Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Keystone XL Pipeline vs. Ogallala Aquifer

For over 23 years, I worked to educate people about groundwater and related natural resources through the programs and projects of the Groundwater Foundation. On June 13, 2010, the Lincoln Journal Star profiled two education programs, Water Fest and Nature Explore. These programs, like those of the Groundwater Foundation, help people appreciate and protect natural resources. To me it was poignant to read about these efforts while in the same issue, Art Hovey wrote at length about another project that could contaminate, perhaps forever, a large portion the Ogallala Aquifer--one of the very natural resources all of us have worked so hard to protect for so many years.

The Ogallala Aquifer contains approximately 2/3 of the volume of the High Plains system and is considered one of the great fresh water resources of the world. The aquifer provides the ecological underpinning of the largest sand dune area in North America, the Nebraska Sand Hills, and the entire system recharges lakes, streams and wet meadows throughout the region.

The porosity and transmissivity of this system is very high and a leaking pipe--especially a buried one would cause instant and widespread damage to the quality of the groundwater. The pollution plume would spread indefinitely and the threat would grow as the plume traveled.

In addition, TransCanada has decided to use thinner than usual pipe and pump slurry at higher than normal pressures. These conditions increase the risk of a leak. Engineered projects have inherent challenges and pipes are notorious for structural weaknesses--note leaks in the Alaska oil pipeline and the current tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico. If asked six months ago, I am certain BP would have issued reassuring statements about the safety of off-shore drilling.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers pollution prevention the only viable management strategy for groundwater and this buried pipeline represents a direct assault on this principle. The health risks to the population that rely on the aquifer for drinking are unacceptably high and public benefit is at peril should the project go forward as planned.

The pipeline could be placed above ground where leaks and problems are more readily recognized and addressed. In addition, the route could be modified so the pipeline does not go though one of our country's greatest natural treasures. To stand by and let this project go forward ignores these risks and promotes a future environmental tragedy.

Susan S. Seacrest, President emeritus

The Groundwater Foundation

Monday, June 7, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill: What Can We Learn From It?

Information about the Gulf oil spill has inundated the news for weeks now. Efforts to stop the massive amounts of oil from polluting our oceans, coastlines and wetlands have been met with more challenges than solutions. Pictures of oil soaked pelicans, ravaged beaches, negative impacts to sea turtles, dolphins, and other mammals, in addition to economic impacts of fishing being halted, slowed tourism, and the impending costs of clean up are just some of the copious issues that are a direct outcome of this catastrophe.

There is a lot of time, work, and money that will be needed to clean up this current environmental crisis. But for me, the bigger question is “How do we prevent this from happening again?” There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that prevention of such events as this would have been much cheaper than the costs we have seen to life, to the environment, and to the economy.

This is just one of the many potential environmental challenges that we may face in the years to come. What will happen if an oil pipeline across a major aquifer leaks? What about all the chemicals that we use every day? Will they end up in our water supply, kill species of animals, alter the circle of life?

We need to address these issues now before they become catastrophic accidents that leave us scrambling for answers. We are all in a position to make a difference, just by altering our own lifestyles and habits. In addition, we can pay attention to the potential risks in our communities and areas, become involved in the local decisions being made concerning our world, and most of all speak up and act upon behalf of our environment and our water resources. It’s been said before but bears repeating – We only have one Earth, one planet on which we can survive – we must be a part of protecting it for the future.

Share your thoughts on what needs to happen to prevent these types of environmental catastrophes in the future.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Traveling the state for Green Site program

During the month of May, I chartered a course to visit as many green sites as possible across the state to encourage them to become involved in our Groundwater Guardian Green Sites program. In my mind, a green site is a site that has highly-managed green space. I know that term can be open to interpretation but that gets the discussion going. We have green sites in the program that are golf courses, college campuses, city and state parks and the list goes on.

My trips started with a visit to the southeastern corner including Humboldt and then to a recent addition to the program, the Friend Country Club (bottom photo). It then led me up to northeast Nebraska including Norfolk, Madison, Columbus and moving over a bit to the middle including Atkinson, Ord and St. Paul. The big trip took me to the western part of the state last week including going through Kearney, Gothenburg and Bridgeport before visiting with people in Scottsbluff and then making my way back through Sidney and Overton.

Many of the visits I had were with people at the golf courses and it was great to hear many of the current practices that they have in place and the many things that are looking to do in the future in regards to both water and fertilizer usage.

Be sure to learn more about our Green Site program and how your green site can become involved in the program as well by clicking on this link:

We recently added video testimonials from a couple of the top courses in the state, Wild Horse (top photo) and Bayside (second photo), who are both currently a part of the program. Click on this link to hear from them and others:

--Brian Reetz