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! {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.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Martian...and groundwater?

by Jennifer Wemhoff, The Groundwater Foundation

Image credit: Amazon
Have you read "The Martian" by Andy Weir?

I read it for the first time a few years ago, and couldn't put it down. Even my non-reader husband enjoyed it. If you haven't read the book, the story centers around astronaut Mark Watney. Watney and his crewmates are in the middle of a mission on Mars when a dust storm forces them to abort their mission. An accident has the crew believe Watney is dead, and they leave the planet without him. As it turns out, Watney is very much alive and has to figure out how to survive on Mars, communicate with Earth, and not starve. While much of the science was over my head (he "makes" water???), the story of his resourcefulness and the very idea of a man stranded on Mars was engaging.

I happened to catch the second half of the movie with Matt Damon on TV the other night (I saw it in the theater, and while I thought it was good, as is the case with most books made into movies, the book was far superior) and so I pulled out the book again and reread it.

So what does this have to do with groundwater?

It got me thinking about a human one day setting foot on Mars, and what they might find. NASA has indicated that there may be water flowing on Mars (or maybe not), that there once may have been more water on Mars than in Earth's Arctic Ocean, and that huge ice deposits on Mars hold as much water as Lake Superior. Future space missions could confirm the presence of water.

Image credit: Bustle
Watney's perseverance and ingenuity also made me think of the many people we work with at The Groundwater Foundation that are working to protect water supplies. Watney faces challenge after challenge. He problem-solves. Then he problem-solves again. Then he problem-solves some more.

While protecting groundwater isn't quite the same as making water from scratch ("If I want water, I'll have to make it from scratch. Fortunately, I know the recipe: Take hydrogen. Add oxygen. Burn."), people protecting groundwater face challenges, problem-solve, problem-solve again, and come up with solutions. The Groundwater Guardians and Green Sites we work with are among some of the most creative and innovative people we know!

It takes a collective effort to work to save Watney in "The Martian." (I won't spoil the ending for you) People, organizations, and countries come together to share ideas, invest resources, and work together. Sound familiar? Collectively, we are all part of the solution to protect and conserve groundwater.