Wednesday, December 26, 2018

It's Water-Wise Wednesdays with Frannie the Fish! {Christmas Trees Everywhere}

Christmas is past and it’s time to start thinking about putting away the decorations. There are boxes and bags for all of Frannie’s ornaments and strings of lights, but what about the Christmas tree?

Don’t worry Frannie! Real Christmas Trees are biodegradable, which means they can be re-purposed into other natural products very easily.  Christmas trees can add a lot to our environment in ways you might not expect. Check out these unique ways you can re-purpose your Christmas tree!

1) Mulch. Ok, this is an easy one. Many communities and businesses may have a drop off site where you can take your Christmas tree or some kind of tree pick-up service.  Mulching your garden with your old tree will help you save water and money in the summer months ahead.  If your city or county Parks departments have a drop off site for trees, then they might be using the mulch as a natural, renewable trail-lining material that works well for the environment and hikers.

2) Bird Feeders. String up popcorn and fresh orange slices and prop up your old Christmas tree outside. Winter is an especially hard time for birds to find food, so take this opportunity to turn your backyard into a bird sanctuary.

3) Fish Feeders and Refuge. Does a local lake have a drop off site for old Christmas trees? You might not realize it, but they could be throwing your old tree into the lake.  The densely needled branches provide shelter, a safe feeding area, and even food for the fish.

4) Soil Erosion Barriers. The heavy logs are a natural and renewable material that make an excellent foundation for deteriorating lake and river shores.

5) Zoo Animal Enrichment. Re-gift your Christmas tree to your local zoo! Zookeepers are always looking for new ways to make the animal enclosures more interesting for their occupants. The animals can climb, hide in, feed from, or destroy the trees, providing them with physical and mental exercise.

To learn more about how Christmas trees are reused or recycled in your community, reach out to your local zoo, parks department, or arboretum. Share what you find with us on our Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram pages!

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

BLOG: Save Energy, Money, and Water this Winter

by Jennifer Wemhoff, Groundwater Foundation

Water and energy are inextricably connected. A huge amount of water is used to generate electricity.

Source: U.S. Geological Survey
This winter, look for ways to save energy around your home, and you'll be saving water, too. Here are a few ways to get started:

1. Use the sun's energy to warm your home. Open curtains and blinds on south-facing windows during the day to let the sunlight stream in. Once the sun goes down, close those window coverings to reduce the chill from cold windows.

2. Cover drafty windows with clear plastic. Make sure the plastic is sealed tightly to the frame to keep more cold air out. You can also invest in energy-efficient window coverings.

3. Put on a sweater. When you're home and awake, set your thermostat as low as you can and still feel comfortable. When you're gone or asleep, turn your thermostat down 10-15 degrees. This will save energy and up to 10% per year on your energy bills! You may want to invest in a programmable thermostat to make the temperature adjustment automatic.

4. Seal any air leaks throughout your home. Add caulk or weatherstripping to seal up leaks around windows and doors.

5. Keep your heating system well-maintained. Have your heating systems serviced regularly and replace your furnace filter as recommended.

6. If you have a fireplace, reduce heat loss by keeping the damper closed unless you have a fire burning. You can also check the seal on the fireplace flue damper and make it as tight as possible.

7. Turn down the temperature on your hot water heater to 120 degrees. Save energy and prevent scalding!

8. Use LED lights to add holiday cheer to reduce the energy costs of decorating your home.

It's a win-win-win - save energy, save water, save money!

Adapted from Nebraska Department of Energy.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

BLOG: What a Groundwater Week!

by Jennifer Wemhoff, Groundwater Foundation

Last week, all three Groundwater Foundation staffers traveled to Las Vegas for our first Groundwater Week as part of the National Ground Water Association family. It was an awesome week - meeting NGWA staff members, board members, and members, and introducing them to the work we do at the Groundwater Foundation. Check out our website for some photos and highlights from the week. Be sure to mark your calendars and plan to be there for Groundwater Week 2019 - December 2-5, 2019 in Las Vegas.

Perhaps the most exciting part of Groundwater Week for us was the debut of a video about the work of the Groundwater Foundation. It was a lot of fun to collaborate with the team from NGWA to develop this video and tell the Foundation's story:

We're proud of the work we do at the Groundwater Foundation - and we're proud to have you be a part of it.

Show your support - donate today!

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

It's Water-Wise Wednesdays with Frannie the Fish! {Hot, Hot, Hot Springs!}

Brrr! It’s definitely cold now. Wouldn’t it be great if there was a free, natural hot tub where we could soak our winter blues away?

All over the world, including here in the United States, such magical, natural “hot tubs” exist and are known as hot springs! They are a favorite vacation destination for Frannie and her friends.
But what is a hot spring?

We know that groundwater naturally discharges in some locations called springs and that, many times, these springs feed creeks, rivers, and even lakes. In some cases, groundwater is warmed through the heat produced from the Earth’s mantle, known as geothermal energy, to temperatures hotter than 250 degrees Fahrenheit.  Generally, a hot spring refers to water discharged at temperatures hotter than the average human body.

Hot springs, like the ones Frannie has been to, are a unique destination for a vacation or getaway. These pools fall within a much more comfortable temperature range of 93 to 176 degrees Fahrenheit. Sometimes, fancy hotels and resorts will make you pay an expensive entry fee to soak in their pools.  They may offer more temperature options and provide perks like a storage locker, towel, and shower. Many hot springs resorts in Asia also boast of pools scented with jasmine and eucalyptus or feature natural mud masks!

If don’t want to pay an expensive resort fee, don’t worry because there are other options! Hot springs are often located in geographically large basins that are known for high geothermal activity, so there are usually cheaper resorts or free public pools nearby. In Saratoga, Wyoming, a hot springs resort lies less than a mile away from the “Hobo Hot Springs”, a public pool where all are welcome to soak for a while before dashing into the freezing North Platte River to cool off.

The exploding geysers that are so famous in Yellowstone National Park are an example of beautiful, yet dangerous, hot springs.  The boiling water that shoots high into the air can sometimes run as hot as 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Colorful pools can be lethally acidic or contain dangerous bacteria.  Unless a hot springs pool is specifically designed for people to play in, it’s best to enjoy its beauty from a safe distance.

If you happen to live near or visit one of these amazing geological phenomena, let Frannie know! Take pictures and share with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!
Stay toasty!

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

BLOG: Showing, Not Telling

by Michelle Dry, Education and Outreach Director for the Center for Applied Earth Science and Engineering Research (CAESER) at the University of Memphis

For those of us who are out in the trenches educating our communities about the sources of their drinking water when it is groundwater, the question “Where does your water come from?” is often met with puzzled looks, especially from some of the youngest members of our communities – school-aged children. They may reply the faucet or the sky, but when pressed to guess, they often reply with some creative responses, such as the ocean, despite an ocean being hundreds of miles away. In the past year or so, another response has been, “the sewer,” which is mostly likely the result of the 2014 movie, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Sometimes the guess given is a body of water people are familiar with, such as a nearby lake or a river.

In the city where I work, Memphis, Tennessee, another response I sometimes hear is the Mississippi River. Because Memphis is one of the largest cities in the U.S. that solely uses groundwater for its tap water, it is crucial that its residents know and understand the source of their tap water so that it can be managed sustainably.

Part of my job is to educate the public about the source of its drinking water as well as why it is important to preserve and protect it. Memphis drinking water is highly praised by locals and visitors. Because it is abundant and of high quality, it is inexpensive, compared to areas where it may be scarcer and of lower quality. For many, it is easy to take Memphis water for granted. However, the biggest cheerleaders for Memphis groundwater are typically those who have lived elsewhere and those who have traveled widely. The cheerleaders know just how lucky Memphis is to have what is known as the Memphis Sand aquifer.

Although I work with engineers and geologists in my role at CAESER, I am not one. It is my job to translate their research efforts and results into meaningful information for the Memphis area community.

Because groundwater is not visible on the surface of the Earth, the way a river or lake is, even people who know water cycle concepts may not always know that the source of drinking water for our area is water from an aquifer. For those who do know that it comes from an aquifer, they may not know what an aquifer is, and they imagine it as an underground cave or lake.

When it comes to educating people about groundwater, whether they are adults or children, there are challenges to overcome because groundwater is a something people cannot see. We may be able to explain the concept in a way that some people can understand. However, if we can show that same concept by using visuals, it is more likely to be understood and remembered.

An ideal time to educate students about local water sources is when they are introduced to the water cycle. In Tennessee, state science standards require that the hydrologic cycle to be taught in the 5th grade.

As a former classroom teacher, I know that the teaching profession is demanding and busy. Teachers often have limited resources. Since leaving the classroom, I have continued to work with teachers through outreach positions. When I reach out to teachers, my philosophy is that if I can make their job easier, I am more likely to have success in reaching their students. I build on what teachers are required to teach and try to supplement their efforts while extending student learning. They want their students to understand the hydrologic cycle and do well on state standardized tests. My goals are that students learn about their water resources and become good stewards of water, and that they understand how water connects to our daily lives.

In trying to reach a maximum number of students, the idea of a traveling museum on wheels, or a mobile learning lab, seemed to be an efficient way connect with students from all over the city and to nearby areas, since they all use the same aquifer system. I wanted this museum on wheels to have the fun and excitement of a field trip, without the issues that sometimes accompany field trips, such as lost learning time, liability, cost, finding chaperones, and arranging for transportation. This mobile museum would be a fun experience as well as an educational one.
Fortunately, the International Paper Foundation helped to make this dream a reality. In addition to the $60K grant from the IP Foundation, my university based research center was able to utilize other campus resources to create the Water on Wheels (WOW) mobile. The WOW mobile now exists as a 24’ trailer housing interactive and colorful exhibits that educate visitors about the Memphis aquifer and other water related topics. In creating the exhibits, I wanted visitors to have a comprehensive experience so that they could understand different aspects of water, yet understand that these aspects are connected. Visitors would be able to enter the trailer from either of the two doors and go to any exhibit as part of a self-guided learning experience prompted by their own curiosity and interests. The final product accomplishes this.

However, in a school setting, we typically start with a bit more structure. Once in the trailer, a WOW educator will typically focus a group’s attention on one display and move to another display, guided by a group’s questions and interests. Some teachers prefer a more structured learning experience and the students will have a sheet of questions that encourage them to read the exhibits’ text panels in order to find the answers. Free time is a part of the learning experience, too.

Free online lesson plans that complement the WOW exhibits are available, and some teachers will use these with their students prior to the WOW arriving at their school. A select group of teachers created these lesson plans, incorporating Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards into them. Since most students are introduced to the hydrologic cycle in the 5th grade, the lessons are designed for students in grades 4th through 6th.

Although the WOW was designed primarily for students in 4th-6th grades, it is also appealing to adults. Text for the exhibits was crafted in a way that it would be appropriate for students in upper elementary grades, but adults will find the information informative, too. Both the interior and the exterior are bright, colorful and inviting, which was intentional.
Since its debut in the fall of 2014, the WOW has been a tremendous success. Approximately 5,000 people a year experience the WOW, and if funding and staffing were available, it would reach even more people of all ages.

When visitors experience the WOW, one might hear, “Oh, wow!” because it is colorful and engaging. When former WOW visitors makes a repeat visit, they often share what they remembered and learned, especially if they are a schoolage visitor.

Follow-up evaluations done with teachers after a school visit are universally positive. “In 4th grade, the students are expected to recognize the components of the water cycle and describe their important to life on Earth,” said Logan Caldwell, a former teacher at Campus School, who now works at the University of Memphis. “The Water on Wheels experience seamlessly fit into our unit of study. My students were able to learn so much in such a short amount of time because of the hands on experience and the incredible visuals that the WOW possesses.”

The WOW is the most popular education and outreach program for the Center for Applied Earth Science and Engineering Research (CAESER) at the University of Memphis. Although CAESER offers traditional classroom talks, career day visits, and hands-on activities such as building an aquifer in a cup, the uniqueness of the WOW makes it a sought after learning component for classroom teachers in Memphis and nearby areas, as well as a festival attraction. The WOW makes it easier for people of all ages to understand where their water comes from, where it is stored, and where it goes.
As we continue to expand and develop our water education and outreach activities, we are looking at how to expand the WOW experience so that it continues to provide useful information to teachers and students in the K-12 community as well as the community at large. We know the WOW gives us access to our diverse city and community and we want to make it more accessible. We want everyone in our area to know where their water comes from and why it is so special. The WOW allows us to do that.

For more information about the WOW, go to or contact Michelle Dry directly at For more information about CAESER, go to