Archive for August, 2012

Citizen scientist research

Friday, August 31st, 2012

Early View Article:Trust in Citizen Science Research: A Case Study of the Groundwater Education Through Water Evaluation & Testing Program,” by Teresa Thornton, and Jessica Leahy.

Data collected by citizen scientists, including K-12 students, have been validated by the scientific community through quality assurance/quality control tests and publication of results in peer-reviewed journal articles. However, if citizen science data are to be used by local communities, research is needed to determine which factors contribute to local community member trust in citizen science data, and how to increase the benefits and use of citizen science programs.

This article describes the Groundwater Education Through Water Evaluation & Testing (GET WET!) program that employs middle and high school students, state and local government employees, environmental nongovernmental organization leaders, business representatives, college faculty and students, and other volunteers as citizen scientists to create a database of groundwater quality for use as a baseline for local water resources management. Data were gathered through semi-structured interviews pre- and post-involvement from 40 participants in this citizen science program conducted in five states in the northeastern United States. Results indicate that factors of trust are largely based on interpersonal trust and familiarity. The authors conclude with recommendations and future research that may improve local community member willingness to trust citizen science data generated by students.

Pollution control works

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Early View Article:Response of Algal Biomass to Large-Scale Nutrient Controls in the Clark Fork River, Montana, United States,” by Michael W. Suplee, Vicki Watson, Walter K. Dodds, and Chris Shirley.

This one reinforces my faith we can get some things done. Here’s an answer to all who say, “Why are we spending all that money on pollution control?” Trend analyses showed that nutrient reduction efforts along the Clark Fork River were successful in significantly reducing TP concentrations basin-wide between 1998 and 2009. Despite human population growth in the watershed and in Missoula, it appears that nutrient reduction efforts have kept water-quality conditions from deteriorating and have even produced improvement at some sites.

Twelve years of summer data (1998-2009) collected along 383 km of the Clark Fork River were analyzed to ascertain whether a basin-wide nutrient reduction program lowered ambient total nitrogen (TN) and total phosphorus (TP) concentrations, and bottom-attached algal biomass. Target nutrient and algal biomass levels were established for the program in 1998. Significant declines were observed in TP but not TN along the entire river. Downstream of the city of Missoula, TP declined below a literature-derived TP saturation breakpoint and met program targets after 2005; TN was below targets since 2007. Algal biomass also declined significantly below Missoula. Trends there likely relate to the city’s wastewater facility upgrades, despite its 20% population increase. Upstream of Missoula, nutrient reductions were less substantial; still, TP and TN declined toward saturation breakpoints, but no significant reductions in algal biomass occurred, and program targets were not met. The largest P-load reduction to the river was from a basin-wide phosphate laundry detergent ban set 10 years before, in 1989.

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

The levees hold

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

This past March, I spent an enjoyable week in New Orleans at AWRA’s GIS Specialty Conference. It is truly a vulnerable cultural gem worthy of protection. Today, I am delighted to see billions of dollars in flood protection stood a fairly severe test. My sincere thanks to the Corps of Engineers! As some of us knew all along, the Corps actually can design stuff that works when the politicians let them do their job.

A bunch of folks are in Tampa this week, many saying spending on infrastructure is like throwing money down a rat hole. Ask the people of New Orleans, and the thousands of visitors they entertain, what they think of infrastructure spending.

“A third reviewer defaulted…”

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

“A third reviewer defaulted, and I apologize for the delay.” I don’t know how many times I’ve had to write that lately. Too many times. Too many authors inconvenienced by some churl who couldn’t bother to contact us. Once again: If you are swamped or over your head, all it takes is a quick note, and you’re off the hook.

If there is assigned seating on the flight to Hell, defaulting reviewers are between a very fat man and a lady with the screaming baby.

LIDAR and insolation

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

Early View Article:Using LiDAR Data Analysis to Estimate Changes in Insolation Under Large-Scale Riparian Deforestation,” by Jonathan Asher Greenberg, Erin L Hestir, David Riano, George J Scheer, and Susan L Ustin.

As a case study, the authors modeled the relative change in insolation on channels in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta under current conditions and under a hypothesized deforested Delta using classified LiDAR, rasterized at a 1-m resolution. Their results suggest that the removal of levee vegetation could result in a 9% increase in solar radiation incident on Delta waters, and may lead to water temperature increases. General, coarse-scale channel characteristics (reach width, azimuth, levee vegetation cover, and height) only accounted for 72% of the variation in the insolation. This indicates that the detailed information derived from LiDAR data has greater explanatory power than coarser reach-scale metrics often used for insolation estimates.

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

Contaminant pathways from fracking

Monday, August 27th, 2012

In previous postings, I’ve bemoaned the lack of peer-reviewed articles on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing. I am pleased to report our colleagues at Ground Water, another Wiley-Blackwell journal, are stepping up to the challenge: “Potential Contaminant Pathways from Hydraulically Fractures Shale to Aquifers,” by Tom Myers raises some serious questions. (The article is restricted to subscribers, but the abstract provides a very nice summary.) I expect this article to be controversial, but the peer-review process of Ground Water gives me some confidence it will hold up.

My impression had been, with the Marcellus shale several thousand feet below the surface, proper well casings were sufficient to protect any aquifers, which typically are much shallower. However, using MODFLOW and some simple assumptions about fracturing and permeability, Myers shows how upwards movement of brines and fracking fluids can be much faster than previously expected. Moreover, fault fractures can greatly accelerate the process, leading to transport to aquifers in less than 10 years. Avoiding these faults would, therefore, seem a critical practice.

To other best practices for fracking — well casings, shared infrastructure, positive control of water — we now may need to add regional seismic studies to identify fault fractures. This is one more reason to intelligently plan gas development on a county-wide basis.

Atrazine concentrations

Monday, August 27th, 2012

Early View Article:Watershed Regressions for Pesticides (warp) Models for Predicting Atrazine Concentrations in Corn Belt Streams,” by Wesley W. Stone and Robert J. Gilliom

Abstract: Watershed Regressions for Pesticides (WARP) models, previously developed for atrazine at the national scale, are improved for application to the United States (U.S.) Corn Belt region by developing region-specific models that include watershed characteristics that are influential in predicting atrazine concentration statistics within the Corn Belt. WARP models for the Corn Belt (WARP-CB) were developed for annual maximum moving-average (14-, 21-, 30-, 60-, and 90-day durations) and annual 95th-percentile atrazine concentrations in streams of the Corn Belt region. The WARP-CB models accounted for 53 to 62% of the variability in the various concentration statistics among the model-development sites. Model predictions were within a factor of 5 of the observed concentration statistic for over 90% of the model-development sites. The WARP-CB residuals and uncertainty are lower than those of the National WARP model for the same sites. Although atrazine-use intensity is the most important explanatory variable in the National WARP models, it is not a significant variable in the WARP-CB models. The WARP-CB models provide improved predictions for Corn Belt streams draining watersheds with atrazine-use intensities of 17 kg/km2 of watershed area or greater.

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

Background concentrations

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

EarlyView Article:Modeled Summer Background Concentration of Nutrients and Suspended Sediment in the Mid-Continent (USA) Great Rivers,” by Ted R. Angradi, David W. Bolgrien, Matt A. Starry, and Brian H. Hill.

The authors used regression models to predict summer background concentration of total nitrogen (N), total phosphorus (P), and total suspended solids (TSS), in the mid-continent great rivers: the Upper Mississippi, the Lower Missouri, and the Ohio. From multiple linear regressions of water quality indicators with land use and other stressor variables, they determined the concentration of the indicators when the predictor variables were all set to zero — the y-intercept. Except for total P on the Upper Mississippi River, they could predict background concentration using regression models. Their findings suggest that a total N concentration ?430 ?g l?1 for the Upper Mississippi and Lower Missouri Rivers and a total P concentration of ?65 ?g l?1 for the Lower Missouri River are worth consideration as lower bounds for nutrient criteria for these rivers.

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

Dams and climate change

Monday, August 20th, 2012

Early View Article:Impacts of Dams on Flow Regimes in Three Headwater Subbasins of the Columbia River Basin, United States,” by Johnnie N. Moore, Alicia S. Arrigoni, and Andrew C. Wilcox.

This article reports dams may give us some ability to adapt to climate change, especially regarding the timing of flows.

The authors compared long-term changes in flow regimes resulting from climate change with those resulting from dams in three matched pairs of natural and modified headwater subbasins of the Columbia River. Based on the analysis of 12 flow-regime metrics, they found that damming had minimal effect on most quantity of flow metrics, but major effect on timing of flow metrics, especially those representing “spring runoff.” In all modified subbasins, “spring runoff” metrics occurred much earlier than natural flow (up to ?44 days earlier for April-July flows). Storage capacity modulated the magnitude of timing of flow-metric changes, with the largest storage capacity leading to the most change. However, even in subbasins with low storage capacity, they found significant change in most timing of flow metrics. They also found that damming, especially in subbasins with higher storage capacity, overwhelmed climate variability in all basins for most flow metrics. This shows that reservoir operations need to be modified to more closely match the natural timing of flow regimes to promote positive ecologic response in modified rivers, even in basins where quantity of flow metrics have not changed substantially as a result of damming.

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

August 2012 cover photo

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

The August 2012 JAWRA features another great photo by Tom Ring: “Dory on Lower Salmon River, Idaho.” Tom sent me a whole series of shots taken at this location, including some wonderful views of camping along the river as dusk falls. I ultimately chose this one because of the exciting action of the boat and the sharp transition in the water. Also, the faces and the outfitter name are not identifiable, which keeps with another JAWRA cover tradition.

Past JAWRA cover photos are available on the AWRA website.