Archive for October, 2012

Insurance “fun” is just beginning

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

Enjoying the rides at Seaside Heights, NJ

The photo on the right, taken in 1980, shows my daughter enjoying the rides at Seaside Heights, New Jersey. Another photo (not shown) shows my cousins and I standing around laughing while our kids enjoy the park. My Dad is somewhere in the back with a roll of tickets encouraging the children in their mayhem.

Contrary to the image presented in the eponymous TV series, the Jersey Shore is largely populated by families. Summers typically see multiple generations getting together to enjoy the beach during the day. As a treat, if you’re good, Grandpa will take you to the amusement park tonight!

The photos of destruction show individual vignettes, but you need to realize those small, cheek-by-jowel houses extend all the way down the New Jersey coast, from Sandy Hook to Cape May. Right now, the priority is to get everybody from those houses warm and safe. Soon, tens of thousands will be filing insurance claims or looking for assistance. Some may not have flood insurance, or not enough of it. Deductibles might be formidable. Others may, in an ironic turn of the phrase, be “underwater” on their mortgages. All face the prospect of sharply higher insurance rates… if insurance is available at any price.

Governor Christie called the Shore the soul of New Jersey. He’s right. Rebuilding the Jersey Shore in a responsible way that recognizes its cultural and recreational value and protects the property rights of its citizens, while minimizing the risk of future disasters, will be the biggest challenge faced by our nation’s flood policies. The “fun” is only beginning.

Airborne thermal remote sensing

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Early View article:Sensitivity of Thermal Habitat of a Trout Stream to Potential Climate Change, Wisconsin, United States,” by Richard Deitchman and Steven P. Loheide II.

The authors used remotely sensed thermographic profiles and instream temperature histories in validating a one-dimensional stream temperature model that highlights the threat of global climate change to ecologically and economically valuable trout fisheries in southwest Wisconsin. Thermal infrared and instream data may be used in combination to validate a freely available one-dimensional stream temperature model to predict the impacts of climate change on stream temperature. The thermal infrared data can be used to quantify the spatial distribution of base flow, allowing for accurate simulation of thermal refugia under current conditions and more reasonable predictions of future climate change impacts to the thermal regime of the stream.

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

Perfect storm

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Remember the 2000 movie, “The Perfect Storm,” where George Clooney’s fishing boat got crushed by the biggest freakin’ wave you ever saw? Well, that storm’s big sister is bashing the US East Coast as I write. Winds at JAWRA World Editorial Headquarters, up here on the 10th floor high above Reston, are not too bad this morning. But, they are predicted to reach hurricane strength this evening. Fortunately, the winds are from the north, and our windows face south and east.

AWRA HQ is in Middleburg, further west, and possibly due to get some October snow. Susan is in upstate New York, relatively safe, though she will feel the effects of this monster. Who knows how the electric grid will hold up, so don’t be surprised if you can’t reach us!

In an unusually complex situation, a hurricane coming up the coast is being forced westward, counter to prevailing winds, by a high pressure system over Greenland. At the coast it will crash into a cold front and basically turn into a mega “nor’easter.” All the big weather models forecast this action well in advance. Early warning of such a counterintuitive event may well save thousands of lives.

Looking at it dispassionately, Sandy is a fascinating exercise in mathematical modeling. In an earlier posting, I wrote about how weather models have become so much more sophisticated in recent years. Now, we are seeing a real-life validation. So far, the models are spot on. I find myself in the situation of, on one hand, hoping the models are wrong and the storm will turn away and spare us, and, on the other hand, rooting for the models.

One silver lining of this mega disaster might be more public confidence in models. As the storm makes its turn towards land, and we see the sacrificial reporters broadcasting from the beaches, people quickly are becoming believers. Those pointy-headed scientists just might know what they are talking about!

Increased standing for models could affect the climate change issue. The models tracking Sandy are based on essentially the same concepts of physics as those predicting climate change. Only about half of Americans believe people affect the climate. It will be interesting to see how this event affects public perception.

Nitrogen in headwaters streams

Friday, October 26th, 2012

Early View article:Estimating Contributions of Nitrate and Herbicides From Groundwater to Headwater Streams, Northern Atlantic Coastal Plain, United States,” by Scott W. Ator and Judith M. Denver

Study sites

The authors estimated the regional flux of nitrate and selected herbicides from groundwater to nontidal headwater streams of the Atlantic Coastal Plain (New Jersey through North Carolina) based on late-winter or spring base-flow samples from 174 streams. In Coastal Plain watersheds of Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds, <2% of applied nitrogen reaches headwater streams as base flow. On the Delmarva Peninsula part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed, however, more than 10% of such applications are transported through groundwater to streams, and base-flow nitrate flux represents 70% of total nitrogen flux in headwater streams.

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

Witch hunt in Italy

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

An article in Science Express reports, “Earthquake Experts Convicted of Manslaughter.” Seven experts tasked with giving advice ahead of a deadly earthquake that struck in 2009 have been found guilty of manslaughter by a judge in the central Italian town of L’Aquila. No, it’s not the Italian equivalent of April Fools Day. Respected scientists who failed to predict an earthquake — as if anyone could reliably accomplish that feat — face six years in jail because some people in Italy do not understand probability and uncertainty.

If upheld, the consequences could be devastating for scientists advising the public. In one stroke, this judge made sure no scientist is going to say anything of consequence about Italy. Picture Mount Vesuvius rumbling and steaming, an ominous bulge growing. You ask a volcanologist, “Is it going to erupt?” The likely answer (said while running away): “No comment!”

Why do I bring this up in a water blog? Anyone here do flood forecasting? It’s not that far fetched, given the public’s abysmal ignorance on probabilities. How many have heard something like, “Now that we’ve had the 100-year flood, we’re safe for another 100 years, right?”

I can understand people being upset about a tragic loss of life. Maybe it seemed easier to blame the elitist scientists than to crack down on those responsible for the building codes. In the Dark Ages we hunted for witches, as scapegoats for our bad luck. Are we going backwards?

Revolving loans

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Early View article:Clean Water State Revolving Fund Loans and Landowner Investments in Agricultural Best Management Practices in Iowa,” by J. Gordon Arbuckle Jr.

Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) loan programs for water quality have traditionally funded infrastructure projects at the community, municipality, or state level. They are increasingly being used to support individual landowner adoption of agricultural best management practices (BMPs) for nonpoint source pollution abatement. In 2005, the Iowa CWSRF initiated the Local Water Protection Program (LWPP) to increase the scope, scale, and rate of agricultural BMP establishment. This research examines the effectiveness of that program through a comparison of survey data from LWPP participants and state cost-share recipients who were eligible for loans, but did not take them.

Results indicate that loan recipients invested substantially more in conservation than nonrecipients. By helping program participants to overcome financial constraints, loans are facilitating larger and accelerated investments in conservation. Although conservation loans can play an important role in funding conservation, loan recipients also still depend on cost-share. Loans are not necessarily a substitute for traditional forms of conservation funding, but rather another tool that landowners and conservation professionals can employ to facilitate investments in BMPs.

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

Book Reviews!

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Do you realize JAWRA includes book reviews? A couple of times a year, JAWRA Book Review Editor Rick McCuen puts together a collection of reviews. The October 2012 issue includes two reviews:

  • Economic Incentives for Stormwater Control, H.W. Thurston (Editor)
  • Beyond COnsensus: Improving Collaborative Planning and Management, by R.D. Margerum

Thanks again to Rick and all our volunteer book reviewers. To learn more about book reviews or to become a reviewer, see our JAWRA Book Review page.

P.E. (Ret.)

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

I marked a career milestone today. I applied to the Maryland Board for Professional Engineers for a “P.E. retired status” license. I’ve been a Professional Engineer in Maryland for a long time. But, new requirements for continuing education credits finally made the change desirable. Actually, I’m a little shocked Maryland didn’t institute continuing education long ago.

When I graduated Manhattan College in 1968, the P.E. for sanitary engineers was going out of favor. Much of our consulting work did not require, for example, signing plans or other activities which require a license. With the rise of the environmental movement, however, having “P.E.” after your name became a way of separating yourself from the “softer” sciences. Those 21-credit semesters were not easy, after all! (This was before I became acquainted with AWRA and gained a respect for multidisciplinary work.) So, I took the tests, got the credential, and proudly placed P.E. after my name for 37 years.

I still keep up with the science, of course. But I don’t really design anything, and I’m not sure it would be prudent for me to do so. It’s time.

October 2012 Cover Photo

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” immortalized Lake Superior’s Witch of November. The waves here are only from a brisk October high pressure system. But, I wouldn’t care to be out in there in a canoe! And the cold water could make capsizing fatal.

The big, clear expanse of this inland ocean fills the eye, and the rugged shoreline rings it with plenty of character. The refreshing wind hints of colder blasts to come. This photo was taken on the North Shore, near Lutsen, Minnesota, in October 2010.