Archive for January, 2011

Issues in Water Quality Trading

Monday, January 31st, 2011

February 2011 Featured Collection: Issues in Water Quality Trading, Matthew T. Heberling, Associate Editor.

Policy makers have discovered that market mechanisms can play important roles in protecting and improving environmental quality by changing the economic signals an individual or firm faces. The current and growing interest in water quality trading stems from its potential as a flexible, low-cost way to achieve nutrient reduction goals and meet water quality standards compared to command-and- control approaches. But, does the theory really pan out?

At the 2008 AWRA Annual Water Resources Conference, New Orleans, Louisiana, a special session addressed some of the challenges surrounding water quality trading. Continuing the discussion from that conference, this featured collection takes a broad view of water quality trading. The objective of this collection is not to present an exhaustive list of recommendations for water quality trading; rather, it is to summarize some of the main features and current conditions while offering contrasting ideas or designs to avoid the pitfalls of existing programs.

In the coming days, I will highlight some of the excellent papers in this collection organized by our Associate Editor for Water Resource Economics, Matthew T. Heberling. Thank you, Matt, for organizing this!

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

Alaska’s water resources

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

February 2011 Article:Alaska’s Freshwater Resources: Issues Affecting Local and International Interests,” by Lilian Alessa, Mark Altaweel, Andrew Kliskey, Christopher Bone, William Schnabel, and Kalb Stevenson.

Alaska has lots and lots of water, right? So, no problem? Not if you think about quality in rural villages, the need to protect endangered species, and, of course, climate change.

The authors present the challenges faced by Alaska in the context of a larger global perspective, and briefly explore the relative effects these issues have on local, regional, and global scales. They argue Alaska needs to develop more robust institutions and policies that can alleviate both household concerns and ensure that Alaska plays a significant role in the international freshwater arena for its long-term resilience.

The authors take a broad and thought-provoking view of Alaska’s water, and their remarks about international issues are sure to raise a few eyebrows: “The need to diversify industry coupled with an abundant potable freshwater supply provides the opportunity for Alaska to play a major role in global freshwater issues during the next 50 years.”

I like for JAWRA to give its readers something to think about!

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

Susan on holiday

Monday, January 24th, 2011

REMINDER: JAWRA Administrator Susan Scalia is taking some well-deserved time off this week. She will be back on Monday, January 31.

Importance of Trusted Sources

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

In today’s New York Times, Keven M. Leven offers an opinion, “Teaching Civil War History 2.0,” concerning an outrageously wrong fourth-grade history text used by the Commonwealth of Virginia. The textbook author, not a professional historian, apparently gathered her information through an online search. Mr. Leven provides an excellent explanation of the pitfalls of depending upon such unvalidated information sources. He explains that one of the most valuable lessons for students is how to search and how to evaluate sources. He warns, “The Internet is both a goldmine of information as well as a minefield of misinformation and distortion.”

Good reading!

Seasonal Flushing

Friday, January 21st, 2011

February 2011 Article: “Seasonal Flushing of Pollutant Concentrations and Loads in Urban Stormwater,” by Kenneth C. Schiff and Liesl L. Tiefenthaler.

The goal of this study was to census stormwater concentrations and loads from an arid, urban watershed to quantify seasonal flushing. Samples were collected every 15 min during the 1997-1998 wet season from the Santa Ana River and analyzed for total suspended solids. Initial storms of the season generated event mean concentrations 3-10 times the event mean concentration of storms later in the season. Early season storms discharged only 6% of the annual volume, but influenced flow-weighted mean concentrations well past the midpoint of the wet season.

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

Glaciated Watersheds

Monday, January 17th, 2011

February 2011 Article: “Using a GIS Model to Identify Internally Drained Areas and Runoff Contribution in a Glaciated Watershed,” by Jacob A. Macholl, Katherine A. Clancy, by Paul M. McGinley.

Delineating watersheds is especially problematic in the Midwest where multiple glaciations have left a relatively flat landscape with many potholes, wetlands, and lakes topographically isolated from the drainage network. Identifying areas that generate runoff but do not contribute to a drainage network (e.g., drain to a closed depression) is necessary for correctly identifying the factors that affect water quantity and quality.

The overall goal of this study is to use the Potential Contributing Source Area (PCSA) model to identify the areas of a northwestern Wisconsin watershed physically capable of contributing runoff to the stream drainage network. A secondary goal of this study was to use the NRCS Curve Number (CN) method to evaluate whether runoff volumes are better estimated using the potential contributing areas rather than the entire catchment area.

Although numerous runoff producing events occurred during the study period, the rainfall was of insufficient depth for estimating runoff using the standard CN method. The distributed CN method of estimating runoff did provide runoff volumes for the independent events and were, in general, better estimated using the potential contributing areas than the entire catchment area.

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

Socially Paired Watersheds

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

February 2011 Technical Note: “Incorporating Social Context Variables Into Paired Watershed Designs to Test Nonpoint Source Program Effectiveness,” by Linda Stalker Prokopy, Z. Asligül Göçmen, Jing Gao, Shorna Broussard Allred, Joseph E. Bonnell, Kenneth Genskow, Alicia Molloy, and Rebecca Power.

Paired watershed studies are time-honored hydrologic practice. The pairing usually involves only physical hydrologic characteristics. The authors extended the paired watershed concept to examine the effectiveness of watershed management programs by adding comparative criteria for social characteristics.

First, the authors developed a list of 11 key variables. Next, a factor analysis was conducted to determine the underlying structure of the 11 input variables. Finally, in each of the four watersheds, potential paired subwatersheds (all 14 digit HUCs) were selected using the factors in a cluster analysis. Informal interviews were then held with key informants in each watershed to provide qualitative assessments of criteria that could impact the comparability of the subwatersheds.

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

Transboundary Groundwater Policy

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

February 2011 article:Transboundary Groundwater Policy: Developing Approaches in the Western and Southwestern United States,” by Deborah L. Hathaway.

This paper identifies and contrasts approaches to transboundary groundwater policy, drawing from recent conflicts and cooperative efforts, including those associated with the interstate compacts on the Arkansas and Pecos Rivers; the Hueco and Lower Rio Grande Basins shared by New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico; and the Mexicali Basin in California and Mexico.

While interstate and international allocation of shared groundwater resources has received little formal policy development as compared to that for surface waters, nevertheless, the allocation of shared groundwater resources does occur across political boundaries. The author notes interstate and international allocation and management of shared groundwater resources may be viewed as having evolved in the context of three general situations: (1) through existing surface water agreements where a surface water ? groundwater connection exists and is recognized, (2) de facto ground- water allocation, and (3) dialog over groundwater allocation. Specific cases are examined.

The author concludes, although continuing scientific investigation must not be underestimated, the challenge in implementing agreements will not likely be scientific. Rather, identifying the appropriate governance mechanisms, and, selecting the necessary tradeoffs under shortage conditions, will constitute the challenges in achieving effective transboundary groundwater management.

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

Blue-line Streams

Monday, January 10th, 2011

February 2011 Article:Extent and Channel Morphology of Unmapped Headwater Stream Segments of the Quabbin Watershed, Massachusetts,” by Robert T. Brooks and Elizabeth A. Colburn.

In my career at USGS, I worked with many colleagues from our National Mapping Division (to use the old term). I learned a lot about mapping streams, the main lesson being how hard it is to achieve consistency, and gained a deep appreciation for the many pitfalls. Briefly, blue line streams are a “cartographic interpretation,” and are not necessary determined by strict hydrologic characteristics.

This study assessed the accuracy of mapped origins of 1:25,000 ‘‘blue-line’’ streams depicted on U.S. Geological Survey topographic maps, and, if present, the morphological characteristics of unmapped stream segments near the Quabbin Reservior Watershed, Massachusetts. Unmapped stream segments were found to occur on over 80% of the mapped stream terminuses examined. On average, these segments were nearly 0.5 km in length; nearly 40% had one or more unmapped tributaries, with an average length of 130 m. Unmapped headwater streams were characterized by lower gradients and higher frequencies and spatial extents of wetlands than mapped blue-line streams, with the unmapped stream flowing diffusely through some wetland reaches and in a distinct channel through others.

The lesson for regulators is, they better get out their field gear: “Reliance on mapped stream networks for regulatory standards allows for the potential disturbance or even destruction of the unmapped stream resources. Jurisdictional regulations and guidelines should be revised so that the occurrence of streams should require field validation.”

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

Free Huck Finn!

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Seems there’s a kerfuffle about yet another attempt to bowdlerize Mark Twain’s classic, Huckleberry Finn. A publisher feels children are too sensitive/stupid/whatever to understand the “n-word” in the proper context of one of the most eloquent tracts ever written against racism.

This brought to mind JAWRA’s policy: “Except for relevant, factual content (e.g., attributable quotes, pictures showing some condition), language and figures must not offend a person of ordinary sensibilities.” In constructing this rule, I tried my best to avoid censoring ideas while providing a minimal standard of civility. I’ve never had to invoke the rule, probably because water authors just don’t write that way. I suppose if some author finds a relevant context for quoting Huck Finn, I’ll have to allow the infamous word, but I don’t see this as likely! “All right, then, I’ll go to hell!”