Friday, June 28, 2019

BLOG: Project GROW and Wellhead Protection

by Sara Brock, Groundwater Foundation

The Nebraska Wellhead Protection Network (WHPN) met on Thursday, June 27 at the Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District offices in York, Nebraska.

Much of the meeting focused on Upper Big Blue NRD's Project GROW (Growing Rotational crops On Wellfields). Upper Big Blue Water Conservationist Dan Leininger and Site Manager/Farmer Scott Gonnerman talked about the method of planting and harvesting cover crops as well as the soil and water health benefits they have seen as a result. Notably, they have increased water infiltration rates from 0.5 inches/hour to over 6 inches/hour, significantly reducing runoff. They have also been able to decrease their need for applied nitrogen, saving themselves money and protecting water quality at the same time. Department Manager Marie Krausnick briefly touched on a Source Water Grant and collaboration with the City of York that makes Project GROW possible.

The meeting concluded with a tour of the Project GROW site, which is located on the City of York’s wellfield. Visiting the soybean field, WHPN members saw leafy rows peaking out that had been shielded from the previous night’s hail by the triticale stalks that covered the field.

The pollinator habitat, opposite the soybeans, looked grassy and healthy. At two years old, it’s still filtering out some of the chemicals that have been added to the soil over the years, but it will grow bigger and have more blooms as the soil health is restored.

The tour ended at the community garden, a space that is open to members of the public to grow their own fresh produce. Using what they’ve learned from the Upper Big Blue NRD staff and Project GROW, York residents are growing tomatoes, zucchini, and more. The NRD also put in a couple rows of fruit trees and bushes that, in a few years, will be open to harvest by the public.

Attendees represented several state and local organizations such as the Nebraska Departments of Environmental Quality and Department of Health and Human Services, several Natural Resources Districts, and community utilities. 

Click here to learn more about Project GROW. Click here to learn more about the Nebraska Wellhead Protection Network.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

It's Water-Wise Wednesdays with Frannie the Fish! {The Water Cycle: Part 5 - Evaporation}

This is the fifth part of Frannie’s exploration of the water cycle. Please check out her previous blog on the overview of the water cycle and her deep dives into groundwater, discharge, and surface water.

Welcome back to Frannie’s deep dive into the water cycle! The dark blue bead on Frannie’s water cycle bracelet represents evaporation. Evaporation is the process of a liquid being heated up until it turns into gas. As Frannie described before, we can actually see the process of evaporation happen when we hold a cup of hot chocolate and see the steam rising from the cup. On a larger scale, when the sun heats up surface water, some of the water molecules on the very top layer turn into gas and rise into the air.

Evaporation doesn’t just happen in surface water, though. Soil moisture is an important measurement in agriculture and environmental science. Plants draw moisture up from the ground to use in photosynthesis and water vapor and oxygen are released from plant leaves as by-products of that process. Water that is released from plants is called transpiration.

Farmers and scientists alike calculate total soil moisture loss by combining moisture evaporation from soil and transpiration to find a total rate of evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration tells farmers when they should irrigate their crops and helps scientists understand and anticipate droughts.  Many factors can affect evapotranspiration such as temperature, humidity, and the type of plant that is transpiring water.

There is still another way that water can move from the ground into the sky. When Frannie learned about glaciers and their role in the water cycle during her deep dive in surface water, she also learned about a process called sublimation. Sublimation is when a solid becomes a gas, totally skipping the liquid phase and it occurs at low air temperatures and pressures.

We can easily see the progress of sublimation if we look at dry ice. Dry ice is solid carbon dioxide, which wants to be in its gaseous state at our normal air temperature and pressure. If Frannie wears gloves and carefully places a small chunk of dry ice in a cup and leaves it out in a room, she will notice that it gets smaller after a few hours even though there is no liquid carbon dioxide in the cup.

Glaciers that are located high up in the mountains can do the same thing as dry ice, but it takes a lot longer. They slowly reduce in size through a combination of sublimation and melting then evaporation. Together, scientists describe the process of glacier volume loss as ablation.

Join Frannie in the clouds next time as she explores condensation and water’s amazing property of adhesion!

Thursday, June 20, 2019

BLOG: Ohio Groundwater Guardians Recognized

by Jennifer Wemhoff, Groundwater Foundation

The National Ground Water Association hosted a conference this week in Westerville, Ohio focused on the hot topic of PFAS contamination (PFAS Management, Mitigation, and Remediation Conference).

Several Groundwater Guardians located in Ohio were in attendance, and received special recognition. NGWA CEO Terry S. Morse, CIC and Board President Scott King, PG, P.Geo., LHG thanked the teams for their continued work and passion in groundwater education and protection efforts in their communities.

NGWA Board President Scott King, PG, P.Geo., LHG talks about the Groundwater Guardian program.

From left: Scott King; Mike Ekberg, Miami Conservancy District; Claudia Dawson, Hamilton to New Baltimore Groundwater Consortium; Jim Shoemaker, Dayton Multi-Jurisdictional Source Water Protection Program; Karen Beason, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base; NGWA CEO Terry Morse; Tim McLelland, Hamilton to New Baltimore Groundwater Consortium

Mike Ekberg, Miami Conservancy District with Scott King

Claudia Dawson and Tim McLelland, Hamilton to New Baltimore Groundwater Consortium with Scott King

Jim Shoemaker, Dayton Multi-Jurisdictional Source Water Protection Program with Scott King

Karen Beason, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base with Scott King

You can get involved as a Groundwater Guardian too! Find out more.

Friday, June 14, 2019

BLOG: Plastic, Plastic, and More Plastic

by Jennifer Wemhoff, Groundwater Foundation

Everywhere you look, there's plastic. Just glancing down at my desk I see a plastic paper clip holder, plastic mechanical pencil, plastic bases to my computer monitors. Plastic is here, there, everywhere.

I recently ready an article about a study of the remote Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean. It's one of the remotest places on Earth, with a population of only 600.

Google Maps

Marine scientists recently conducted a comprehensive survey of debris on the islands, and found a shocking amount of trash - 414 million pieces, weighing 238 tons. About 95% of the debris was plastic. Among this mess of trash were 977,000 shoes and 373,000 toothbrushes. In addition, 25% of the identifiable items were disposable plastics, such as straws, bags, and toothbrushes.

The study was published in the journal Nature and led by Dr. Jennifer Lavers of the University of Tasmania's Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies. Dr. Lavers said remote islands that don't have large human populations to produce trash are an indicator of the amount of plastic debris circulating in the world's oceans.

“Plastic pollution is now ubiquitous in our oceans, and remote islands are an ideal place to get an objective view of the volume of plastic debris now circling the globe,” Lavers said.

Co-author Dr. Annett Finger from Victoria University noted, “As a result of the growth in single-use consumer plastics, it’s estimated there are now 5.25 trillion pieces of ocean plastic debris."

That's staggering. We're addicted to plastic, and the long term ramifications of this addiction on the environment are dire.

Dr. Finger says that “The scale of the problem means cleaning up our oceans is currently not possible, and cleaning beaches once they are polluted with plastic is time consuming, costly, and needs to be regularly repeated as thousands of new pieces of plastic wash up each day. The only viable solution is to reduce plastic production and consumption while improving waste management to stop this material entering our oceans in the first place.”

The statement that cleaning up our oceans isn't possible is frightening. It's time for all of us to act now. Start by:

  • Unless necessary due to disability, skip the plastic straw. Invest in a stainless steel or other reusable straw.
  • Skip the plastic bag. Bring your own shopping tote to the grocery store, and switch to reusable produce bags or skip the bag all together. (be sure to wash your bags often!)
  • Look for ways to avoid buying products with plastic packaging - which is difficult. Buy in bulk whenever possible using a reusable bag/container.
  • Pack your lunch in reusable containers or bags instead of disposable plastics.
  • When stopping at your favorite coffee shop, bring your own insulated mug and skip the disposable cup.
  • Use a refillable water bottle instead of buying plastic bottles.
  • Bring your own containers for take-out food and restaurant leftovers. It may feel awkward, but many restaurants use styrofoam to package these foods.
  • Ditch soda, juice, and other plastic-bottled beverages. It's better for your health and you won't use the extra plastic.
  • Use natural cleaning cloths/scrubbers instead of plastic scrubbers and synthetic sponges.
Get more ideas here and here and here.

As with any change, it takes all of us to do our part. As zero-waste chef Anne Marie Bonneau said, "We don't need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly."

Get started!

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

It's Water-Wise Wednesdays with Frannie the Fish! {The Water Cycle: Part 4 - Surface Water}

This is the fourth part of Frannie’s exploration of the water cycle. Please check out her previous blog on the overview of the water cycle and her deep dives into groundwater and discharge.

Welcome back to Frannie’s deep dive into the water cycle! Today’s focus is surface water. Frannie knows that groundwater refers to water under the ground, so surface water must refer to the bodies of water above the ground, on the surface of the earth. Streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans are all examples of surface water.

Frannie’s experiment with the Awesome Aquifer Kit and her deep dive into the discharge process taught her that surface water is connected to groundwater. Streams and rivers can exchange water droplets that flow with the main current with water droplets that make up the subsurface flow, or flow beneath the streambed.

While Frannie wasn’t surprised by her research into streams and lakes, she was surprised to find surface water hiding in wetlands and glaciers! Wetlands, like marshes and swamps and bogs, are very important locations for groundwater recharge, which Frannie will talk about more later.  Wetlands near the sea or ocean can be flooded and drained by tidal activity and become salt marshes. All kinds of wetlands are incredibly important to prevent flooding and protect water quality.

Frannie has never seen a glacier, but in her research, she learned that she could think of it as a large river of ice that flows downhill under its own weight. When areas have a lot of snowfall in the winter start to warm up, the snow begins to melt and compress itself. If an area receives more snow than it can melt away, the melting snow turns into ice and grows with more cycles of snowfall and partial melting, eventually forming a glacier. Glaciers have an enormous effect on the topography, or layout of the land, in a region as well as its quantity and quality of available water.

Join Frannie next time as she follows the water cycle from rivers, wetlands, and glaciers to the sky. See you then!