Tuesday, July 31, 2018

BLOG: 4 Simple Ways to Start Saving Water At Home Today

by Sally Phillips, Freelance Writer

Water is a necessity for life. Our survival depends on the availability of water and our consideration of its usage - a factor that often slip our minds. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that the average American family of four uses roughly 300 gallons of water a day, 70 percent of which is used indoors. Many of our daily tasks involve water; showering, cooking, gardening even ironing (steam irons). Growing concern over water usage has spurred interest in ways we can be  more efficient with our usage. Businesses and industries including agriculture and aquaculture are seeking ways to conserve water. But how can we save water at home?  Check out these simple ways you can implement at home to get behind the conserve water movement.

Practice Efficiency With Your Faucets
One of the simplest things we often do that leads to water wastage: leave our taps running. Leaving the water on while brushing our teeth or washing our dishes, or even just neglecting to fully turn off the tap can waste liters of water each year. When using your taps, get into the habit of just switching them on when needed. For example, keep the tap switched off while you brush your teeth and only turn it on to rinse. Switching the water off can save valuable water and dramatically decrease your water bills. Don’t hesitate to fix leaks and faulty fixtures, such as toilets. Leaky toilets can waste up to 20 liters of water each year.

Get Behind Re-purposing
There are some great innovative, yet simple, ways you can reuse water in your home. Simple tricks around the house such as installing a shower bucket and capturing and reusing your pasta water and water used to rinse fruits and vegetables can help reduce your water use and ensures maximum efficiency of the water you do end up using. A great idea for re-purposing and reusing water is to install a grey water recycling system which is typically connected to your home’s plumbing system and can save as much as 35 percent of the water that would otherwise be returned to the sewers.

Time Your Showers
A 10 minute shower uses an average of 25 liters of water while a bath can use between 35-50 liters each time. Turning off the shower while you lather up can save you hundreds each year in water costs. If you tend to lose track while showering, try setting a timer to keep you from losing track of time. The installation of a low-flow showerhead in your shower costs just a few dollars but can turn out to be one of the most effective tips for going green in your residence.

Upgrade Your Appliances
Regular daily-use appliances such as your washing machines and dishwashers are often major determinants of your household water usage. However, with the progression of technology and support of sustainability, there are now a magnitude of more efficient appliances available. When using, only run full loads of laundry or dishes or if you generally have smaller loads, consider installing a smaller model, certified by Energy Star. Opting for an Energy Star washer and dryer can save a household up to $370 over its lifetime. Energy efficient washers can use up to 33 percent less water than standard models.

When you are conserving water, you are not only conserving the Earth’s resources but also reducing your energy usage and in turn, your household bills. By using these simple water saving techniques around your home, you can see the result from the very first month. The future of the planet and your pockets will thank you.

Sally Phillips is a freelance writer with many years experience writing 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, and do not necessarily represent the view of The Groundwater Foundation, its board of directors, or individual members.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

It's Water-Wise Wednesdays with Frannie the Fish! {Water Drop Scavenger Hunt}

If you were a tiny raindrop on top of the roof of the Groundwater Foundation, how would you get to the ground?

It may not be obvious, but the answer is right in front of you.  Do you see that pipe on the left side of the picture?  The pipe allows water to drain off the roof of the building onto the ground below.

When we draw the water cycle, we often forget to include the rain that gets stuck on rooftops or in parking lots. But a tiny droplet will travel to many unexpected places.  Look at the picture below and see if you can find one way that a water drop can travel from the sky to the ground and back again.

  • Precipitation falls from the sky and can either get caught up in trees or rooftops or it might make it all the way to the ground.
  • From the roof or trees, a drop of water can evaporate or flow down into the drainage pipes and run off into a collection point.
  • Trees also are able to perform transpiration, which means that they can release water into the air through their leaves.
  • A lawn might have a sprinkler system to keep it green and fresh.
  • Any extra water that reaches the ground from precipitation or irrigation can either evaporate, run off into a collection point like a drainage system or body of water, or seep into the ground to restore soil moisture and recharge groundwater levels.

Now it’s your turn to try this at home! Take a picture somewhere in your community and try to find all the places where a water droplet could travel.  Bonus activity: on a rainy day, try following a water drop or two, or two hundred!  Good luck!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

BLOG: What Makes a Good Spot for a Rain Garden?

by Jennifer Wemhoff, The Groundwater Foundation

A rain garden is a garden of native shrubs, perennials, and flowers planted in a small depression, which is generally formed on a natural slope. It is designed to temporarily hold and soak in rain water runoff that flows from roofs, driveways, patios or lawns. Rain gardens are effective in removing up to 90% of nutrients and chemicals and up to 80% of sediments from the rainwater runoff. Rain gardens incorporate native vegetation; therefore, no fertilizer is needed and after the first year, maintenance is usually minimal.

However, not every yard has a good spot for a rain garden.

What is the average size and placement of a rain garden?
A rain garden should have an area about 20% the size of the roof, patio, or pavement area draining into it. A typical rain garden for a residential home or small building is between 100 and 400 square feet. Regardless of the size, big or small, each rain garden can make an impact.

Rain gardens are shaped longer than they are wide and positioned perpendicular to the slope of the land in order to catch the maximum amount of rainfall. Rain gardens should be placed at least 10 feet away from building foundations and should not be located where water ponds for an extended period of time.

What makes a site suitable for a rain garden?
  • The site is fed by one or two downspouts
  • Soil tests show the site does not have heavy clay soils (conduct a ribbon soil test)
  • Infiltration tests show the site infiltrates water one-half inch per hour or more (conduct an infiltration test)
  • The water table is at least 2 feet from the surface at its shallowest
  • The slope of the site is not more than 12%
  • The site is at least 10 feet from buildings with basements
  • The site is not over any utilities (contact your local diggers hotline)
  • The site is not over or near a septic tank, drainfield, or wellhead
  • The site does not interfere with any trees. If there are trees in the area, make sure they can handle wet soil conditions for lengthy periods of time.
  • If the site that you have chosen does not meet all of the above criteria, it does not necessarily mean that a rain garden cannot be established there. Speak with a professional landscaper to review your options.

What is the typical cost to design and install a rain garden?
The cost of a rain garden is dependant on the property’s soil type, the size of roof/driveway/patio draining into a rain garden, and the types of plants chosen. If the soil is high in clay content, it may be a good idea to install an under drain system to prevent standing water in the rain garden for more than 48 hours.

For a self-installed rain garden, expect to pay between $3 and $5 per square foot in plant costs and soil amendments (peat moss, for example, should be mixed in to soil with high levels of clay). When working with a landscaping company to design and install your rain garden, the cost will significantly increase to around $10 to $15 per square foot.

What kind of maintenance does a rain garden require?
When native plants are used, your rain garden will not require pesticides or fertilizer. As the rain garden is establishing during the first and second year or during periods of little to no rainfall, occasional watering of the plants may be necessary. Likewise, weeds will need to be removed while dead plants may need to be replaced. Once the plants in the rain garden have become established and grow larger, they will eventually out-compete the weeds.

Can I do it myself?
Absolutely! Building it yourself will save you money and provide you with a greater sense of accomplishment. Many homeowners finish their rain garden in one afternoon. Digging the garden is the most time consuming task, as 6-8 inches of soil depth is typically removed to add amendments. Involve your entire family or invite the neighbors over and make a party out of it.

To get started, we recommend you conduct a soil test and an infiltration test. You can do both of these tests yourself which will ensure the success of your rain garden. Find out how to conduct these tests and find more resources at www.groundwater.org/action/home/raingardens-more.html.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

BLOG: Smart Irrigation Month

A typical morning routine involves a shower, cup of water, and the flow of a faucet. We often don't think twice about our water usage until we’re confronted with water shortages or contamination. Only 2.5% of the water on earth is fresh. As a result, we must actively protect this precious resource. A considerable portion of our country’s drinkable water going to our plants. July is Smart Irrigation Month - a public awareness campaign to promote efficient water use. July is traditionally the month of peak demand for outdoor water use, the campaign highlights simple practices and innovative technologies to:

  • Make maintaining green spaces easy and convenient.
  • Minimize overwatering while keeping lawns, gardens and landscapes beautiful and healthy.
  • Save money on utility bills.
  • Help protect community water supplies for today and the future.

Property owners and managers often overwater, unintentionally wasting money every time they take out the hose or turn on the sprinklers. For those of us who do irrigate our lawns, plants, gardens, and landscapes, we can follow these simple steps to become more efficient: only irrigate when we need to, turn off our irrigation systems when it is raining, and make sure the water is not hitting and or running off on to our sidewalks and streets.

For assistance or additional advice, call in a professional to help. Resources like www.irrigation.org and www.epa.gov/watersense are good places to find someone qualified to save water, while helping our landscapes. A landscape professional can help to:

  • Plant and maintain low water landscapes that will thrive in their climate and site conditions.
  • Install new irrigation systems that use real-time weather data and soil moisture sensors to automatically adjust watering to meet plant needs.
  • Use low volume microirrigation to precisely apply very small amounts of water to gardens, trees and shrubs, minimizing evaporation and waste.
  • Retrofit existing systems with rain sensors that prevent watering in rainy weather.
  • Audit irrigation systems to make sure water is being using effectively and making necessary adjustments. 

These simple steps will save a substantial amount of water in the end. Our decision to efficiently irrigate our landscape will positively impact our lives and those of generations to come.

Smart Irrigation Month is an initiative of the Irrigation Association, a non-profit industry organization dedicated to promoting efficient irrigation. Visit www.smartirrigationmonth.org to learn more.

Friday, July 13, 2018

BLOG: Risk Communication

by Jennifer Wemhoff, The Groundwater Foundation

Have you ever participated in a public meeting or hearing that got out of control? (like this one) Have you ever sympathized with the person running the meeting, who's struggling to answer questions from emotional attendees and keep the meeting civil?

Communicating in a low trust, high concern environment is, without a doubt, challenging. However, being an effective communicator in contentious situations is possible by implementing principles of something known as "risk communication."

This past week, I participated in a two-day workshop focused on this very topic. Taught by Steve Wolf of JEO (whose credentials and experience make him a world-class expert on the topic) and sponsored by the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the workshop was focused on applying these principles to real-life situations.

The workshop defined risk communication as a science-based approach for communicating effectively in high concern and low trust situations. It's a purposeful exchange of information about risk or perceptions about risk - risk being the probability of losing something of value, like one's health, safety, job security, self-esteem, wealth, natural resources, or community. An important thing to note in the definition is perception - if someone perceives something as reality, to them, it's reality. The goal of risk communication is to build trust and credibility, through:
  • Accepting and involving the public as a legitimate partner.
  • Planning carefully and evaluating efforts.
  • Listening to the public's specific concerns.
  • Being honest, frank, and open.
  • Coordinating and collaborating with other credible sources.
  • Meeting the needs of the media.
  • Speaking clearly and with compassion.
One point that was repeated throughout the workshop was the need to "fill one's glass" of trust in a high concern, low trust situation. To quote Wolf, "People don't care what you know until they know that you care." To fill the glass, one has to demonstrate:

  • Caring and empathy (50%)
  • Competence/expertise (15-20%)
  • Honesty/openness (15-20%)
  • Dedication/commitment (15-20%)
We also spent time talking about public meeting formats, and how traditional town hall formats are not the best approach in contentious situations. Another option is an open house format, which includes displays (both from the host and any interest groups or detractors), opportunities to leave comments, and refreshments. This format has proven to be more efficient and more productive than a meeting where people take turns speaking at a microphone. Two Natural Resources Districts (NRDs) in Nebraska have adopted this format for their public hearings (see a hearing announcement here and news coverage) with much success.

The workshop also included a valuable role-playing exercise. We were broken down into groups and assigned a scenario (my group dealt with a scenario involving a wellhead protection plan), and tasked with developing a short presentation using risk communication principles. I think everyone who attended the workshop, and especially those who served as presenters, would say that it's not as easy as it sounds - and that preparation is vital to successfully communicating in these situations.

Have you ever been in a situation where risk communication could have helped you? Tell us about it. You can also find an introductory session about risk communication (given as part of a Nebraska Wellhead Protection Network meeting) given by Wolf here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

It's Water-Wise Wednesdays with Frannie the Fish! {Safety First!}

It’s hotter than blazes outside! For Frannie, this is the perfect time to head to the nearest beach with all of her friends.  River, lake, ocean, even sitting pool-side – it doesn’t matter!

But while Frannie grew up in water, some of her friends may not be as familiar as she is with basic water safety.  To make sure they can have good, safe fun all day long, let’s review a few safety tips to remember when we’re playing by the water.

  1. Use the buddy system. Stay near your buddy and be sure to let someone know if you or your buddy is lost or needs help. 
  2. In the same track as using the buddy system, make sure you stick together and stay close to the beach or shore where family, friends, or other adults can help you if you need it.
  3. Never drink the water from a stream, lake, river, or other water body you are playing in or investigating.  Even if it looks clean, it might not be healthy to drink.
  4. When playing on the banks of rivers, streams, ponds, and lakes, make sure the ground is sturdy and won’t give way. Look for signs of erosion that might indicate loose ground.
  5. Pay attention to your surroundings. Is the ground or the bottom of the lake or river rocky?  Is the current strong?  Is the water level high or low?  What is the forecast supposed to be today?  Are there any fast moving boats nearby? These are very important questions that only take a few minutes to think about but can make all the difference.
  6. There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. Wear socks, long sleeves, and pants for hiking out to your favorite river or lake spot. Hats can protect you from the sun and bugs. Closed toed shoes can prevent rocks from cutting your feet. Flip flops are okay for the pool, but leave them at home for outdoor adventures.
  7. Know which plants are poisonous. Poison ivy, poison oak, and stinging nettles can all make you feel uncomfortable or make you really sick. Poison sumac and hemlock are not as common, but can also be a threat.
  8. Certain insects, such as ticks, mosquitoes, flies, bees, and hornets, can also ruin your nature experience.  Dress properly and wear insect repellent.
  9. Respect the environment. Remember that you are a guest. Take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints.

With these safety tips, Frannie hopes you’ll have a great time on the water this summer.  See you out there!

Monday, July 2, 2018

BLOG: Groundwater Perspectives: Part 3

by Bob Swanson, Retired Director, USGS Nebraska Water Science Center

This is Part 3 of a series on Groundwater Perspectives (read Part 1 and Part 2). This post is dedicated to the hydrologic technicians in the water community - the unsung heroes of groundwater science.

Ask a scientist what real science is and the answer is predictably whatever they are doing, accompanied with a down-the-nose view that says what you are is not.  Please know that this was meant in jest, but there is always the implication that theoretical particle physics is of greater importance than the routine daily observations of temperature, rainfall, and groundwater levels.

Climate change would be unsubstantiated if it wasn’t for the unknown people collecting sea and air temperature readings in past decades and centuries. Every observation is essential to lead to a better understanding of our natural systems.  

My first position with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) was as a technician in the Data Section. The Data Section collects water monitoring data day-in and day-out in perpetuity. The Data Section staff is virtually invisible to researchers, managers, and the public who use our data. Over the years, I’ve developed an undying respect for those in the science community who work to collect data knowing they will never be cited in the literature, but without whose efforts renders science meaningless opinion.

One of my first trips to Washington, DC with Groundwater Foundation founder and President Emeritus Susan Seacrest included a visit to the Library of Congress. There are engravings around the Library ceiling. The one that captured my attention the most was “Science is Organized Knowledge.” Everyone has a more specialized definition, but that is science in the distilled, basic form. It does not say that to be a scientist you must have an advanced degree and extensive curriculum vitae. Hypotheses come and go. Independent studies contradict each other. However, good data stands on its own value. 

I’ve recently become concerned by observations of changing data attitudes at meetings and conferences. First, I’ve been hearing that we already have enough or perhaps too much water data. Every data point provides an improved assessment of status and trends. The idea that we have enough data is wholly focused in the “now” and managers need to look beyond the data that they need for today’s mission. How often I’ve wished for the opportunity to tell myself 30 years ago to get out and collect the data that I am desperate for in the “now.” We may need to collect some data for what we need now, but we should collect the majority the information to answer the future questions.

The second observation is that the USGS data is “better” than needed. The answer to this is “see the response for the previous paragraph.” The largest percentage of the data cost is putting boots on ground and vehicles in the field. Everything else is incremental. Better equipment is a one time cost often recovered because better equipment often has lower failure rates. It is just as easy to log 15-minute data as daily or weekly data on instruments. Even steel tapes for measuring depth to groundwater vary in accuracy and should be periodically checked against absolute standards. 

As an example, the USGS requires at least two soundings of depth to groundwater and they must agree to strict standards. Every technician and hydrologist in the USGS is trained to collect this data in exactly the same way. William Werkheiser, the USGS Associate Director for Water Mission Area, calls this “ the ruthless pursuit of consistency.” Hours, days, and sometimes weeks are spent chasing data collected to lesser standards.

Laws and regulations that are built on groundwater studies will change…its inevitable. But the truth residing in good data is eternal. The groundwater data professional’s mission is to make sure it is the best available and they deserve a huge thanks!


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.