Archive for May, 2010

For want of a drink

Friday, May 28th, 2010

The Economist issue of May 22-28, 2010 contains a special report, “For Want of a Drink,” about the world’s water crisis. While not much in the report should be new to JAWRA readers, it was nice to see a major news outlet produce an analysis with some fairly good science.

The report correctly grasped the connectivity between surface and ground water. Lining a canal, for example, may seem like “saving” water, but not if the leakage is replenishing a stressed aquifer. The report also noted water usually is priced too low for normal market investment to succeed, and that allocation mechanisms must be sensitive to political realities. Worthwhile reading.

Riparian buffer age is important

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

June 2010 Article: Stream Condition in Piedmont Streams with Restored Riparian Buffers in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, by Leslie L. Orzetti, R. Christian Jones, and Robert F. Murphy.

Overall, buffer age was positively related to improved indices of stream habitat, water quality, and benthic invertebrate metrics, with a time scale of 10-15 years.

Riparian buffer restoration is a tool utilized to reduce the impact of nonpoint source pollution in flowing waters around the world. If implemented correctly, riparian buffers have the capacity to convert and/or store nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Much research has examined the benefits of these restored areas for water quality control and improvement, but little has been done to validate the long-term efficacy and associated time lags of these buffers in restoring water quality.

This study tested the efficacy of restored forest riparian buffers along streams in the Chesapeake Bay watershed by examining habitat, selected water quality variables, and benthic macroinvertebrate community metrics in 30 streams with buffers ranging from zero to greater than 50 years of age. Results showed that habitat, water quality, and benthic macroinvertebrate metrics generally improved with age of restored buffer. Habitat scores appeared to stabilize between 10 and 15 years of age. Results are consistent with the hypothesis that forest riparian buffers enhance instream habitat, water quality, and resulting benthic macroinvertebrate communities with noticeable improvements occurring within 5-10 years postrestoration, leading to conditions approaching those of long established buffers within 10-15 years of restoration.

[Please note: I have quoted and paraphrased freely from the article, but the interpretation is my own!]

Energy production and water

Monday, May 24th, 2010

June 2010 Article: Future U.S. Water Consumption: The Role of Energy Production, by Deborah Elcock.

This article is a great example of why one has to look at all aspects of an issue — take a multidisciplinary approach. Biofuels may offer some advantages over non-renewable sources, but they are not a free lunch!

The article investigates how meeting domestic energy production targets for both fossil and renewable fuels may affect future water demand. It combines projections of energy production with estimates of water consumption on a per-unit basis for coal, oil, gas, and biofuels production, to estimate and compare the domestic US freshwater consumed. The findings identify an important potential future conflict between renewable energy production and water availability that warrants further investigation and action to ensure that future domestic energy demand can be met in an economically efficient and environmentally sustainable manner.

[Please note: I have quoted and paraphrased freely from the article, but the interpretation is my own!]

Buon Giorno!

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

We have returned from a delightful trip to Italy, where we encountered a little more water resources than we planned on. Our Italian hosts blamed the wet and cold weather on the volcano, but I think big low-pressure systems may have had some role. The famous bicycle race, the Giro d’Italia, held an epic stage in the mud and rain on Saturday, not far from where we were staying in the hillside village of Titignano. Despite the rain, we managed to see much of that lovely country and enjoy great food and wine.

Photo of Ponte Vecchio over the Arno River

Ponte Vecchio over the Arno River

When the sun managed to break through a little, it shed great light on the landscape. I think I might have a cover photo or two. Unless you’re a hydrologist, or have a long memory, it’s hard to believe the beautiful and peaceful Arno River shown here ravaged the art treasures of Florence in 1966.

Many thanks to Susan for her usual fine job of holding things together. She sent me a priority “to do” list when I returned, and I’m caught up at least that far. Thanks also to Rich Alexander for standing by if needed for editorial decisions.

Arrivederci!

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

This blog is going quiet for about two weeks. I will be off to a land where a famous scientist was once put on trial for writing about a scientific theory the government did not believe in. No, I’m not talking about Virginia. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s not there — yet!

I will be in Italy, home of Galileo. Rome, Florence, then a tiny village near Orvieto. I’m really looking forward to this, and I might even get to see the Giro d’Italia whiz by. Will we see Italy on a JAWRA cover soon? Stay tuned.

Susan will be holding down the fort, with the help of Associate Editor Rich Alexander, if needed. They know how to contact me, though how much help I would be in a country with such great wine and food is problematic.

I’m outta’ here!

Dangerous Precedent

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II is demanding the University of Virginia turn over a broad range of documents concerning the climate research of Michael Mann. (See related Washington Post article.) While some question Dr. Mann’s science practices, Mr. Cuccinelli has raised the stakes to a whole new level. As Editor of a journal headquartered in Virginia (AWRA is an Illinois corporation), I  add my voice to the crowd condemning the chilling consequences of this blatant threat to open scientific inquiry. On a hill above Charlottesville, Thomas Jefferson must be rolling over in his grave!

JAWRA articles typically have dealt with climate change indirectly as, for example, “Given these climate model predictions, here’s what happens to streamflow.” Our coming featured collection on nonstationarity will look at climate as one among many possible factors causing change. If this moves us higher on Mr. Cuccinelli’s concerns, to quote another (mythical) southerner, “Frankly, I don’t give a damn.” Rest assured JAWRA will continue to make publishing decisions based upon the quality of the science.

Long abstracts — still a problem

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Not getting the message applies to more than the risks discussed in my earlier posting. If your abstract significantly exceeds our 1,500-character limit (and I’d call 3,000 “significant!”), the probability is 100 percent you will be asked to shorten it. I tentatively accepted 5 papers this morning , all of them on condition of a shorter abstract.

The size limit is not just a bureaucratic whim, something to help page layout. Including extraneous information hurts your chances of being read and cited! Less is more!

Risks

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

In the Great Oil Spill of 2010 we have yet another example of society just not getting it about risk. Parse through a series of Environmental Impact Statements and supporting documentation on oil leasing, and it’s perfectly clear a big spill was only a matter of time. In 1983, the U.S. Minerals Management Services’ own risk analysis computed a 0.76 probability of at least one spill larger than 10,000 barrels from platforms on existing U.S. leases in the Gulf of Mexico. Mexico had its own big spill in 1979. So, why is everybody surprised and shocked this one happened?

The oil industry takes considerable pains to prevent dangerous and costly accidents. After all, even without a spill, getting 11 people killed and losing a $300 million rig is not exactly a career move. The residual risk is the inevitable tradeoff we incur to gain the benefits of oil. And, not drilling won’t work if the alternative is to import oil via tankers which carry even higher risks. Basically, if you want the oil, you take the risk. We can only reduce the risk by using less oil, but nobody wants to hear that.

The “Cleopatra Complex” (Queen of de Nile) we see with oil isn’t all that different from how the public perceives hydrologic risks. A (seemingly) theoretical risk sometime in the future just doesn’t compare with pressing needs of today. We knew it was only a matter of time before a hurricane drowned New Orleans. The Mississippi River will repeat its 1993 flood, or worse. And, the good folks in Fargo will again and again celebrate spring by hauling sandbags to the banks of the Red River of the North.

Risk is not just a number, it is a very real chance of something bad happening. But, risk clearly is something people do not understand intuitively. It’s time for us scientists to raise our voices and help the public “get real” about risk.