September 11, 2015 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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Sorry I am posting this so late. Therea re not as many items this week; I have been driving around Vermont and New Hampshire seeing old friends and preparing for another weekend reunion in Bethlehem, NH.
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“We know everything but understand nothing.” -Unknown (thanks to Dave McTigue)
September 4, 2015 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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I thought I would post this interesting graphic, sent to me by Lauren Steely. In the foreground is San Francisco; in the background is all the water pumped from California’s Central Valley since 1962 – 100 cubic kilometers or 81 MAF.
Have a great Labor Day Weekend and travel safely!
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September 1, 2015 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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Disclosure notice: I did not receive a free copy of this book. The SNWA sent me a copy, but I forwarded it to the City of Phoenix with my condolences. It was returned, stamped ‘No Longer at This Address’. Along with fellow WaterWonks John Fleck, Charles Fishman, and John Orr, I’m in the acknowledgments. Thanks! [Note: Sentences 2 and 3 strain credulity.]
Cut to the chase: Read it! Compelling, frightening, violent, dark. Two books in one: a great mystery, and a water book to boot. May be too close to reality for some.
When I first heard of award-winning (Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Compton Crook, John W. Campbell Memorial Awards, etc.) author Paolo Bacigalupi’s second novel (The Windup Girl was his first) The Water Knife and its subject matter, I immediately thought of his 2006 short story, The Tamarisk Hunter, that first appeared in the High Country News. That piece mesmerized me and made a deep impression because I read it after leaving my beloved Southwest, home for 35 years, for the greener, wetter clime of western Oregon. I thought to myself that I had made the right decision, although I’m still unaccustomed to all this green stuff covering up the rocks.
So what’s The Water Knife about? It’s foremost a mystery (roman noir, if you will) involving water – Southwestern water. Does any other kind matter?
It’s the near future. The Southwest is being battered by Big Daddy Drought, presumably the ‘new normal’. The USA is in a state of disarray, the federal government is ineffectual, and states are now empowered to control and patrol their borders with their own militias and troops (‘guardies’). Aquifers have been drained. Mexico now has the Cartel States.
The story is loaded with familiar players. Las Vegas and the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) loom large, the latter headed by Catherine Case, aka Queen of the Colorado, a Pat Mulroy on PEDs. Ms. Case has an air force with attack helicopters, missiles and troops, should anyone (especially Arizona and its 600-pound gorilla, Phoenix) try to take water that she thinks is SNWA’s, which, by the way, is in the arcology business.
California (the Calies) lurk about, blowing up dams, seeking more water and trying to prevent Las Vegas and others from acquiring more. Texans, New Mexicans and Arizonans (Zoners) seek to reach the promised lands – those with water and some semblance of a future. You’ll also meet swimmers – those whose only future is to be killed, mutilated. and tossed into empty swimming pools, which abound in Phoenix.
Angel Velasquez, former Mexican prison-dweller, is Catherine Case’s top ‘water knife’ – the black ops guy who takes the tough assignments and is amply rewarded with a living permit in one of the arcologies and a Tesla. The term ‘water knife’ derives from his ability to ‘cut’ water for SNWA but one could argue it has several more graphic meanings. Velasquez is very good at what he does. With guys like him around, Case has all the tools she needs: lawyers, guns, and money – and water knives.
Angel swings into action when it appears that there may be some available substantial water rights that are lying around somewhere. Is it true or just some old myth? But others – mainly California and Phoenix – are after them as well. Velasquez fires up (metaphorically, of course) his Tesla and heads to Phoenix, which, despite its own Chinese-built arcologies and economy partially based upon the yuan, is sliding into anarchy and beneath the sands of Arizona.
There, in the Valley of the Sun, he butts heads and other body parts with a variety of characters, most like him – operating on the dark side and capable of doing anything to get what they want. He joins forces with a journalist from the Northeast, Lucy Monroe, out to enhance her stature by reporting on ‘collapse porn’ – the bloody swimmers and others who illustrate the breakdown of society and death of a region.
Suffice it to say that the rumored water rights do exist, so the race is on in earnest. Bodies accumulate at an alarming rate. Gratuitous violence in spades. Fires burn. Phoenix seems doomed. Who gets those rights? Will someone’s ‘good side’ come to the fore, if only for a few moments? Perhaps Angel lives up to his first name. Nahhhh… Read it – you will not be able to put it down.
The book is well-written. Great dialogue. Again, it’s a mystery that involves water, so I suspect that this book might have been enjoyed by the likes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, who might even have accepted Bacigalupi into their circle.
But despite its fictional designation The Water Knife has terribly unsettling elements of reality and a future devoid of any beneficent authority to keep the lid on. It does have a healthy dose of discussions on ethics and morality (wonder what Chandler and Hammett would say about that?). For a WaterWonk who spent most of his adult life in the arid Southwest, the picture it crafts cuts much, much too close to home.
It’s on my bookcase between Collapse and The Sixth Extinction.
Paolo Bacigalupi’s novel doesn’t cut like a knife. It mutilates like a machete.
Read it. You’ll great two great books in one.
You know, this would have made a helluva graphic novel. I’ll wait for the movie.
August 28, 2015 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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The USA and many others are recalling the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina this week. Please remember all the victims and their loved ones.
Not one of my country’s finest moments.
Good article from the New York Times.
Hurricanes and floods don’t worry me in my area, but western Oregon is subject to disasters of another kind – earthquakes, and we are ‘overdue’ for The Big One. In order to become a bit more prepared I had this gizmo installed on my gas line yesterday – about $500. What does it do? Check this out. Hope I never have to have its utility tested.
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“Statistics are people with the tears wiped away.” - Unknown. allegedly said by an attendee at a conference about the response to Katrina
August 22, 2015 | Posted by admin
August 2015 President’s Column, Water Resources IMPACT
One of the advantages of serving as President of the American Water Resources Association is that you receive invitations to a number of activities and events, many of which I may not have even heard of, let along participated in, as part of my job that pays the bills. This has exposed me to a much broader range of water resource topics and issues, and allowed me to engage in an ever expanding conversation regarding the current conditions and future issues that face water resource professionals across this country. One such meeting that I was able to attend in March of this year was the Resource Revolution Tour in New York City, which was sponsored by Suez Environmental. While the main focus of the event was announcing the reorganization of all Suez Environmental and its subsidiaries, and putting forth its vision for its role in water resource management in the future, the more interesting part of the meeting for me was talking to the wide variety of attendees at the meeting that were discussing the privatization of water resource infrastructure and management services. This is a topic I have little knowledge about, and I had naively thought that privatization of water resource systems meant that a for-profit corporation would take ownership of a water system, and work towards maximizing share-holder profits under some degree of regulation. However, the majority of the discussions I had at the meeting focused on how public-private partnerships could be used to more effectively manage not just water supply and waste water management systems, but also undertake watershed and waterway restoration efforts that include performance based funding mechanisms.
The use of private-public partnerships has become so common in developing and managing public services infrastructure across the United States (U.S.), it has even developed its own three letter acronym, PPP, the true sign of a new practice becoming mainstream. In addition, the use of PPPs have a relatively long history in the U.S., with some of the more common examples that have been in place for quite a while being private maintenance and operation agreements for federal, state, and local parks. For example, almost all of the U.S. Forest Service campgrounds I have stayed at over the last decade have been operated by either for-profit or not-for-profit corporations. Another area where PPPs are being utilized more frequently is in the transportation sector, including the development of highway systems, as well as light rail systems, in a number of larger metropolitan areas across the U.S. The practice of using PPPs for large public infrastructure services has grown so much in recent years that a professional society has evolved that specifically focuses on PPPs, which is the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships. In addition, there is now a yearly Expo to bring together professionals discussing the latest ideas and successes in developing effective PPPs that provide a wide range of public services, including recreational facilities, educational systems, transportation services, information technology infrastructure, and even state lottery operations.
However, one area that has only used PPPs in a limited fashion, and is not well represented in the national PPP discussion, is water resource projects and programs, both in regard to large scale multi-use water supply projects, and restoration of watersheds and waterways. There are a number of municipalities whose water supply or waste water services are either completely privatized, or are operated by for-profit private companies. This is the case in my home town of Boise, Idaho, where the municipal water provider is United Water, which is a subsidiary of Suez Environmental.
However, many of these relationships are either a completely privatized utility, or a fee for services arrangement, which is really not best described as a partnership. Lately however, there are several examples of performance based PPPs being explored for larger scale water resource infrastructure development and operation, with one example being the Tampa Bay Seawater Desalination Plant operation. The Desalination Plant operation is a PPP, where Tampa Bay Water (created as a not-for-profit by its municipal member governments) owns the facility, American Water-ACCIONA (a private firm from Spain) operates the plant, the Southwest Florida Water Management District (regional government) provided funding for the eligible capital costs of the facility, and the Tampa Electric Company (regulated utility) leases the plant site to Tampa Bay Water and provides electricity and source water to the desalination plant. Since this effort is relatively new (full operation of the facility was achieved in 2010), and there are few other examples of large scale performance based PPPs focused on providing water services, there is some uncertainty as to whether these types of relationships can be sustained in the long run. In addition, there is some uncertainty as to the extent that federal and state governments can participate in PPPs. This uncertainty has the potential to create quite a bit of misinformation regarding water service PPPs, which makes it very difficult to have a productive discussion regarding the advantages and disadvantages of PPPs for addressing a wide range of issues related to water resource infrastructure and management facing our country in the future.
The information needs associated with the emerging topic of water service PPPs appears to fit well with the mission of AWRA, which is to help develop a forum to forward the conversation, make connections between groups exploring PPPs to address water resource problems, and help develop a water service PPP community. If this is something that you are involved with directly or tangentially, or would like to become involved with, there are ample opportunities within AWRA for you to help forward this conversation.
This may be a subject that would fit well in the AWRA webinar series, a special session at an AWRA conference, the development of a special issue of JAWRA or IMPACT, or possibly even a full specialty conference. Seeing how the use of PPPs is increasing in providing many other public services, it would seem that their use will increase for water resource services as well.
This may be an opportunity for AWRA to expand our community, and provide a forum for open and honest dialogue to help ensure that PPPs evolve into an effective mechanism for sustainably managing our water resources.
August 21, 2015 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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The 25th Annual World Water Week in Stockholm starts next week, 23-28 August. It’s the world’s premier annual water conference, IMHO. Lots of ‘shovers and makers’ will be there. I’ve been to only two, the last one in 2007 or 2008. My major complaint is that groundwater gets short shrift, an assessment based upon a small sample size but I have heard that things have not changed much.
Stockholm World Water Week Drinks:
In the end, I will to stick with the “tried and true” and drinks will be at SkyBar on the 9th Floor of the Radisson Blu Royal Viking Hotel at 20:00 on Tuesday, 25 August, the venue the last 4-5 years. This is just one block from the main train station downtown and a few blocks from the convention center. The elevator to the bar is at the end of the lobby closest to the train station, but you can ask the hotel staff and they will direct you there. Per the norm, we will be there till close, so come later on even if you have another event that evening.
Are you looking for a meaningful way to have an impact on water resources management?
The Webinar Task Force is currently seeking proposals for AWRA’s 2016 Webinar Calendar. We will be scheduling at least one webinar per month, February through October 2016. We are open to format suggestions (one/multiple presenters; a panel discussion; etc.) but will adhere fairly strictly to a 60 minute time limit, including Q&A.
AWRA’s webinars have grown in quality and popularity, averaging a 4 out of 5 rating, in the last two years. They have also become a key element in advancing AWRA’s mission, vision and objectives, as well as a key part of meeting several of the goals in our current strategic plan.
Popular topics based on webinar survey response:
- Climate change and water resources
- Water quality – especially emerging contaminants
- Social Media
- Citizen Science
However, please do not limit yourself to the these topics. The Task Force will consider all suggestions.
A list of past webinars can be viewed at the AWRA Webinar Center: http://www.awra.org/webinars/index.html
Proposal Deadline: October 26, 2015
- Topic – why it’s important, etc. – just a few sentences
- Exact Title
- Potential Speakers and contact information
- Thoughts on Timing – when to be presented, sequence (if a series)
August 14, 2015 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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Big news – all this week’s jobs are in one post. Check in the usual place and you’ll see:
Other news – oh, yeah, there was a spill on the Animas River in Colorado. I’ve got a whole section devoted to my Tweets about it. I am partial to Bruce Thomson’s perspective.
The photo is from the Los Angeles Times.
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“So little done, so much to do.” - Cecil Rhodes
August 13, 2015 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
Friend, colleague, and environmental engineer extraordinaire Bruce M. Thomson of the University of New Mexico sent me this perspective piece he wrote on the recent Animas River spill and granted me permission to use it. He is an expert on water quality and has done work with mine reclamation in the area and has been following the reports closely.
I have known and worked with Bruce since 1989 and have the utmost respect for his knowledge and integrity. He’s one of the smartest WaterWonks I know. His objective piece will add much to the discussion.
Just a reminder: 3 million gallons of mine waste went into the river. That’s just over 9 acre-feet, but that doesn’t matter much when the river flowing past your house or farm is orange. But it does keep things in perspective. Remember – 3 million gallons sounds really bad, but that’s really good if you want to make things sound really bad. And 9 AF sounds really puny, which is good if you want to minimize the situation. But in reality, it’s the stuff that’s in the 3 million gallons or 9 AF that matters and the flow of the river.
Here is a map of the San Juan River basin, tributary to the Colorado River, into which the Animas River flows. The Animas River is the stream that rises right below the ‘C’ in ‘Colorado’.
Here is his article as a PDF: Download Animas_Spill_Thomson_Perspective
Now the article as text.
The valley surrounding Silverton was extensively mined for gold and silver from ~1880 to ~1930 and intermittent mining continued off and on well into the 20th century. This resulted in dozens of abandoned mines with no legacy companies to which ownership or responsibility can be traced. Consistent with the practice at the time, virtually all were abandoned with no reclamation or stabilization performed whatsoever. This left a huge mess with large piles of exposed waste rock and low grade tailings, open adits inviting amateur explorers into the mines, and continuous drainage of mildly acidic water into small alpine streams. One of the most obvious manifestations is that all streams in the valley have bed materials with a dark brown coating of manganese and iron oxides.
EPA, the Forest Service and other agencies have been struggling to achieve proper closure and remediation of these mines for decades. The problems are difficult because of the large number of small mines and exploration pits throughout the valley and beyond, the severe climate (the altitude of Silverton is 9,300 ft), access to many of the sites is difficult, and the very rough topography limits options for mine water treatment and tailings management.
Because of the climate and geology there’s a lot of groundwater entering many of the mines and seeping from their entrances. Wikipedia, that great source of all that is true, describes a mine blowout in 1978 in which a mine filled up with water then let loose a flood that had sufficient momentum to knock over a 20 ton locomotive.
In my experience, the entrances to most of the mines have been blocked either intentionally to prevent folks from entering, or by rock falls and debris. This can allow the mine to fill with water and generate high heads if proper drainage isn’t provided. According to reports of EPA’s On Scene Coordinator (a good source of information & some data) EPA was investigating the Gold King Mine, disturbed the debris blocking the mine entrance which then let loose spilling 3 Mgal into Cement Creek over the course of an hour or so. I have no personal knowledge of the spill but this seems to me to be an entirely reasonable explanation. Whether the high head of water in the mine could have been foreseen and precautions taken against a breach will almost certainly be the subject of future investigations and many lengthy and expensive lawsuits.
Considering all of the logistical complexities associated with the remote location EPA and environmental agencies in CO and NM sprang into action pretty quickly in my opinion. They started collecting samples of Cement Creek and the Animas River within a few hours and I saw the first analytical data on Sunday, 8/9/15, four days after the spill and three days after the last samples were collected. Anybody who’s collected samples and had them analyzed knows that kind of response is amazing; usual sample turn around times are several weeks. I’m not defending EPA, but claims that they’re not responsive aren’t justified in my opinion.
The question facing downstream communities and water users is what are the consequences of the spill? The data from 8/5 and 8/6 show very high concentrations of several Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) metals including mg/L levels of As, Ba, Cr, Cu, Pb (179 mg/L in one creek sample), and Ag as well as very high concentrations (>100 mg/L) of Al, Ca, Fe, K, Mn, and Na. But what has not been reported in the press is that most of the SDWA metals are associated with solids, presumably iron solids which are the source of the bright yellow/orange color seen in the photos. Some of the highest metal concentrations were measured from a sample from Cement Creek at the 14th St Bridge in Silverton taken Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. The data for total recoverable and dissolved metals is shown in Table 1 which illustrates this point. Coagulation by iron and aluminum hydroxides is a very common method for removing solids and dissolved metals in drinking water treatment plants and is clearly serving the same function at this site.
The relatively small volume of the spill, the high dilution by the Animas River and downstream tributaries, and the rapid velocities of these high gradient streams has resulted in the dissolved phase contaminants washing through the system very rapidly. Data from EPA and the New Mexico Environment Department show that dissolved water quality all the way to the NM-AZ border is at or close to background levels. In my opinion, although this spill poses a challenge to public water systems along the rivers, it is manageable and presents little or no risk to consumers.
It seems to me the real environmental concerns relate to aquatic life and especially the benthic environment. Though Al, Cu, and Mn are toxic to coldwater fish, I know of no reports of fish kills and caged fish suspended in the water continue to survive. The available data is consistent with the hypothesis that the metals are effectively bound in the solids. Thus, we must ask what is the long term fate of those solids and associated contaminants? Research teams in NM, CO and elsewhere are feverishly writing proposals to address this question. This situation presents a great opportunity to better understand the fate and transport of contaminants from mining operations and to develop strategies for dealing with the next spill.
The second threat the spill poses is to irrigators. In an abundance of caution (an overworked phrase in my opinion), all diversions of river water were immediately stopped including flow to some big irrigation systems, especially the Navajo Irrigation Project (NIP). If irrigation water is cut off for more than a week or two and the monsoon rains don’t re-appear, farmers are going to suffer severe losses. A secondary question may be what are the effects of contaminants on the soil, crops, and food chain? Will this cause further damage to the agricultural industry? The tension between the Navajo Nation and the U.S. government will introduce considerable complexity to these issues.
The Gold King Mine spill is not the first spill of hard rock mine water into a southwestern stream and almost certainly won’t be the last. Its threat to human health and the environment is not trivial but has been greatly exaggerated. It certainly does not pose risks such as those of the 2014 Elk River spill of coal wash water in West Virginia or the 1979 failure of the Churchrock, NM uranium mill tailings dam. The professional community needs to deliberately and clearly identify the issues and challenges posed by this spill then develop management and remediation strategies to deal with them. It is my intent that this summary, which expresses only my personal perspective, will reduce the hysteria and hyperbole a bit and allow that conversation to begin.
Research Professor & Professor Emeritus
University of New Mexico
“If at first you don’t succeed, transform your data set.” -Unknown
August 10, 2015 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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Matthew McKinney (with the fish). Director of the University of Montana’s Center for Natural Resources and Environmental Policy (CNREP) just sent me a paper that he and attorney John E. Thorson (a CNREP Senior Fellow) published in Water Policy 17 (2015) 679–706, ‘Resolving Water Conflicts in the American West’.
The American West is defined first and foremost by aridity, scarcity, and variability of water resources. In response to this geographic imperative, the region has evolved a robust menu of legal, institutional, and commu- nity-based approaches to managing water and conflicts at local, state, and national levels. While far from perfect, this framework may offer lessons to other regions throughout the world that are increasingly faced with water con- flicts due to scarcity and variability of water resources. The resulting menu of approaches reflects an adaptive, collaborative, and nested system of governing water resources.
Cutting to the chase:
The American West provides an extended narrative on how geographic regions defined by scarce, variable water supplies allocate and manage water, prevent and resolve water conflicts, and adapt over time. While this story may inform and invigorate other regions that are increasingly faced with similar imperatives, wee hope it also inspires scholars and practitioners from other regions throughout the world to complete similar evaluations and to document and share lessons learned about resolving water conflicts and allocating scarce water resources.
As we seek to transfer lessons from one region to another, this study reinforces the importance of understanding the social and historical context of alternative water conflict resolution methods. Some ideas – such as prior appropriation – may (or may not) be part of the underlying culture of a particular region. The ability to import and adapt any particular method for water conflict resolution ultimately depends on the laws and institutions, cultural fabric, and indigenous traditions of different regions.
There is a lot of good stuff in between the two sections. Give their paper a read.
“The mechanics of moving water is just lost on people,” - Jared Blumenfeld, EPA Region 9 (Pacific Southwest) Administrator