USGS experts study Sierra groundwater

Experts from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) held a public meeting on January 11, 2010 to discuss the Sierra groundwater supplies. This meeting was held in the public both to incorporate feedback as well as educate the public about their local groundwater.
The main topic of this meeting was the monitoring of the local groundwater quality. USGS scientists and hydrologists are studying the groundwater to track its movement as well as any possible contaminants. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories will also partake in this study.
The study is expected to last 10 years, and includes information from the Sierra groundwater as well as other locations throughout California. This information is made possible by various agencies as well as private well owners.
According to information made available by the USGS, the study has shown that the water is of good quality. Coming from high in the Sierra Mountains, the water does not show signs of having any major pollutants such as pesticides or fertilizers. Also, the water is thought to be of high quality by being composed of water that is different ages. The age of water is determined by analyzing different trace materials that decay over time.
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Brian O’Neill

In spite of recent rains, reservoirs are still in trouble

California reservoirs are still suffering from the drought in spite of the recent rains. Many reservoirs are still significantly below their historical levels for the same time of year. Contrary to what some people may believe, it takes significantly more rain than what fell in the past few days.
One of the most crucial factors that affect the amount of water that enters reservoirs is where the rain is falling. For example, rain or snow that falls on the tops of hills will either seep into the ground or run down creeks that progressively get larger, and then enter our reservoirs. This is the most beneficial rain and snowfall because it directly enters our reservoirs and helps to raise the water level.
Rainfall, however, that falls into low-lying cities is often seen as a burden. A significant portion of water that falls on cities lands on non-permeable surfaces such as roofing on buildings, parking lots, and city streets. This water is then diverted into sewage drains where it flows through sewage treatment plants and then typically into the ocean. The small portion of water that falls on permeable landscaping such as grass or dirt is often able to soak into the ground and replenish our underground aquifers. While this is undoubtedly beneficial, the amount of water that seeps in is nowhere near the amount of water that is drawn out for agricultural, commercial, residential, or industrial uses.
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Brian O’Neill

Can rice really prevent future droughts?

Rice, the world’s most consumed crop, has immense power to either increase or decrease the world’s water use. By increasing the efficiency of such widely-grown crops, immense amounts of water will be saved.
Jerome Bernier, a student at the University of Alberta has discovered a potential method of increasing the efficiency of rice. If successful, certain cultivars of rice could become up to twice as productive. This could help in two ways: by increasing the amount of rice produced per acre, or by reducing the amount of water used to produce the same amount of rice.
By increasing the amount of rice produced per acre, farmers could potentially grow twice as much rice while using their current amount of water. This has the possibility of creating financial and economic sustainability for farmers by being able to sell substantially more crops.
By reducing the amount of water used to produce the same amount of rice, our global water needs could be significantly decreased. In theory, rice farmers could consume one half as much water as current consumption, and produce the same amount of rice. By doing so, the water would be available to fill underground aquifers and be consumed for other uses such as residential, commercial, industrial, or institutional.
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Brian O’Neill

Texas residents struggle to save pipes and water

Over the past week, many Texas residents have struggled to keep their pipes from freezing. Central Texas farmers have been fortunate enough to avoid the freeze in most places, but some were not so fortunate. There were over 1,000 phone calls placed to the Austin Fire Department, and about 600 phone calls to the Austin Water Utility. Many workers were forced to work 12-hour shifts over the weekend to repair the broken water lines.
Although many areas throughout the United States experience below-freezing temperatures, there are many solutions to prevent pipes from bursting. For example, homeowners or maintenance personnel can easily wrap pipe with pipe insulation, or heat tape to prevent freezing.
Pipe insulation is one of the easiest and most cost-effective methods of preventing pipes from freezing. This solution works for both indoor as well as outdoor plumbing. Since the insulation can be left on year-round, it requires almost no maintenance once installed. The only recommended maintenance is to inspect the insulation to make sure it has not been pulled off of the pipes. This can be found at almost any hardware store. Here is an example:
Other methods such as wrapping pipe with heat tape are also very effective. Heat tape, however, requires a small electrical current to heat and thus can cause problems if wet. This can also cause liability risks, so it should only be installed by qualified electricians. This should only be installed if it complies with all codes in your area. Here is an example of heat tape:
Brian O’Neill

Hetch Hetchy dam might be in the hands of voters in late 2010

Hetch Hetchy dam, one of the main water sources for San Francisco, may be put on the ballot later this year. Environmentalist group, Restore Hetch Hetchy has been fighting to have the removal of Hetch Hetchy put on a ballot for many years.
Approved by voters in 1910, the $45 million bond to construct a water system along the Tuolomne River. This system provides water for most residents of San Francisco, as well as some in surrounding cities. Not only does the Hetch Hetchy dam provide water for thousands, but it also provides a source of electricity for Modesto and Turlock.
Hetch Hetchy Valley was said to be the second Yosemite-a grassy valley with meandering rivers, and sloped hills. After the 21-year construction project was completed, the dam was a total of 312 feet tall. The reservoir stores about 300,000 to 350,000 acre-feet of water, and provides approximately 5% of San Francisco’s water supply. By removing Hetch Hetchy, San Francisco would have the ability to restore an entire ecosystem.
State officials expect the cost of deconstructing the reservoir to come to $10 billion. However, environmental groups estimate that the deconstruction would cost anywhere from $1 billion to $3 billion.
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Brian O’Neill

Deal signed to proceed with California’s largest dam removal

Government Officials, as well as representatives from a Monterey water purveyor signed documents to proceed with the removal of the San Clemente Dam. This project, if carried out, would be the largest dam removal in the state of California. This decision is a monumental step towards the survival of the steelhead trout. Constructed in 1921, the San Clemente Dam provided storage for water used to irrigate fields as well as drinking water.
In 1991, it was declared to be structurally unsafe by State dam inspectors. The dam was said to be at risk of collapsing in the event of a powerful earthquake. The cost to renovate the dam would be approximately $50 million, whereas the cost to remove the dam would come to about $84 million. Also, the dam is filled with about 90% silt, rendering it nearly useless.
Dam owners eventually decided to remove the dam. In order to prevent the silt from flowing downstream and causing more environmental damage, scientists and engineers decided to re-route the river around the dam. The silt will then be held in place by large boulders. This project, when completed, should provide the endangered steelhead trout with a route to swim upstream and breed. The involved scientists hope that within a few years of completion in 2013, the steelhead trout populations will bounce back up to healthy levels.
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Brian O’Neill

Central Valley farmers suck the life out of our planet

NASA satellites show exactly how much water farmers in California’s Central Valley are using. These farmers must divert water from natural sources such as riparian ecosystems, or drain underground aquifers to irrigate their crops. This is because the farmers choose to grow high water-use crops such as asparagus, soy beans, apricots, almonds, cotton, tomatoes, and grapes. As a result of this, the farmers are forced to constantly look for more sources of water.
By implementing “Smart Farming” practices, farmers in the Central Valley could potentially reduce irrigation water use by a significant portion. For example, orange trees need up to 200 gallons of water per week during summer. Tomatoes, on the other hand, require about 50 gallons of water per week. Grapes and berries require approximately one quarter as much water as tomatoes.
If farmers implement smart farming techniques, than they could save up to 5.25 million acre-feet per year. This would drastically lessen the effects of California’s drought. To put this into perspective, the average American uses about 150 gallons per day. This is equal to about one half to one acre-foot per year of water. If the farmers in the Central Valley implemented smart farming techniques, they could save enough water for Los Angeles for almost one and a half years.
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Brian O’Neill