Category Archives: Water Resources and Wetlands

Clinch

Akiko Busch suggests that we learn the names of some of our rivers and other natural features.

The name of the Brazos River in Texas was derived from the Spanish Rio de los Brazos de Dios, meaning the “River of the Arms of God” — what the waterway appeared to be to early settlers in that parched part of the country.

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Going beyond

Ed Yong has put together an excellent background piece about the outbreak of Proliferative Kidney Disease that has killed whitefish and threatens trout species. The fish kills led Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) to shut down of 183 miles of the Yellowstone River. The coverage elsewhere that I saw simply repeated the FWP statement that a “microscopic parasite” was responsible and left it at that. But Yong did the reading, and used it to describe the peculiar morphology and life cycle of the infectious parasite Tetracapsuloides bryosalmonae, a jellyfish relative and one of the myxozoans.

Myxozoans have performed a crazy evolutionary double-back:

In this free-swimming form, they look very jellyfish-like, with identifiable tentacles, mouths, and guts. Perhaps the ancestors of myxozoans went through a similar phase in their evolutionary history, when they were already devoted parasites, but still kept some obvious traces of their cnidarian heritage.

As they evolved further down the parasitic path, they lost these ancestral physical features. They did away with many genes too. “They have the smallest known animal genomes,” says [Paulyn] Cartwright [at the University of Kansas], “and they lack some of the genes that we consider hallmarks of animal development.” For example, the all-important Hox genes, which direct the construction of animal bodies… are simply missing in myxozoans.

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Baltimore adventure

An afternoon in Baltimore, visiting an old friend, a new friend, and friends through Leta’s G&S qwert.

here comes the GreenwtfTravel by water taxi, light rail, Metro, and MARC. Hey, Metro, lose the cheesy music piped into the underground stations. And why are American ticket vending machines such a U/X train wreck?

fore viewaft viewMy newly-met friend is the Inner Harbor Water Wheel, views fore and aft. The wheel is positioned at the channelized mouth of Jones Falls, where it empties into the harbor. Floating trash and debris, man-caused and otherwise, is steered into the maw of the machine by the booms; trash is lifted and deposited into a dumpster. River currents, augmented by solar panels, power the gizmo. The googly eyes? Because Baltimore.

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Unplugged

Drain Lake Powell? Abrahm Lustgarten writes that it could happen, and indeed be for the best.

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First come, first served

Abrahm Lustgarten and Naveena Sadasivam, in colloboration with ProPublica, have written a very good series about the perverse incentives and magical thinking that infuse water policy and management in the Colorado River watershed: Part 1|Part 2|Part 3|Part 4.

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Edward and Dave would approve

Drain Lake Powell! That’s one of the provocative suggestions by former head of the Bureau of Reclamation Dan Beard. He makes his case on an episode of Colorado Matters.

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Demonstration

State-of-the-art stormwater management—in Los Angeles? Yes, indeedy: Jacques Leslie explains.

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Experimental Lakes Area

I submitted my class report on the Experimental Lakes Area of western Ontario for grading. This was the last paper that I needed to write for my certificate!

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Bocce balls

Brian Hayes meets Stanley Crawford and gets to know the New Mexico acequia system.

The water in an irrigation ditch is a shared resource, like the unfenced common pastures that so famously became so tragic in early-modern England. In fact, the irrigation ditch is even more vulnerable to selfish exploitation than a pasture that’s equally available to all: Those on the upper reaches of the ditch have it within their power to divert all the flow into their own fields, depriving those below. Yet they choose not to do so. What explains their forbearance?

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BYOB

drive right upThe streetscape in south Texas is dotted with coin-operated water vending machines, like this example from Watermill Express in a convenience store parking lot on U.S. 281 in Pharr. What a great idea! A simple way to cut down on the amount plastic that goes into water bottles!

features and benefitsNow, it’s probably a litle naive for me to be so enthusiastic about a business model that perhaps depends on the unreliable quality and quantity of municipal water supplies in this part of the world. (I found the tap water potable, but some profess to dislike it, seeing as how the lower valley is downstream of several large states.) And providing drinking water for farm laborers working in the hot sun isn’t the same sort of problem as hydrating your kid’s soccer team.

Nevertheless, I wish companies like this well, and I hope that they can expand northward.

only takes a quarterI dropped a quarter in the slot, placed my festival-issue water bottle under the spout, and pressed the button. The bottle holds much less than a gallon, so some of my purchase was wasted. The water isn’t chilled, but it’s wet and tasty.

I also saw drive-up ice dispensers around town. And the drive-through espresso huts that you see in the Atlantic Ocean tourist communities are replaced here by Hawaiian ice kiosks.

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Reclamation in a conflict zone

Via Utne Reader, Samiha Shafy profiles Azzam Alwash, co-founder and director of Nature Iraq, that country’s only environmental organization. The organization’s focus is reclaiming the wetlands at the mouth of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, which were drained and poisoned during Saddam Hussein’s regime for political purposes.

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Drop by drop

Good special report from The Economist on the state of the world’s fresh water demand and supply. Not surprisingly, the report stresses the point that water is woefully underpriced:

[Chris] Perry, the irrigation economist, says water is typically priced at 10-50% of the costs of operating and maintaining the system, and that in turn is only 10-50% of what water is worth in terms of agricultural productivity. So to bring supply and demand into equilibrium the price would have to rise by 4-100 times.

Unfortunately, water access and pricing is a hot, hot political issue; the report concludes that a mixture of regulation, property rights, pricing, and small-community management (a farmers’ co-op in India’s Andhra Pradesh state is visited) may be the only way to go. One thinks of the acequias of the American Southwest as described by Stanley Crawford in The River in Winter and Mayordomo.

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A comeback

Stephen Syphax gave an interesting presentation to the Friends of Dyke Marsh on the wetlands restoration work at Anacostia Park, the first and perhaps most successful being 1993’s 32-acre (13 ha) Kenilworth Marsh project. Syphax is Chief of the Resource Management Division for NPS’s National Capital Parks-East.

Early in the previous century, the tidal lagoons along the slow-moving Anacostia River were viewed as a problem to be rectified: the McMillan Plan captioned an image of the area as “malarial flats to be excavated.” So, wetlands that were home to abundant stands of wild rice (Zizania palustris) were displaced and the river straightened by the Army Corps of Engineers to make way for a golf course, landfill, power plant, and parking lots for RFK Stadium.

Restoration work began in 1991 with pilot-project containments, with the objective of identifying the optimal ground elevation (about 2 meters) for encouraging emergent vegetation. Syphax suggests that too much height promotes the growth of Phragmites australis. Hydraulic dredging (to minimize the suspension of potentially toxic sediments) began shortly thereafter—what Syphax called the arrival of “the big yellow machines.” Novel “water tubes” (think of Godzilla’s garden hose stretched across the marsh) were used as a temporary, low-impact means of containment of dredged-up material as it settled and consolidated. Then came planting of about fifteen species of native plants, 350,000 individuals in all, along with the arrival of another dozen volunteer species—including the invasive Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria). In retrospect, Syphax says it wasn’t necessary to plant as many different species as they did. Once the plants were established, another machine cut tidal guts into the reclaimed wetland.

A happy result of the restoration work was the sighting of Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris) in 1996. And the jewel of the rehab is the reappearance of American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea), which opens its pale yellow blooms over the water each July.

While this phase of the restoration work was quite successful, more recent work in the Kingman Lake area has been hampered by resident populations of Canada Goose (Branta canadensis). The geese saunter over from Langston Golf Course and treat the newly-planted veg as a “salad bar,” in Syphax’s apt phrasing.

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Some links: 40

Bookmarked for future reference: a new multipart multimedia series from the New York Times about pollution in the country’s waters.

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No mistake

Forty years after an attention-grabbing fire, Christopher Maag gives a progress report on the cleanup of the Cuyahoga River. We’re getting there, after $3.5 billion spent to reduce pollution, $5 billion on upgrades to the wastewater system, along with dam removals and other restoration projects.

“This didn’t happen because a bunch of wild-haired hippies protested down the street,” [John] Perrecone [manager for Great Lakes programs at the Environmental Protection Agency] said. “This happened because a lot of citizens up and down the watershed worked hard for 40 years to improve the river.”

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