Citizen Science Apps and More…

September 29, 2014 | Posted by cmccrehin
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Pierre Glynn and Kristine Stepenuck Answer Questions from Recent AWRA Webinar on Citizen Science

CrowdHydrology is an example of Citizen Science.

CrowdHydrology is an example of Citizen Science.

Pierre: Before we start, I want to repeat my definition of “Citizen Science” because I think it is important to my answers below. Although targeted to improving the management of natural resources and environments, my definition is probably broader than that of other folks in the “Citizen Science” community. From my perspective, Citizen Science represents “an engagement from members of the public, often, but not always, in collaboration with credentialed technical experts, to observe, analyze, and/or understand natural resources and environments for the benefit of science and society. The participating members of the public are usually volunteers. The engagement must have a scientific basis, meaning that it must seek honest pursuit of greater knowledge.”

Q: Do you know of any legal challenges to data collected by citizen scientists? Outcomes?

Kris: Although I am not aware of any lawsuits, some states have taken a proactive stance on this by establishing credible data laws. Ohio is the most prominent state with such a law. My understanding is that it has severely limited data collection by non-agency individuals due to there being quite a few requirements for having certification at higher levels. I believe Iowa also has such a law. There is also a new white paper on the liability of citizen science data that might be of interest. It’s available here.

Pierre: I haven’t heard of legal challenges to data collected by Citizen Scientists.  My impression is that challenges to using Citizen Science data are made more informally, before the data are actually put to use.  That does not mean that there aren’t legal barriers to Citizen Science data, at a minimum  to ensure appropriate quality control, to protect privacy and so forth.  During the webinar, I mentioned that members of the U.S. Congress in 1994 were upset about the Breeding Bird Survey (now a USGS program) and the fact that the data were collected by volunteers. They compared the effort to that of “an environmental gestapo” that was going to trample on people’s private lands.  I provide a pdf of a short letter on the issue by Root and Alpert.

Q: How effective are the programs funded less than $125,000?

Kris: I didn’t run the analyses using results from programs with budgets less than that, but, as I used budget in its entirety in the regressions, what I do know is that there is some evidence that budget doesn’t matter for achieving outcomes related to waterbody protection and restoration. Specifically, this includes having volunteer data be used to help a waterbody gain protected status, to alter land uses, to protect undeveloped land and/or to obtain funding for restoration or protection of a waterbody. The regression explains only 22% of the variance in the model, but it is significant at p<0.05.

Pierre: The answer probably depends on the expectations for the “program.”  If the expectations are limited in time and space and otherwise, “effectiveness” could be extremely high.  For example, $125,000 could fund lots of projects of the “bucket brigade” type that take samples of suspected atmospheric contamination caused by industrial or other sources in given neighborhoods and send them to certified labs and/or agencies for analysis.  It could also fund a lot of “watershed walks” to identify potential water pollution sources and provide samples to appropriate agencies.  However, $125,000 might not go very far in supporting a long-term, regional-scale, well and fully characterized and QA/QC’d, water-quality monitoring program with consistent sampling and analysis that also has complete archiving and accessibility of data and metadata.  But even then, $125,000 might still provide very significant value especially if the funded effort or program was well coordinated with other entities.

Q: Can you give specific examples on how citizen scientists can be involved with the modeling aspects of a program? Citizen scientists may not have access to software, or may not have the expertise.

Pierre:  It’s true that Citizen Scientists may not personally have access to “modeling software” and/or may not have the expertise to conduct numerical modeling on their own.  But that does not mean that they can’t be involved or contribute to “modeling”.   There are many members of the public that could potentially, usefully, participate in “modeling”: (1) raising questions and critiquing study designs; (2) analyzing modeling results, scenarios, and assumptions; (3) helping develop or critique conceptual models by providing local/historical knowledge; (4) provoking new information syntheses and assessments; (5) encouraging collection of additional data; (6) converting numerical models into simulation games or (7) adding user-friendly interfaces to improve public understanding and engagement.

There is an increasing realization that the improved management of natural resources and environments, including the management of water resources, often extends beyond the capabilities of any single set of experts or single professional organization with a narrow disciplinary focus. The issues are complex, and expert “solutions” often have a high degree of uncertainty.  Structured public engagement, such as done through Citizen Science and “participatory modeling,” can help gain public understanding of the issues, adoption of science-informed solutions and follow-through to policy and management actions.  “Participatory modeling” and “Modeling with stakeholders” are becoming an increasingly important part of “Integrated Environmental Modeling” (IEM).  This can be seen in the agenda of the recent IEMSs conference and in the recent “IEM roadmap” article by Laniak et. al.

I attach a number of reprints that may be of interest: Voinov and Bousquet (2010); Voinov et al (2008); Cockerill et al. (JAWRA; 2006; the paper I mentioned during the webinar), and two recent papers by Carmona et al (2013). 

Q: How many of the programs evaluated both the participant’s perceptions (pre and post) as well as the success of the programs?

Kris: This is not something I have studied in the research I presented. In general, I would say very few carry out this level of evaluation.

Pierre: I believe there are increasing efforts to formally evaluate Citizen Science programs, as well as the perceptions and knowledge of participants both before and after their participation.  See for example, the Carmona et al (2013) and Cockerill et al. (2006) papers.

Q.  Should evaluation plans be important elements of citizen science programs?

Kris: Absolutely! All too often we develop monitoring programs to evaluate health of the environment, but we fail to evaluate the program itself. The Extension Volunteer Monitoring Network has developed a series of online learning modules designed to help volunteer water monitoring programs grow and develop over time. We have a module about carrying out effective program evaluation. There is also a series of learning modules in this “Guide for Growing Programs.”

Pierre: I agree with Kris, and am glad to see her link to the Extension Volunteering Monitoring Network.  The web site has lots of useful and interesting information. I would also add that AWRA members interested in Citizen Science and Volunteer Watershed Monitoring should consider attending the conferences sponsored by the National Water Quality Council, such as the one that was held this year in Cincinnati.  It had lots of sessions and presentations on Volunteer Watershed Monitoring.

Q: Is there a publicly available list for the programs that Kristine studied?

Kris: Yes, the National Water Quality Monitoring Council has the list (and more).

Q: Is there any data available that addresses if social media or apps enhance the volunteer experience or willingness to participate?

Kris: In regard to peer-reviewed literature on citizen science/volunteer monitoring, I am not familiar with any articles about this. A quick article search on Google Scholar revealed there may be literature on this across the broader field of volunteering, however. There is a list of apps for volunteer water quality monitoring available here (see discussion #6 especially)

Pierre: The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology is a leader in the development of Citizen Science and has developed a number of apps.

Q: Pierre…what’s a good journal to get published citizen science projects and Kris have you published any of your results in a Journal? If yes, which one?

Kris: My results are not yet published in a peer-reviewed journal. I am working on the manuscript this fall and hope to have the results published in the next year or so.

Pierre: I was a co-author on the Laniak et al. (2013) “IEM roadmap” paper published in the journal “Environmental Modelling and Software” (EMS), as well as on an earlier EPA workshop report (Moore et al, 2012) that led to the roadmap article.  I also recently published a proceedings paper (Glynn, 2014) for the recent IEMSs conference that examines human cognitive biases and heuristics and their potential role in Integrated Environmental Modeling, and in science in general: participatory modeling is discussed as one of the elements needed to address human biases.

Works in progress:  I have a draft paper that I’ve written (together with USGS co-authors Harry Jenter, Carl Shapiro and David Govoni) that describes the conceptual framework for Citizen Science (and its benefits and challenges) that I presented during the AWRA webinar.  We expect to submit it to a journal in the next few weeks.  I am also currently contributing to a position paper on “Modeling with Stakeholders” destined led by Alexey Voinov of the Netherlands.  Lastly, I am leading a review of the USA National Phenology Network (a network that records the timing of biological events, and that has a significant “Citizen Science” component) that may end up published as a USGS report.

Journals for Citizen Science:  Articles on “Citizen Science” are being published in a very wide range of journals, including JAWRA (e.g. Cockerill et al, 2006).  Many articles are in journals that have either an ecological or an environmental perspective (e.g. Ecology and Society, Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, Journal of Environmental Management).

Q: Will this presentation be archived so that we can reference back to it at a later date?

Kris and Pierre: Yes, the presentation will be archived for access by AWRA members and for folks who attended the Sept 16, 2014 webinar.

Note: AWRA members can access the webinar archive by logging in to the AWRA website and then clicking on AWRA webinars. Non-members can email to request access.

Q: Can we get Kristine’s email address to contact her at a later date with additional questions?


Pierre: And here’s mine

Q: Thanks SO much to everyone for presenting and putting on this wonderful webinar – very exciting!!!

Kris and Pierre: You’re most welcome.  We appreciated the opportunity to give the webinar.

Possible Citizen-Science related session at November 2015 AWRA meeting: Lisa Beutler and Pierre Glynn have just started discussing this possibility and would welcome suggestions and indications of interest.

AWRA’s next webinar, titled “Flood Risk and Aging Inland Waterway Infrastructure” will be presented on October 9, 2014 at 1pm ET. These webinars are complimentary for all AWRA members. For more information and to register click here.

TGIF! Weekly Water News Summary, 20 – 26 September 2014

September 26, 2014 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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The Golden State Warriors of the NBA have released the plans for their new arena in Nba_e_warriors11_600x400downtown San Francisco. If it doesn’t look like a toilet to you, then I don’t know what to say.

The nickname for it is ‘The Can’. I’m thinking that it would be a great symbol forWorld Toilet Day (19 November, by the way).

20140924__SJM-WEBWARRIORS-0925~1_500The team says that the drawings are preliminary and do not necessarily depict the final design.


Click here to read the weekly water news summary.


“Water is three things — local, local, and local.” -Margaret ‘Maggie’ Catley-Carlson (see my post here:

All Politics Is Local. How About Water? Not So Much

September 25, 2014 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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Politics is local? Apologies to Tip O’Neill.

So what prompted this post?

Yesterday I received the following Tweet from the Canadian Water Network reporting on the words of Margaret ‘Maggie’ Catley-Carlson, one of the giants of global water [emboldening mine]:

“Water is three things — local, local and local” Maggie Catley-Carlson — She’s on our Board and our hero too @jcganter ! #CWNSYP

I have met Maggie on three occasions and was impressed on every occasion. A smart, articulate WaterWonk. Yes, a hero, for sure.

I have heard for years that water is a local issue. I have heard it from experts, non-experts, WaterWonk wannabes, and their ilk. I think it’s folly to assume that water is entirely or always a local issue. Governance and management issues? Yes, in most cases.

I do want to make it clear that in this post I am talking about community water supply because it is often in that context that I’ve heard the word ‘local’ used. It’s possible that this post might seem trivial to some of you. I hope so.

Local and Non-Local
The Tweet got me thinking – I have never believed that water is entirely a local issue and so maybe it’s time to write about it. I am not here to criticize what Maggie said because I don’t know all that she said. All I know is those eight words passed between her lips at some point and the CWN reported them. Keep in mind that my training is that of a physical hydrologist, so my first inclination is to think of the water supply itself – is that local?  And what islocal?

When I read that Tweet I quickly came up with a number of water supply scenarios that are (seemingly) patently non-local. The first two that came to mind were Southern California (SoCal) and New York City. The former gets its water sources both locally and regionally; the latter’s sources are regional. So what makes a water surce local or non-local? If a water source is derived outside a water supply agency’s political boundaries and/or its physical watershed or is otherwise beyond its control, then it’s non-local.

Southern California and the Colorado River Basin
Take SoCal – specifically, the City of Los Angeles. Much of its water comes from Northern California (NorCal), the Owens Valley (OV), and the Colorado River Basin (CRB). The latter extends to Wyoming; see the map. The stippled areas at the lower left are the regions of SoCal supplied by the CRB. All the aforementioned LA sources – NorCal, CRB and OV – are beyond the city’s political boundaries and physical watershed and its control.


But if you have an issue with your SoCal water, you contact your local purveyor – which could be the City of Los Angeles (LADWP), the City of San Diego, Orange County, City of XYZ, etc. These and other agencies are governed and managed locally, which is they way it should be. Who wants to have someone in Evanston, WY, make decisions about LA’s water system? You want locals to do the O&M, the planning and management. You want local governance. But also keep in mind that water availability issues may be decided by agents or circumstances far beyond the boundaries, political or watershed, of the City of Los Angeles or SoCal.

The CRB map is instructive in other ways. Note the stippled areas beyond SoCal.  Look at the Denver, Salt Lake City, Colorado Springs-Pueblo, Cheyenne, and Albuquerque-Middle Rio Grande metro areas. Each of these regions is beyond the CRB but receive water from the CRB. Local? Hardly. But in each of those areas, water management is presumably handled locally.

New York City
New York City, my birthplace, is another well-known case. The NYCDEP supplies 8M customers and all of its water come from beyond its political boundaries, and much of it comes from outside its watershed. The green areas below show the watersheds; the brownish area at the bottom of the map is NYC. But if your water tastes funny or you see a broken water main, you don’t call someone upstate; you call NYCDEP. The system’s management is local. But the source is not.


It interesting to note that part of NYC’s supply is in the the Delaware River Basin, so the DRB Commission has some control of the NYC water system, as does the State of New York and the EPA.

What About Small-Scale Water Systems?
You’re saying that these are all big systems. What about small systems? Aren’t they local? Not entirely so.

I live in Corvallis - a small city (55,000; 14 square miles) in western Oregon’s lush Willamette ValleyThe city supplies and treats our water and treats our wastewater. Our water comes from two surface sources: the Rock Creek watershed, about 20 miles west in the Oregon Coast Range and the Willamette River, which borders the city to the east and rises in the Cascade Range to the east and south. Most of the supply (c. 70%) comes from the latter. The City owns some land (Corvallis Forest) in the Rock Creek watershed, which is located in the Marys River watershed.


The water system is managed and governed locally – no issue there. But although the Corvallis water sources are in watersheds occupied by the City, control of the entire water source is beyond its reach. One could argue (as I would) that Corvallis exerts a great deal of control over the Rock Creek watershed but that is not true of the Willamette River watershed.  FYI: I formerly served on the Rock Creek Watershed Management Advisory Commission.

Truly Local Sources – Are There Any? Groundwater
Can I think of a truly local source? The rural watersheds where I work in Honduras are pretty much all local. The commuities own the land, so certainly the ones at the top of the watershed are local. The City of Portland also comes to mind – it’s close to being local, but probably no cigar. Up until about 15 years ago, Albuquerque was pretty close to a locally-sourced system. It used 100% groundwater from the Albuquerque Basin, but then again, some of the groundwater might have been recharged from outside the surface watershed.

The latter illustrates a great point. Groundwatersheds differ from surface watersheds, and even in a given area, the groundwatersheds are not the same.

Below is a vertical geologic cross section below Memphis, TN. The beige areas are the aquifers; the blue, the confining (low permeability) units. Let’s say you drill a well below Memphis into the Memphis Sand aquifer. That water might come from far outside the greater Memphis area. Then you move 100 feet away and drill a well into the Cretaceous aquifer. The two wells are in virtually the same location on the land surface but likely have greatly disparate source areas.


My Ten Cents
Ahhh, ambivalence! As with most things involving water, the local v. non-local water issue is not cut-and-dry. It depends upon the issue. And how do you define ‘local’? So water can be local (which must be defined, of course). But it also can have a non-local component. As with everything else about water, you need to define your terms and know what you’re talking about.

And keep in mind that even if a community has a truly local water source, circumstances (regulations, water rights, growth, etc.) outside the source area can exert strong control over ‘local’ water issues.

Politics? That’s another issue!

“All politics is local. All water issues are not.” - Michael E. Campana (apologies to Tip O’Neill)

Martha Corozzi Narvaez, AWRA President-Elect, 2015

Martha Corrozi Narvaez, AWRA President-Elect, 2015

Martha Corrozi-Narvaez, an associate policy scientist at the University of Delaware’s Water Resources Agency (WRA), was recently elected AWRA president-elect and will become president of the organization in 2016. She will officially assume the office of president-elect on January 1, 2015.

January 1, 2015 will also see AWRA member John Tracy, director of the Idaho Water Resources Research Institute at the University of Idaho in Boise, begin his tenure as president of the organization, replacing C. Mark Dunning, senior project manager with CDM Federal Programs, who will become immediate past president. Newly elected National Board of Director’s members Lisa Beutler, MWH Global and Wayne Wright, GeoEngineers, will also assume their seats on that day.

Narvaez has served AWRA on local and national levels, and has held positions in the public sector, as well as consulting and her current position in academia. After receiving the news of her election, Narvaez agreed to take a few moments to tell AWRA members a bit about the goals she has for her tenure as an AWRA officer.

How does it feel to be elected president-elect of AWRA? I’m honored to be elected president-elect of AWRA. I have been part of this organization for many years.  I have worked with numerous members and the AWRA staff in a variety of roles and the people involved with this group are amazing. They are intelligent, talented, forward-thinking and involved, and I am happy to be able to be part of the team that is leading this incredible group.

What are the issues or goals that you plan to address during your year as AWRA President? Overall, I feel that it is important to address the most pressing water resource issues and to continue AWRA’s strong reputation as a multi-disciplinary water resources association that is well-respected and inclusive of students and professionals.

More specifically, I believe it is critical for AWRA to be an organization that is attractive to all levels of professionals in the water resources field, cutting across generations as well as disciplines. It is important for AWRA to continue the practices that have been successful while also being flexible in the way we provide information, present our science, and network with each to other. The use of technology and finding new and innovative ways to reach existing and potential members is critical for AWRA to be the preeminent association for young and established water resource professionals.

I would also like to bring greater recognition to, and form a stronger connection with, the state sections. The individuals that make up these groups are experts in the field, connected in their communities, and valuable assets to our association. I would like to see this relationship strengthened.

What will you do over the next year to ensure your goals can be achieved? AWRA has an incredible membership, board and staff who do an amazing job of meeting the mission of the organization and bringing the most important water resource issues to the forefront. I believe that working collaboratively with these individuals and making decisions as a whole for the good of the association is critical. I will work in partnership with these groups so that we can collectively steer the association in the direction we believe is best for our membership and the future of the association.

Where would you like to see AWRA once you finish your term as president? I would like to see AWRA expand its reach among national and international water resource students and professionals. It is vital for membership to grow and for AWRA to be at the forefront of water resource issues both nationally and internationally.

A Drought, You Say? No Problem – I’ve Got My Own Well!

September 21, 2014 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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Mary Frances and I are in Ashland, OR, enjoying our annual trek to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Shameless plug: we’re staying at the Chanticleer Inn, a great B & B.  Ashland is a small city (c. 20,000), home of the aforementioned OSF and Southern Oregon University. It is a world-renowned center of extreme running.

HouseThe city gets its water supply from surface water (Ashland Creek, mainly) plus some water from theTalent Irrigation District,which gets shut off on 22 September. The demand right now is somewhere around 4 MGD. The area is experiencing a drought,and although there are no mandatory conservation measures, the city is encouraging its residents to be judicious in their water use.

That leads me to the focal point of today’s post. When Mary Frances and I took aWater.well recent morning walk among the upscale residences here we encountered a lushly-landscaped home (not the only one, by the way) prominently displaying the sign you see to the right.

I have seen signs like this before, usually in areas where there are drought restrictions imposed by utilities and/or municipalities.

If people are about, I usually ask them why they have the sign, although I generally know why. In this case, no one was present so I just snapped a photo.

My experience tells me that people with these signs in an area where water is short are saying something like:

Hey don’t hassle me about my lawn (or garden) watering. I’ve got my own well so I am neither impacting the municipal water supply nor exacerbating the water shortage.

Or perhaps, more bluntly,

F**k you, I’m using this water because I can and it’s not affecting your supply.

Whether or not their groundwater pumping is impacting Ashland Creek’s streamflow is irrelevant to me. I just view this as a very selfish attitude, one of ‘I’ve got mine, the rest of you folks can go suck an egg.’

When I lived in New Mexico I would frequently hear this attitude expressed as,

I’m not impacting the water supply. I have my own well.

Yes the well was a legal domestic well – there was no water system – and the person was not necessarily displaying a defiant attitude. But there was no thought as to how their well and their (perhaps) profligate use, along with the thousands of other domestic wells – all unmetered – might be contributing to the dire water situation.

And I’ll close with a wonderful quote from a New Mexican ‘gentleman farmer’ who was asked why he was still irrigating his gorgeous garden and not voluntarily reducing his use in the throes of a drought:

“Because I can.” 

TGIF! Weekly Water News Summary, 13 -19 September 2014

September 19, 2014 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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It turned out it was premature to display St. Andrew’s Cross (flag of Scotland) to celebrate Scotland leaving the United Kingdom. st.AndrewsThey will be retaining the Union Jack after all.

My mother would have been happy had the Scots decided to bail. Her maternal family originally hailed from the Highlands, Clan Campbell, via Ulster (Ulster Scots, aka Scots-Irish). They arrived in North Carolina in UJ1740.

Click here for the weekly water news summary.

The biggest reason I study climate change is because of the impact that it has on the people who don’t have the resources to adapt.” - Katharine Hayhoe, Director,Climate Science Center, Texas Tech University

TGIF! Weekly Water News Summary, 6 – 12 September 2014

September 12, 2014 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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The photo is a pressure break in the main water line, village of Las Palmas, Honduras. My colleagues and I checked it out on my recent trip to Honduras. Working just fine, and the dam is holding water!

One of our future projects could involve an eight kilometer main line with a 1,600 meter drop. Not sure about that drop, though. I think my friends are confusing feet and meters. At least I hope so….

Stay tuned!

Click here for the weekly water summary.

“Everything has been thought of before; the problem is to think of it again.” - Goethe

GWP Perspectives Paper: ‘The Links Between Land Use and Groundwater’

September 10, 2014 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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Is this awesome or what? From my friends at the Global Water Partnership: The Links Between Land Use and Groundwaterby Stephen Foster and Jan Cherlet.

Download GWP_Landuse_and_Groundwater

From the blurb:

This paper argues that a common understanding of groundwater–land andUntitledland–groundwater interaction is needed to facilitate cross-sector dialogue on governance needs and management approaches, targeted at sustaining water resources and enhancing land productivity.

Inaccessible and undrinkable resource? I don’t think so!


Click the graphic to enlarge it.

Enjoy – I know I did!

“Do not accustom yourself to use big words for little matters.” - Samuel Johnson

TGIF! Weekly Water News Summary, 30 August – 5 September 2014

September 5, 2014 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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Yes, I am back this week. Don’t want to read what I’ve been up to? Neither do I. Just click here, scroll down to the first red text you see and go from there. Jobs are at ‘Positions Open’.

After telling you that I would miss this week’s TGIF post because of a trip to HondurasLas_Palmas_Damit seems I will have to renege on that promise.

I did make it to Honduras and was up in the mountains checking out a dam we (Ann Campana Judge Foundation) built in Las Palmas. The leak is fixed and the reservoir, in the background (shadows) in this picture, is holding the water (about 25 cubic meters or 6500 gallons) just fine.  The two men in the foreground are standing on the dam, and the rectangular protrusion in front of them is the sediment trap/filter.

Bibiloteca_SignOn Tuesday we (friend Rolando López and I)  headed to Monte Vista to help dedicate a library and kindergarten we also helped build. Click here for a description of the events.

For the last few days we were supposed to be way out in the boondocks, in Mapulaca near the El Salvador border checking out another water project. But lack of a reliable 4×4 (‘cuatro por cuatro’) truck to tackle the terrain kept us safely in San Pedro Sula, the financial hub (c. 70% of the GDP goes through the SPS area) of Honduras and (allegedly) the most dangerous city in the world, in the country with the highest murder rate in the world.

But I’m safe here – seriously. I’ve made 25-30 trips down here since 2001 with nary a problem. If you do stupid things, bad things will happen – just like in other places. Honduras is a gorgeous country with wonderful people.

Click here to visit the week water news summary. Enjoy!

There are certain people who.benefit enormously from a lack of information and inefficiency – and those people have lawyers.’ - Peter Gleick, quoted in the Guardian.

Another timely report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS): Pesticide 6a00d8341bf80a53ef01a3fd3b90fc970b-200wi
Use and Water Quality: Are the Laws Complementary or in Conflict?
 by Claudia Copeland (August 2014).

Download CRS_Pesticide_Use_and_Water_Quality_Laws


This report provides background on the emerging conflict over interpretation and implementation of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA). For the more than 30 years since they were enacted, there had been little apparent conflict between them. But their relationship has recently been challenged in several arenas, including the federal courts and regulatory proceedings of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In this report, a brief discussion of the two laws is followed by a review of the major litigation of interest. EPA’s efforts to clarify its policy in this area are discussed, including a regulation issued in 2006 that was subsequently vacated by a federal court, as well as possible options for EPA and Congress to address the issues further.

FIFRA governs the labeling, distribution, sale, and use of pesticides, including insecticides and herbicides. Its objective is to protect human health and the environment from unreasonable adverse effects of pesticides. It establishes a nationally uniform labeling system requiring the registration of all pesticides sold in the United States, and requiring users to comply with the national label. The CWA creates a comprehensive regulatory scheme to control the discharge of pollutants into the nation’s waters; the discharge of pollutants without a permit violates the act.

Several federal court cases testing the relationship between FIFRA and the CWA have drawn attention since 2001. In two cases concerning pesticide applications by agriculture and natural resources managers, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals held that CWA permits are required for at least some discharges of FIFRA-regulated pesticides over, into, or near U.S. waters. It held in a third case that no permit was required for the specific pesticide in question. In 2010, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a CWA discharge permit for mosquito control activities was not required before April 2011.

Several of the rulings alarmed a range of stakeholders who fear that requiring CWA permits for pesticide application activities would present significant costs, operational difficulties, and delays. Pressed to clarify its long-standing principle that CWA permits are not required for using FIFRA-approved products, EPA in 2006 issued a rule to formalize that principle in regulations. Environmental activists strongly opposed EPA’s actions, arguing that FIFRA does not protect water quality from harmful pollutant discharges, as the CWA is intended to do. Other stakeholders, such as pesticide applicators, endorsed the rule. The rule was challenged, and in 2009 a federal court vacated the regulation. The federal government asked the court to stay the order vacating the exemption for two years, to provide time for working with states to develop a general permit for pesticide applications covered by the decision. The court denied the request for rehearing and granted the requested delay, which was extended until October 31, 2011, when EPA issued the permit. Under the final permit, pesticide applicators were covered automatically for discharges before January 12, 2012. However, despite the agency’s efforts to minimize regulatory burdens and cost, the permit is controversial.

Some believe that the controversy will only be resolved by congressional action to clarify the intersecting scope of the Clean Water Act and FIFRA. In the 113th Congress, the House has passed legislation intended to nullify the 2009 federal court ruling (H.R. 935), and other related bills also have been introduced (S. 175, and S. 802). Similar legislation was included in House farm bill legislation (H.R. 2642), but not in the enacted 2014 farm bill (P.L. 113-79).


As usual, thanks again to Jan Schoonmaker for sending this my way.

“A rising tide raises all yachts.” - Marcus J.  Borg, The Heart of Christianity, p. 141


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