TGIF! Weekly Water News Summary, 17 – 23 May 2014

May 23, 2014 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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PowellHere is a NASA picture of Lake Powell. It’s one thing to hear that the lake is about 42% of capacity (or 58% empty), but quite another to see it. Wow!

It is World Turtle Day! Celebrate our friends!

In the USA we celebrate the Memorial Day Weekend, the first big three- Memorial dayday weekend of the summer. Enjoy, travel safely, and remember why we celebrate Memorial Day.

I took this amazing photograph from Ken Reid’s FB page. It’s from the Minneapolis Star Tribune and was taken by amateur photographer Frank Glick at the Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis, MN. Here is the story.

Click here to access the weekly water news summary.

Enjoy!

“The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.” - Bertrand Russell

TGIF! Weekly Water News Summary, 10 – 16 May 2014

May 16, 2014 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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grandma An interesting fracking image: anti-fracking grandma from New Orleans.

Speaking of stories, discover the backstory of the ’0.03% drinkable and accessible water’ claim by The Nature Conservancy. So is that all there is? Nope!

Click here for the weekly water news!

Enjoy!

We live in a Newtonian world of Einsteinian physics ruled by Frankenstein logic.” - David Russell (thanks to Faruck Morcos

TGIF! Weekly Water News Summary, 3 – 9 May 2014

May 9, 2014 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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Curmudgeon alert: I spotted this graphic from WaterBudget on Twitter this morning. Yeah, you’ll have to click on it to enlarge; it’s just the first line  you’ll need to read.

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I doubt Canada has 7% of the world’s drinkable water. According to Environment Canada it does have about 7% of the world’s renewable freshwater, but that is not synonymous with drinkable water. There is a lot of drinkable water from nonrenewable sources.

C’mon guys – remember groundwater!

Enjoy the weekly water news – click here!

Water is the driver of nature” - Leonardo da Vinci (thanks to Emily Simmons)

Book Review: ‘The Emerald Mile’

May 7, 2014 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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Have you ever received a book you thought you’d dislike, only to discover that once you started reading it, you could scarcely put it down?

Such was my experience with Kevin Fedarko’s amazing The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon

Yes, it’s about my favorite river, the Colorado, and a breakneck (‘suicidal’9781439159859_p0_v5_s260x420might be a better word) trip by three men in a fragile wooden dory (named the Emerald Mile) trying to set a record during the height of the El Niño-fueled runoff during the spring and early summer of 1983. I recall that time – I was still working at the Desert Research Institute before moving to Atlanta. En route I took a detour to see Lake Powell in August 1983. It was still full – a far cry from what it is now.

Although I have rafted a few times on rivers not nearly as challenging as the Colorado I am hardly a rafting enthusiast. So when friend and colleague Todd Jarvis placed this book in my mailbox as a gift I flipped through it and thought, ’400 pages about a raft trip? Really!’ So there it sat on a corner of my office desk, quickly buried by assorted papers, for six weeks or so. Then, about to embark on a trip and looking for something other than a ‘WaterWonk book’ to read, I grabbed this and soon started my journey.

Wow! Although some liken the book to Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Stormmy analogy is like a John McPhee book on steroids – or better still, amphetamines.

Throughout the book, Fedarko provides graphic lessons on geology, fluvial geomorphology, open-channel hydraulics, dams, and related topics. His discussions of the river’s hydraulics are so spellbinding and graphic that they even conjured a problem involving Lava Rapids that I had given my graduate students 20 years ago. I doubt I could solve it now. Notes are meticulous, as are references. The index is excellent. The only factual error I noted was the few times he referred to Lake Powell’s maximum capacity of nine billion gallons. It’s actually closer to nine trillion gallons (roughly 27 MAF), a figure he does use once. No big deal – you’re more than forgiven, Kevin. Probably a typo anyway.

Fedarko is a great raconteur. We get the history of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. We’ve all heard about John Wesley Powell (boy, what a character!) but it was a young Spanish captain – Don García López de Cárdenas – who was the first white person to view the chasm in 1540. Fedarko masterfully cajoles us into joining Powell’s 1869 expedition and we’re glad to be going along – vicariously, thankfully.

We’re told of the construction of Hoover Dam, and its significance and importance to a Depression-wearied nation. We learn about the battles between environmentalists and development interests over other dams on the Colorado River. Fedarko then escorts us to the upstream end of the Grand Canyon and the massive Glen Canyon Dama structure that figures prominently in the book’s central theme.

A part-time river guide himself, Fedarko introduces us to the Grand Canyon river guide community – the men (mostly) and women who escort greenhorns downstream on breathtaking runs on the river that has both captured and captivated them. I was reminded of the ski bums I encountered in my younger days in the Lake Tahoe basin: ‘Live to ski. Ski to live’ except that it in the canyon the mantra was ‘Live to raft. Raft to live.’

The story gravitates to Martin Litton, who became infatuated with dories while recreating Powell’s 1869 expedition. Litton founded Grand Canyon Dories, and soon attracted a cadre of ‘true believers’ even though his wages were lower than those of the other companies, which used rubber rafts or pontoon boats. Litton was sort of a ‘Pied Piper’ when it came to dories and their virtues. Three people he attracted were Kenton ‘The Factor’ Grua, Steve ‘Wren’ Reynolds, and Rudi Petschek. Grua, by far the most intense and charismatic of the three, would lead the charge to set a record through the canyon in the Emerald Mile, accompanied by the other two.

What prompted the run for the record? Adrenalin for sure, but nature kicked in with the allure of the tremendous runoff produced by the snowfall during the legendary 1983 El Niño event. Lake Powellthe USA’s second-largest reservoir after Lake Mead, filled to the brim during the runoff season – so much so that jury-rigged plywood panels had to be installed so the lake would not overtop the dam.

But that overtopping was the least of the Bureau of Reclamation’s worries. Reclamation engineers were releasing torrents of water through Glen Canyon Dam’s emergency tunnels. But cavitation was eating through one of the tunnels, thus potentially triggering a catastropic event (a euphemism, for sure). Fedarko details the effort by a handful of Reclamation engineers to control the cavitation. His description was absoutely riveting and spot-on. You will be amazed when you learn what actually initiated the cavitation. Would you believe a small knob on the ceiling? Unbelievable! Oh, yeah, and then there is that 90-degree bend in the tunnel…   

With this hydraulic havoc as backdrop, three intrepid (crazy?) men set off in a flimsy wooden boat on the morning of 25 June 1983 to fly through the Canyon. They had no Park Service permit, but that was not going to thwart them. Fedarko’s skillful storytelling ensures we are in that puny dory (or dumped in the river) with them. It’s quite a ride.

You would be well advised to take that ride. You need not be a river guide or a WaterWonk to appreciate it. Upshot: read the book!

Can’t wait for Kevin Fedarko’s next offering.

Thanks, Todd. You know my reading tastes better than I.

“No matter how full the river, it still wants to grow.” - African proverb (from The Emerald Mile, p. 202)

TGIF! Weekly Water News Summary, 26 April 2014 – 2 May 2014

May 2, 2014 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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I am headed to Denver later today for the 10th Annual Groundwater Summit. I remember the very first one in San Antonio and the planning Screen%20Shot%202014-05-01%20at%201.58.20%20PM

and effort that went into creating a new event.

It’s amazing that so many have attended conferences that deal exclusively with a
resource that is ‘inaccessible’ and ‘undrinkable’! Go figure! [Yes, I am being sarcastic here.]

Enjoy! I will.

Click here for the weekly water news summary.

“The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men.” - George Eliot (thanks to Faruck Morcos

Position Open: JAWRA Editor-in-Chief

May 1, 2014 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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We here at AWRA are searching for a new editor-in-chief for JAWRA, our flagship journal. Current Editor-in-Chief Ken Lanfear has done an outstanding job and has the proverbial big shoes to fill.

Applications are due 31 July 2014 for a three-year term beginning 1 January 2015. The position carries an honorarium.

Download JAWRA-Search-Announcement

Go for it!

“Scientists have odious manners, except when you prop up their theories; then you can borrow money from them.” – Mark Twain

TGIF! Weekly Water News Summary, 19 – 25 April 2014

April 25, 2014 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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HGYeah, gotta love that ‘Honey Ginger’ (Hg) chicken at your local restaurant! What a kick!

Where is a chemist when you need her?

Sent around on Twitter by the Journal of the American Chemical Society - naturally!

Click here to visit the weekly water summary.

Enjoy!

“The problem in California is not that we don’t have enough reservoirs. It’s that we don’t have enough water in them. It wouldn’t help to build any more (reservoirs.)” - Dr. John Holdren, White House science adviser (thanks to Lloyd Carter)

CWNI had the honor of making a presentation on this topic for the Canadian Water Network, a remarkable organization headed by friend and colleague Bernadette Conant. 

Here is my Power Point:

Download Campana_CWN_23_April_2014

The PPT does not contain the substance of the presentation, nor the Q&A. For the actual presentation,view the video (about an hour).

The presentation was geared to students and young professionals (SYPs). I don’t think there was anyone over 40 viewing the event (we had polling capabilities).

I want to thank the CWN folks – especially the outgoing SYP guru, Scott Jasechko, who invited me. Scott is finishing his PhD at the University of New Mexico and will be joining the faculty of the University of Calgary’s Department of Geography in January 2015. Yichuan Wang, a graduate student in the University of Alberta’s Department of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Scienceswho will be assuming Scott’s position, did a faultless job today. Kudos also to the CWN Webmaster,Lyle Schneiderwho ensured all ran smoothly.

Thanks to all the participants. I had a blast!

“It does not matter how slowly you move as long as you do not buffer.” - Confucius

TGIF! Weekly Water News Summary, 12 – 18 April 2014

April 18, 2014 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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The Portland (OR) Water Bureau will drain one of its reservoirs of 38M gallons (almost 117 acre-feet) of water because a man was videotaped urinating in it. Hardly cause for concern, but it’s for PR.

City Commissioner Nick Fish, who oversees the PWB, said in The Oregonian:

“Politics had no impact on our decision in this case. But this is Mt. Tabor and the caution-do-not-drink-water-fish-crap-in-it-sign-posterreservoirs, and everything that happens up there is evaluated through a political prism. I know people are going to second guess. That’s their right.”

Imagine how many animals urinate, defecate and die in the same reservoir? You don’t want to know. But they are not caught on tape.

The water isn’t ‘wasted’ – it’ll ultimately go back into the river. But it is ‘lost’ to the PWB and is a needless expense.

Click here for the weekly water news summary.

Enjoy!

“In politics stupidity is not a handicap.” - Napoleon Bonaparte

A few days ago I posted my review of Mississippi River Tragedies: A Century of Unnatural Disasterby Christine A. Klein, the Chesterfield Smith Professor of Law at the University of Florida and Sandra B. Zellmerthe Robert B. Daugherty Professor of Law at the University of Nebraska. Below is a piece they have written about an issue on the Missouri River. Here is a PDF: Download Missouri_River_Takings_Blog_Final  

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Landowners flooded by the Missouri River in 2011 have sued the Corps of Engineers for a Fifth Amendment “taking” under the U.S. Constitution.  Their attorneys hope to rake in over $250 million in claims for their clients and at least $1 million in expenses and fees for themselves.  They’re likely to be disappointed.

Lawsuits seeking recovery of flood damages from the federal government almost always fail.  First, the United States is immune from suit for negligent construction or handling of flood control structures under the sovereign immunity shield of the 1928 Flood Control Act, as plaintiffs whose lives were destroyed when levees failed during Hurricane Katrina quickly discovered.  My co-author Christine Klein and I have called for a repeal of this provision in our article and book on Unnatural Disasters, but it hasn’t happened.

In hopes of avoiding the immunity problem, the Missouri River plaintiffs have brought a claim under the Fifth Amendment, which is not barred by the Flood Control Act.  However, this claim is just as unlikely to stick, for good reason.  As we document in our previous work, courts find that floodplain management constitutes a regulatory taking in only the rarest of cases, whether the impact to private property occurs through land use restrictions on construction or through flood control structures like dams and levees.  This is because the impact is neither a “permanent physical occupation” of the property by the government, nor is it an excessive regulation that deprives property of “all economically beneficial use” or has otherwise gone “too far” in adversely affecting reasonable investment-backed expectations of the floodplain owners (in the words of the U.S. Supreme Court). It is simply not reasonable to settle in the floodplain and expect that the property will never flood.

These plaintiffs are attempting to bring their claims within the purview of a 2012 Supreme Court case, Arkansas FGC v. U.S, where a landowner (the State Fish & Game Commission) prevailed on its claim that the Corps had physically taken a flowage easement over its land.  The case raised a unique set of facts and the decision is a remarkably narrow one, and it is completely inapposite to what happened on the Missouri River.  Here’s why.

In Arkansas, the Corps opted to depart from its Water Control Plan for the dam in question by releasing water over longer periods each year during a seven-year period, not because of any physical imperative (e.g., unusual amounts of rain or snow) but because farmers urged it to do so to keep their croplands dry for longer periods during harvests.  The deviation caused a dramatic increase in flooding in a wildlife management area owned by the State, causing widespread and permanent damage to its trees.  The flooding was significant enough, for long enough periods, to change the character of the area and to substantially interfere with the State’s ability to use its land.  The Corps had effectively taken title to the land without going through the appropriate processes for exercising the government’s power of eminent domain.

In stark contrast to the 2011 Missouri River flood, the Corps’ intentional flooding of Arkansas’s land was the direct and proximate cause of the foreseeable destruction of the State’s property.  The Corps deviated from its Arkansas Plan in order to benefit the farmers, when it knew (or should have known) that the deviation would inevitably destroy the State’s land.  The Corps created winners and losers, and the Supreme Court forced it to pay the loser.

On the Missouri, the 2011 flood made losers out of just about everyone.  The Corps’ flood control structures were taxed to their limits by unprecedented amounts of snowmelt and rain over a long period of time in the spring and summer of 2011.  In April, Rocky Mountain snowpack was 140% of normal; later in the summer, rainfall was three to six times normal in the upper Missouri River Basin. At Sioux City, Iowa (the demarcation between the upper and lower river), runoff measured 13.8 million acre feet (MAF), smashing the old 1952 record of 13.2 MAF.  The third wettest month ever documented on the Missouri River happened to be May 2011 (10.5 MAF) and the fifth wettest was July 2011 (10 MAF).  See National Weather Service, The Historic Missouri River Flood of 2011; Senate Report 112-075 - Energy and Water Development Appropriations Bill, 2012.  That water had to go somewhere, and once the dams were filled to capacity, it went downstream and into the floodplain, as rivers naturally do (especially the Missouri, which is widely known for its flood-prone tendencies).

The plaintiffs argue that the Corps has abandoned its flood control mission in favor of other priorities on the Missouri River.  Specifically, they claim that the Corps kept the reservoirs full in the spring to benefit recreation and endangered species, and that fuller reservoirs means less storage for flood waters. The factual record doesn’t back them up, and the law is more nuanced than they allege.  In truth, Congress directed the Corps to build the dams and manage the system for seven purposes in addition to flood control: navigation; hydropower; water quality; water supply; irrigation; recreation; and fish and wildlife.  Flood control and navigation may be toward the top of the list, but they are far from the only concerns that drive river management.  More to the point, none of the other purposes were prioritized at the expense of flood control in 2011.  The Missouri River system was operated in accordance with the Master River Manual in response to abnormal snowmelt and rainfall that just kept coming for months on end.  The operations were dictated by conditions, not by other priorities.  Sometimes, the river simply reclaims its floodplain, despite human efforts to hold it back.

The tired refrain that the government elevated the concerns of fish over people is a red herring. The real problem is that people wanted to settle in the floodplain, so the federal government undertook flood control, which prompted more people to move into harm’s way. It’s ironic that the landowners who cry “foul” today have received a bounty of flood control-related benefits from the government through the years.  No doubt the flood damage to their properties in 2011 would have been worse if the federal government hadn’t built dams and other structures on the Missouri River.  Consider the 1993 flood, which set the record for the highest water level in Kansas City, but resulted in much lower discharges (flooding) than pre-dam floods in the 1800s and early to mid-1900s.

Meanwhile, individuals and communities who chose to reside in the floodplain demanded additional protection through the construction of levees, dikes, and revetments on the river and its tributaries, along with subsidized flood and crop insurance.  Once they put themselves in harm’s way (aided and abetted by government), it’s only natural for sympathetic officials to provide federally funded disaster relief when the inevitable happens.  These are policy choices that the government and floodplain communities have made throughout the many years of floodplain occupation, and we can argue the pros and cons of these choices until we’re out of breath without ever reaching a consensus.  Don’t get us wrong—no one wants to see human suffering in the wake of a flood. But adding a constitutional takings claim to the list of government payouts demanded by property owners is a wholly unwarranted sort of “double take” from the government (and the taxpayers) (see Unnatural Disasters Chapter 10).  Instead, we should be talking about how to make people safer, how to make buildings more flood resilient, and about cases where it is more prudent to retreat from the floodplain and out of harm’s way.

CPR Scholars Sandra Zellmer, Professor of Law at the University of Nebraska, and Christine Klein, Professor of Law at the University of Florida, are the authors of Mississippi River Tragedies: A Century of Unnatural Disaster (NYU 2014).


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