners plans don't include flood damage. An average insurance claim of $42,000 are filed by American families after every flood. This is a huge expense for most families, which is why ensuring that you have flood coverage is very important. As experts say, it is better to have it and not need it than not to have it and need it.

Preparing for a Flood
Considering climate change and the natural disasters it has brought in the past decade, it is vital to be prepared for flash floods or flooding. Families can prepare for this type of natural disaster by assembling emergency kits and having basic items ready. Having crates for your pets is also a must. It is also advised that you prepare bug-out bags for your four-legged family members too. Preparing an escape plan is just as important. Knowing the routes to find higher ground is a great idea. Experts note that you should know these routes by heart so that you can keep your whole family safe. Making advance arrangements for a place to stay is also a good idea.

Apart from being prepared, one of the most important things to remember after a flood is to be careful of the water you drink. It is best to have bottled water on hand so you don’t have to drink water from the tap until supplies are safe after a flood event, helping protect you and your family from diseases brought about by possible water contamination.


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. 

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the view of The Groundwater Foundation, its board of directors, or individual members.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

It's Water-Wise Wednesdays with Frannie the Fish! {Wellhead Protection: Annual Drinking Water Quality Report}

This is Part 4 in Frannie's exploration of Wellhead Protection.   Read Part 1Part 2, and Part 3 and look for more blogs to learn more about what it is, who protects the wellheads, and why it's important.

What is the Annual Drinking Water Quality Report?
The Annual Drinking Water Quality Report, also called the Annual Consumer Confidence Report, prepared by your local water system, is designed to provide consumers with information about the quality of the water delivered by their public water system.  The report includes information about the system itself, but also information on the source of the drinking water, contaminants in the raw and finished water, and any violations or exemptions that the water system is operating under. 
If you live in a community of greater than 100,000 people, you might be able to find your Annual Water Quality Report online, otherwise you can pick up a copy from your local health department or public water supplier.

Why is the Annual Drinking Water Quality Report Important?
Consumer awareness and education is the first line of defense in protecting wellfields and the groundwater below them.  The Annual Water Quality Report explains the process that delivers clean, safe water to our bathtubs, sinks, and garden hoses and alerts customers when they might need to take steps to prevent pollution and overuse of their water source.  

What Can You Do with the Information in the Annual Drinking Water Quality Report?
Beyond taking the preventative steps listed in the report to keep your water clean, you can also share the information with decision makers in your state and local governments, schools and school districts, and your friends and family. It’s important for you to take action and even more important for you to share with others how they can do the same. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

BLOG: A Winter Olympics Without Water

by Jennifer Wemhoff, The Groundwater Foundation
I don't know about you, but I love the Olympics. My family has been totally into it for the past week, tuning in to sports I know nothing about but am captivated by nonetheless. These athletes make death-defying sports look easy

Last night we were watching figure skating and something struck me - every single event in the Winter Olympics relies on water. Water for the snow, water for the ice. There's no skiing without snow, there's no speed skating without ice. There's no Winter Olympics without water.

No water means no ice, and no ice means no curling,
which is perhaps my new favorite obscure sport to watch.
Water is an integral part of many recreational activities - boating, swimming, skiing. And groundwater helps feed surface water supplies for many of these (including one of my favorites - canoeing down the scenic Niobrara River in North Central Nebraska).

So as you tune into the Olympics over the next several days, think about the amazingness that is water. It freezes so a figure skater can glide gracefully over ice. It becomes snow and a snowboarder performs gravity-defying twists. Water for recreation brings enjoyment to all of our lives, even if we can only imagine competing in the Olympics.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

It's Water-Wise Wednesdays with Frannie the Fish! {Wellhead Protection: Potential Contaminant Sources}

This is Part 3 in Frannie's exploration of Wellhead Protection.   Read Part 1 and Part 2 and look for more blogs to learn more about what it is, who protects the wellheads, and why it's important.

Frannie has survived this frigid weather with warm tea, a cozy blanket, and summaries from previous meetings of the Nebraska Wellhead Protection Network and she wanted to go back to the idea of taking an inventory of potential groundwater contamination sources.
In some areas, it might be easy to pick out potential contaminant sources, such as farms that use pesticides and fertilizers as well as landfills.  But some, like these three, may be less obvious.

1) Road Salt Storing and Use.  It snowed a lot this winter and the roads have been slick and icy.  To help melt the ice, hard-working snow plow drivers spread salt.  Maybe you or your family have even put some road salt on your sidewalks or driveways. Being ready for these icy winter conditions takes a lot of preparation and so all of that salt has to be stored somewhere dry to keep it from leaching into the groundwater. We need the road salt to keep the streets safe to travel on, but we need to take care to use it only when we need it and otherwise keep it stored safely away.

2) Septic tanks and drainfields.  If you are not connected to your city’s sewer system, then you might be using a septic system/drainfield layout. Septic systems treat the sewage waste that come from a home and a drain field is a network of perforated pipes laid in gravel beds.  After the solids settle in the septic tank, the liquids are released to the drainfield where they pass through the pipes and are filtered by the gravel and soil.  Human waste is a pretty dangerous contaminant and so this source must be carefully observed.

3) Mines, pits, and quarries.  Yes, holes in the ground are a potential contaminant source. Any kind of extraction or industrial operation will be using some chemicals to operate and maintain their equipment that, in normal conditions, might be considered safe.  However, in a pit or quarry or mine, many of the geological layers that normally filter runoff and groundwater are removed.  These sites are especially vulnerable and need to be monitored.