Thursday, March 29, 2018

BLOG: Skip the Straw

by Jennifer Wemhoff, The Groundwater Foundation

You're out to dinner with your family. You order a nice, cold glass of water to drink with your meal. The server brings your glass, and plunks down plastic straws for you and each of your family members. You open it without another thought, add it to your drink, and slurp away.

That straw may be convenient, but once your drink is done, that straw is part of the 500 million plastic straws used in the U.S. every single day. That's enough to fill 127 school buses or circle the earth 2.5 times. That means the average person in the U.S. will use about 38,000 or more straws between the ages of 5 and 65. 

Plastic straws don't decompose and are generally too lightweight to make it through a recycling facility's sorter, meaning they end up in a landfill for all eternity or find their way into a water body. Once they're in the water, they break down into small pieces that marine life mistake for food (71% of seabirds and 30% of sea turtles have found with plastic in their stomach). 

It's not a good situation all around.

So what can you do?

It's easy - skip the straw! Simply tell your server you don't want straws when you're dining out with your family. At home, opt for reusable straws (find some cool plastic alternatives). Ask your friends and family to do the same.
Here are some great resources to help convince you to quit plastic straws:

Friday, March 23, 2018

BLOG: Groundwater Perspectives - Part 1

by Robert Swanson, retired Director, USGS Nebraska Water Science Center

Bob Swanson speaks at the 2017 Groundwater Foundation
National Conference.
When Jennifer Wemhoff from the Groundwater Foundation asked if I would write a blog, I thought, “This is it, I’ve made it.....I’m old!” And, yes, I just retired from a 38-year career in hydrology with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), so I guess the thought was warranted. 

As the title suggests, this is first of a series that I hope to inform the members and followers of the Groundwater Foundation on different perspectives of how groundwater has influenced my life and career.

I can even take my connection to groundwater a couple of decades further back to predate my employment at the USGS. Like the vast majority of Nebraskans, my family drank water from a domestic well and our livestock drank water supplied by windmills. However, one of my earliest memories is watching our brand new irrigation well being drilled in the early 1960s on the family farm. The first time that propane powered engine roared to life, began pulling 600 gallons per minute from the Red Willow Creek alluvial aquifer, and flowed through gated pipe and irrigation ditches was in every way a miracle to me. That well sits within a few hundred yards of the outcrop of the Ogallala formation, part of the High Plains regional aquifer system that spans parts of eight states in the Great Plains.

Irrigation didn’t make our lives any easier, just the opposite. We didn’t have a center pivot that a person could simply throw a switch and effortlessly irrigate 160 acres. No, we owned about a quarter mile of 8-inch aluminum pipe. We picked it up in the morning, loaded it onto a wagon and moved it to one of a half dozen fields in the 80 odd acres we had under irrigation. We irrigated that field through the day and night, perhaps longer if it was a large field, and the next day we repeated the task. Then the whole orchestrated routine began all over again...four, sometimes fives times during the summer. It was backbreaking work in which the entire family took part. Once the pipe was laid at the edge of the field, we would open, or set, the gates to distribute cold, clean, water to thirsty corn, milo, soybeans, and alfalfa. Our hands would be touching that water, our bare feet sank in the cool mud. My brother and sisters and I would crawl down, to us, endless rows of water flowing under a canopy of green to the other end of the field looking for and plugging gopher holes that intercepted the water from intended purpose. Yes, I have a connection to groundwater.

Irrigation didn’t make us significantly wealthier. It did, however, save us from the unpredictable and harsh penalties that drought visits on farms in the Great Plains. It helped alleviate the perpetual boom and bust crop cycles. Irrigation arguably allowed for me to go to college to pursue a career in hydrogeology. In fact, all four of the Swanson kids would attend college and become the first of our family name, that immigrated from Sweden, to do so.

Years later, my father would voluntarily retire that irrigation well as groundwater declines in our corner of Nebraska necessitated sacrifices to maintain water levels. Much of the earth that once produced grains and hay has been fallowed and returned to grassland. It remains, however, that my family and I literally owe our lives to the magic that resides in water. 

So, now you have an idea of the appreciation and reverence for which I hold this resource and what provides the backstory for future installments of this series. Next relationship to the Groundwater Foundation and how it shaped a life dedicated to the study of water.

Robert Swanson was Director of the USGS Nebraska Water Science Center (NEWSC) from 2004 until his retirement in 2017. The NEWSC has 40 dedicated water science professionals, support personnel, and students and offices in Lincoln and North Platte, Nebraska. He oversaw a science program that is managed through two sections, Hydrologic Surveillance and Hydrologic investigations. The USGS operates over 130 streamgaging stations, about 70 continuous groundwater recorders, and compiles ground-water levels for over 5,000 wells in Nebraska.  

Prior to 2004, he gained a wide range of experience in the Hydrologic Surveillance (Data) Section as a hydrologic technician and hydrologist in the Lincoln, Cambridge, Ord, and North Platte Field Offices. He served as field hydrologist for the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program's Central Nebraska River (CNBR) Basins Study Unit research team and later as CNBR Study Unit Chief.  From 1999 to 2004, Bob was assigned to the USGS Wyoming Water Science Center as the Chief of Hydrologic Surveillance. He has also been Acting Director for both the Iowa and Missouri Water Science Centers. He has served on numerous committees for the advancement of science and technology in the USGS, as well as business practice committees.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

It's Water-Wise Wednesdays with Frannie the Fish! {World Water Day 2018}

World Water Day is celebrated annually on March 22nd.  Water is essential to life and our society.  It quenches our thirst, grows our food, and even provides social and economic opportunities.

According to the United Nations, there are over 662 million people in the world today who live with little to no access to clean, safe water. By 2050, it’s predicted that 1 in 5 developing nations will face water shortage.  That’s why it’s so important to take this day to learn about water in the world. The theme of this year’s World Water Day is “Nature for Water”, specifically how we can use nature to address 21st century water challenges.

Environmental damage and strain on ecosystems can make water quality and quantity problems worse.  Nature-based treatment techniques have the potential to provide long-term, sustainable solutions to water quality and quantity problems while also reducing the environment’s strain or damage.

Frannie talked with her family and friends about why it is important to talk about freshwater and nature - because we all are a part of the water cycle!  Freshwater is the water we use to grow our food, that both humans and wild animals drink, that runs in the rivers and rains, and the list goes on and on.  Most of the world's usable freshwater is stored under our feet as groundwater:

Check out The Groundwater Foundation and Frannie's previous posts for fun ideas of ways you can protect and conserve groundwater!

World Water Day emphasizes the importance of water to us all.  Water is one shared resource.  We must all do our part to ensure the world's freshwater is taken care, used wisely, and is available to all of us!  Share how you will help protect water resources and be sure to tell your family and friends about protecting and conserving water every day!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

BLOG: What will YOU do during Groundwater Awareness Week?

by Jennifer Wemhoff, The Groundwater Foundation

Happy Groundwater Awareness Week! (#GWAW2018)!

Every March, we work with our friends at National Ground Water Association to help promote National Groundwater Awareness Week. It's a win-win for everyone - it's an opportunity to bring a national and local focus to groundwater and help people find ways to learn more about it and protect this vital resource.

So what can YOU do during #GWAW2018?

The possibilities are endless, but here are some great ideas to get you started:

  • Follow The Groundwater Foundation (Facebook, Twitter) and National Groundwater Association (Facebook, Twitter) on social media; like, share, and retweet #GWAW2018 posts, or customize posts with local information.
  • Plan a Test Your Well event for local private well owners. It's a win-win - you get to raise awareness about groundwater, and well owners get their water sample tested and learn more about it. 
  • Set up a presentation for a community club/group to talk about local groundwater resources.
  • Offer to present to a Girl Scout/Boy Scout troop, 4-H club, FFA chapter, science or environmental club, or other youth group to get them excited about groundwater. Hands-on activities are fun, brains-on ways to get kids involved.
  • Conserve water inside and outside your home by taking short showers instead of baths, running full loads of dishes and laundry, checking for and repairing leaky faucets and fixtures, watering outdoors only when necessary, and using native plants in your landscaping that require less water.
  • Track your daily water use to identify where you can use less. Try the free 30by30 app and start tracking today.
  • Always follow label instructions for household chemicals, and look for ways to decrease or eliminate fertilizer and pesticide usage.
  • Dispose of chemicals properly by taking them to recycling centers or household hazardous waste collections.
  • If you have a private well on your property, have the well inspected by a licensed water well contractor and the water tested once a year for coliform bacteria, nitrates, and any other contaminants of local concern.
  • Find out about your community’s drinking water source and mobilize to protect it. The Groundwater Guardian program is a good place to get started. 
  • Teach others about ways to protect and preserve groundwater!
To find out more about groundwater and how you can get involved in protecting it, please visit us at

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

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

This is Part 5 in Frannie's exploration of Wellhead Protection.   Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 to learn about what it is, who protects the wellheads, and why it's important.

So far we’ve learned about the steps it takes to create a Wellhead Protection Plan, what some potential contaminant sources are, and a couple ways to educate water professionals and the public.  But how did the idea of Wellhead Protection come about and why is it really important?

Way back in 1974, the Safe Water Drinking Act (SDWA) was signed into law to protect public health by making sure that local public water systems followed federal drinking water standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  This meant that the local water systems were responsible for making sure their customers were provided with clean, safe water.

Local water systems quickly realized that it’s much easier and less expensive to provide their customers with clean water if the system receives clean groundwater from the very beginning. Clean water means fewer treatments and tests which means less money that the water system has to spend on making sure that their water complies with federal standards.  Being proactive about water safety became, and still is, an important part of wellhead protection.

In 1986, the SDWA was amended to require states to develop Wellhead Protection Programs.  States became responsible for helping communities form local boots-on-the-ground teams who protect public supply wells, determining the land area that affects drinking water sources, identifying and managing potential contaminant sources, and developing contingency plans for future water supply needs should the existing supply become contaminated or depleted.

Today, many communities are still using the program to create Wellhead Protection Plans.  Some states use Source Water Assessment Programs to update plans that were developed in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Keeping our water clean now is making it easier and less expensive to have clean water in the future.

Monday, March 5, 2018


by Terry Morse, CEO, National Groundwater Association

Next week, the National Ground Water Association (NGWA) will once again celebrate National Groundwater Awareness Week (#GWAW2018). An annual observance established to highlight the responsible development, management, and use of groundwater, the event is also a platform to encourage yearly water well testing and well maintenance to prevent waterborne illnesses.

From manmade contaminants such as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) and naturally occurring ones like arsenic affecting its quality to potential depletion of the resource in India, South Africa, Australia, and the American West, groundwater was an important topic in 2017. NGWA expects much of this narrative to continue throughout 2018, emphasizing the need for increased awareness regarding one this critical natural resource.
Consider the following:

  • Americans use 79.6 billion gallons of groundwater each day.
  • Groundwater is 20 to 30 times larger than all U.S. lakes, streams, and rivers combined.
  • 44 percent of the U.S. population depends on groundwater for its drinking water supply.
  • More than 13.2 million households have their own well, representing 34 million people

Established in 1999, #GWAW2018 provides an opportunity for everyone to learn about the importance of the resource and how it impacts lives. During the event, NGWA encourages folks to ask, “what do you know about groundwater?” Prior to joining NGWA, the only thing I knew about water was when you turn on the tap, water fills your cup. But I now understand that’s not the case for millions of folks around the world, and even for many people in the American West who are dealing with drought conditions and overuse, a situation which recently led Cape Town, South Africa, to implement a 6.6 gallon daily water-use limit per person.      

Here in the States 132 million people rely on groundwater for drinking water, so, simply put, it makes life possible. Groundwater is used for irrigation, livestock, manufacturing, mining, thermoelectric power, and several additional purposes, making it one of the most widely used and valuable natural resources. During #GWAW2018 we’re asking folks to think about how they’re using groundwater, and to share their stories on the ways they’re reducing their groundwater footprint.  So, if you decide to take an 8-minute shower as opposed to a 10-minute shower every day during the week, share it!  You never know, there could be a prize for the most creative and impactful submission!

If you’re a private well owner, the 2018 #GWAW2018 theme of “Tend. Test. Treat.” was established to encourage a more holistic approach to sustain an adequate supply of quality groundwater. Testing your water might prompt well inspection and maintenance, and water treatment can mitigate naturally occurring contamination revealed by the test. So, test your water, tend to your well system, then treat the water if necessary.

NGWA encourages every person to be a “groundwater advocate” both during #GWAW2018 and beyond by protecting and conserving groundwater. Businesses, individuals, educators, students, federal agencies, cities, associations, and everyone in between can share their story through our website or on social media. Find downloadable information on #GWAW2018 at, including: