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water management

  • Muddy Waters: Climate Change Could Lead to Murkier Lakes

    An assessment of over 5000 lakes in Wisconsin revealed that nearly 25% of them have gotten more murky over the last twenty years. The study also indicates that things could get worse as a result of increased precipitation due to climate change.

    The study, which was conducted by scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in collaboration with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, also suggests measures that can be taken to improve water quality, such as increasing the riparian buffer zone by restricting agriculture on land immediately bordering Wisconsin's rivers and lakes, which would limit nutrient runoff and thus improve the clarity of the water.

    "In the face of increasing precipitation, this analysis provides empirical support for the fact that adapting our landscape is going to be important into the future," says co-author Monica Turner, a UW-Madison professor of zoology.

    The authors suggest farming should be limited to within 10% of the riparian buffer zone surrounding lakes and rivers or streams that flow into those lakes. Leaving natural vegetation on the banks of rivers and lakes would reduce nutrient and sediment runoff during heavy rains, and would also benefit farmers who often suffer extensive damages to crops when rivers rise.


    While the study shows that water clarity has remained unchanged for most of the lakes studied, with 6% actually showing an improvement in water clarity, the number of lakes where water clarity is getting worse is concerning, and indicates that preventative action needs to be taken to maintain water quality.

    "If we want to maintain or improve water clarity, we need to think about trends in precipitation," says lead author Kevin Rose, formerly a postdoctoral researcher at UW-Madison and now an assistant professor of freshwater ecology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.

    The studies findings, which were recently published in the scientific journal Ecological Applications, shows that water clarity in lakes that generally have clear water deteriorates during wetter years. Lakes with good water clarity tend to be more vulnerable to the torrent of nutrients and debris that flows in after heavy rainfall, which can result in the water turning murky or brown due to the increased sediment and debris, or even green due to an increase in algal growth fueled by excessive nutrients.

    According to Turner, the study's results provide concrete evidence of what computer models predict, reflecting that water clarity in Wisconsin Lakes could decline as precipitation increases in the future unless measures are taken to improve landscape management, particularly in riparian buffer zones.

    The study highlights the need to look ahead so that we can anticipate how changes to the landscape and climate may affect our lakes, Turner explains, which will in turn allow us to implement measures to protect both Wisconsin's lakes and farmers.

    "It absolutely provides evidence for the importance of continuing to look for solutions to sustain the economy of Wisconsin without sacrificing the quality of our water," she says.

    Journal Reference

    Kevin C Rose, Steven R. Greb, Matthew Diebel, Monica G. Turner. Annual precipitation regulates spatial and temporal drivers of lake water clarity. Ecological Applications, 2016; DOI: 10.1002/eap.1471

  • Using Sound to Echolocate Underground Water Leaks

    Researchers from Concordia University have developed a method of locating underground in distribution networks with a 99.5% accuracy.

    Water scarcity is a worldwide problem that will challenge 33% of the global population by 2025. This water crisis can be averted if one of the main culprits — leaks — can be addressed. It is estimated that between 20-30% of water leaving water treatment plants is lost as a result of water leakage, which can be resolved if the problem is addressed and fixed.

    water-pipe-880975_960_720 (1)

    But first we have to find the leaks, which can be difficult to detect when pipes are buried underground. When repair work is undertaken, this needs to be done as precisely as possible, to not only limit the cost involved with excavation work and resurfacing, but also to limit disruptions to traffic, commuter frustration, and loss of income due to disruptions to local trade and industry.

    Furthermore, leaking pipes not only waste valuable water; damaged water pipes allow pollutants to enter the water flowing through them via the holes in the pipelines, posing a drinking water hazard and health risk to consumers.

    Thankfully, scientists from Concordia University, Montreal, have developed an innovative tool — known as a noise logger — to address this problem. They recently conducted a study to test the effectiveness of the tool, traveling to Doha in the water scarce nation of Qatar to apply the noise logger in detecting water leaks within Qatar University's water network.
    Qatar not only has one of the lowest rainfall rates globally, but also among the highest evaporation rates globally. Consequently, when rain does fall it quickly evaporates back into the atmosphere in the form of water vapor.

    According to co-author, Tarek Zayed, a professor in the Department of Building, Civil and Environmental Engineering at Concordia University: "Qatar is currently facing significant challenges regarding its water supply. Its water distribution network currently suffers from 30-35% water loss due to leakage."

    The results of the study, which where recently published in the Journal of Infrustructure, show that the noise logger is not only effective at detecting leaks, but can do so with fine accuracy before any major earthworks are required.

    "This approach can reduce the duration of a leak, as well as the cost and time involved in locating the site in need of repair." " explains Zayed

    To test their theory, the researchers installed noise loggers on Qatar University's water mains network to record sounds generated by water leaks over a 2-hour period. They then scrutinized the sound readings, comparing noise level and spread. The researchers deemed a leak investigation necessary when a consistent sound anomaly was detected.

    After monitoring Qatar University's water mains for several weeks they collected sound readings from 140 points across the water network. They then used mathematical model simulations to pin-point the exact location of where water leaks were occurring. After investigating the locations of the leaks, Qatar University's facilities management reported that the researchers had detected the leaks with 99.5% accuracy.

    The researchers now plan to conduct surveys of leak data from real-life municipal water networks where noise loggers are used in an effort to develop tailor-made leak location prediction models.

    Journal Reference
    El-Abbasy, M., Mosleh, F., Senouci, A., Zayed, T., and Al-Derham, H. (2016). "Locating Leaks in Water Mains Using Noise Loggers." J. Infrastruct. Syst. , 10.1061/(ASCE)IS.1943-555X.0000305 , 04016012.

  • Watershed Biogeochemistry is Influenced by Stormy Weather

    A new study led by researchers from Yale University suggests that severe storm events cause excessive amounts of organic matter to circumvent headwater systems, resulting in this material being pushed downstream where it flows into larger rivers, inland basins and coastal waters, having profound effects on water quality throughout the watershed.

    The study, which was recently published in the scientific journal Ecology, has found that this phenomenon not only affects water quality, but also the ecology and chemical processes that take place within these ecosystems. Dissolved organic material — which consists of a mixture of various compounds that leach into freshwater systems that gives streams and rivers their color — is also a source of nutrients and contaminants, and it has a large influence on light penetration into the water and the release of carbon dioxide from the water, which consequently affects abundance of phytoplankton — primary producers at the bottom of aquatic food chains that are directly and indirectly a key food source for a wide range of organisms.


    Until now, scientists have believed that organic matter is naturally processed in the upper stretches close to its origins, broken down by freshwater organisms dwelling in these headwaters into new compounds, which are then carried downstream and processed by organisms living further downstream, with a similar process occurring right throughout the freshwater system — a process that scientists refer to as the "River Continuum Concept".

    However, this new study highlights the fact that this process doesn't take heavy storm events into account, which send "pulses" of organic material into waterways. Not only are large amounts of debris pushed downstream during these events, because the flow rate is much faster during heavy storm events, they are pushed beyond the headwaters before the above reactions have had time to take place — a theory referred to as the "pulse-shunt concept."

    "We predict that a lot of this organic matter is actually shunted past the small streams and the reactions occur in the larger rivers or even in the coastal ocean," said lead author, Peter Raymond, a professor of ecosystem ecology at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). "We also offer a new conceptual theory for watershed biogeochemistry that demonstrates this through first principles and is transferable to other watersheds and other nutrients."

    Previous studies estimated that around 60% of organic matter originating from terrestrial sources occurs over 15 days, including days where heavy rainfall or snow melt occurred.
    According to Raymond, even though heavy weather occurs infrequently, more organic matter is transported from the landscape during heavy storm events than in smaller events, as the concentration of the material increases in relation to the size of the event. However, he points out that the 'shunt', or flow rate, during these more severe events results in more material flowing downstream as there is insufficient time for it to be processed by organisms further upstream. As a result, we see a "double additive effect" where more of this organic material is exported to coastal waters," explains Raymond.

    According to the authors, these shifts in the transportation of dissolved organic matter could potentially affect water clarity, dissolved oxygen concentrations, and could also be a source of mercury to inland freshwater systems.

    This clearly has implications for drinking water quality too. While turbidity and dissolved solids can affect the appearance of drinking water, making it unpleasant to drink, the suspended organic matter can also harbor contaminants such as mercury, making it unsafe to drink.

    Journal Reference

    PA Raymond, JE Saiers & WV Sobczak. Hydrological and biogeochemical controls on watershed dissolved organic matter transport: pulse-shunt concept. Ecology. Vol 97(1). Jan 2016; DOI: 10.1890/14-1684

  • Rethinking Watershed Management

    A recently published analysis of how land cover and climate change will affect watersheds across the United States, provides options for the management of runoff, storm water and floods that can be implemented by decision-makers to manage water quality.

    The study, which was recently published in the Journal of Geophysical Research Biogeosciences, was conducted by scientists from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who hope that the models and simulations produced will provide managers with practical ways to encourage land developers to implement water quality and conservation measures and to incorporate green infrastructure into their projects.


    Using data collected from satellite images, field stations, temperature gauges, stream gauges and water flow observations across the United States, the study connects the dots between land use and climate (notably temperature and rainfall/precipitation) to runoff and flooding within a watershed drainage system at a much larger scale than ever before.

    According to co-author, Timothy Randhir, of the Department of Environmental Conservation at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, this new information will give us a clearer understanding of the mechanisms and runoff processes in large watersheds.

    “We also want to highlight the importance of natural systems such as forest cover and open space when a town is considering new parking lots or shopping centers, for example. You can't just take away such ecosystem services and expect everything to be OK,” said Randhir. “All towns now have a big problem dealing with storm water, and with climate change it's going to get worse. In the past, the problems just flowed away to become some other town's problem, but that isn't going to work anymore.”

    Randhir hopes that this will encourage a new approach to the way managers manage water resources, moving away from the current reactive approach, where managers deal with stormwater and runoff issues after they have become problematic, to a more active approach where they take preventative measures before problems arise.

    “There seems to be a better understanding now that water flowing away from you doesn't just disappear, it affects someone else, and a problem in the system above you will affect you,” said Randhir. “This kind of systems thinking has to take over, and cooperation has to be used more often.”

    The report suggests recommendations on how to utilize tools such as improving infiltration or urban greening as mitigation measures to reduce flooding. According to Randhir, by combining green infrastructure with best management practices watersheds can made more resilient. It is in a town or city’s own best interests to encourage these measures by offering incentives to developers who install pervious surfaces that promote rainwater infiltration rather than impervious concrete that promote stormwater runoff; or water retention features such as drainage basins or rain gardens that capture runoff that is contaminated with heavy metals, grease and oil washed off road surfaces as well as sediments from soil surfaces.

    Land managers can also introduce incentives to farmers and private landowners to encourage them to take measures to prevent runoff on their properties. Randhir hopes that town and city managers make use of this new information to initiate changes to their land use practices. By doing so, flooding will be reduced, and water quality will improve for users downstream.

    Journal Reference

    Paul Ekness, Timothy O. Randhir. Effect of climate and land cover changes on watershed runoff: A multivariate assessment for storm water management. Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences, 2015; DOI: 10.1002/2015JG002981

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  • Becoming Water Wise with a Smart Water Meter

    Smart energy meters and smart power grids have been implemented to enable us to better manage our energy consumption and conserve energy. Technology is now being developed that will enable us to better manage our water consumption by converting our water supply network to a smart water grid that will allow us to conserve our precious water resources.

    Smart Water Meter

    While conventional water meters are typically only read once every couple of months, a smart water meter allows you to connect to your water utility, providing real-time data on your household's water consumption. Like a smart energy meter, this will allow you to better understand your water consumption patterns and aid in determining where you can make reductions and save on costs.


    Smart Water Grid

    By rolling out a system of smart management technology across the water network, including at water suppliers, water treatment facilities, and water distribution networks to effectively form a smart water grid, huge advances in water management and water conservation can be achieved.

    Saving Water with Smart Water Meters

    Smart water meters offer many benefits, including:

    • Fast, efficient reading of water meters  – utility staff can read water meters electronically, which will greatly simplify the water meter reading process.
    • Allow swift detection of leaks or theft.
    • Allow consumers to monitor their water use remotely.
    • Allow consumers to get real-time pricing data to take advantage of cheaper rates during off-peak periods.
    • Allow consumers to wisely manage their water consumption to enable them to make changes that can contribute towards water conservation.

    Smart Water Meters Prevent Money Going Down the Drain

    A recent study conducted by researchers from Griffith University's Smart Water Research Facility shows that using 'smart' water meters to identify water leaks in and around the home can produce substantial cost savings for consumers.

    According to Project Leader, Associate Professor Rodney Stewart, the benefits extend beyond the financial savings and include wider environmental and economic benefits too. “Reducing the amount of water lost through leaks has further implications for both energy consumption and treatment costs,” says Stewart.

    The study, which was recently published in the Journal of Cleaner Production, was conducted in and around Hervey Bay in Queensland, Australia, where smart water meters were installed in 22,000 homes. By monitoring the water consumption of these households with the smart meter system, 4% of homes being monitored were identified as having a suspected water leak, with the customers being alerted. Of the customers contacted, 46% investigated the issue further, confirming that a leak was detected and repaired. In 70% of those cases the cost of repairing the leaks amounted to less than  AUD$200 and in 50% of cases the repairs cost less than AUD$100. However, the overall result showed that water leakage was reduced by up to 91% in those households, which would amount to significant cost savings over time.

    While the financial benefits are obvious, consumers surveyed suggested they were motivated by environmental issues and the need to conserve water rather than by the financial benefits afforded by repairing the leaks.

    “Major urban centers across the globe will experience significant increases in demand for water as populations continue to grow,” Associate Professor Stewart said. “Questions around how much water is lost post-meter in households and what measures can be used to reduce those losses are vitally important for improving water management. This study confirmed that smart metering provides water utilities with a powerful tool to rapidly identify and address significant volumes of post-meter leakage. These findings will be of immense value to urban water managers attempting to reduce water demand or improve system efficiency.”

    Journal Reference
    Britton, T.C., Stewart, R.A.,& O'Halloran, K.R. (2013) Smart metering: enabler for rapid and effective post meter leakage identification and water loss management. Journal of Cleaner Production. 54: 166-176. DOI.10.1016/j.jclepro.2013.05.018.

  • Climate Change Predictions Would Pose a Water Scarcity Risk to More than 600 Million People

    According to a study published recently in the journal Environmental Research Letters, climate change predictions, which are anticipated to set mean global temperature increase at around 3.5 degrees Celsius higher than pre-industrial temperatures, will pose a risk of new water scarcity or aggravate existing water scarcity issues for 668 million people around the world. The study reveals that the number of people living in water-scarce river basins will increase by 11% from the number in 2000, and that those that are already residing in water-scarce regions, the effects on water scarcity will be aggravated further.


    Results from the research show that populations who will experience the most drastic changes and be most affected include those living in Southwest US, Southern Europe, Middle East and North Africa. The study further illustrates that should global mean temperatures increase by the internationally agreed target of  2°C, 486 million people (8% of the global population) will face new or aggravated water scarcity, particularly in North East Africa and the Middle East regions.

    “Our global assessments suggest that many regions will have less water available per person”, explains lead author, Dr Dieter Gerten, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “Even if the increase is restricted to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, many regions will have to adapt their water management and demand to a lower supply, especially since the population is expected to grow significantly in many of these regions.”


    “The unequal spatial pattern of exposure to climate change impacts sheds interesting light on the responsibility of high-emission countries and could have a bearing on both mitigation and adaption burden sharing”, said Dr Gerten.

    Declining precipitation is the primary driver behind new or aggravated water scarcity, but this will be further exacerbated by higher temperatures which will result in increased evapotranspiration of water, and consequently, reduced water resources.

    As the global population is anticipated to increase, so too will the demand for water, putting even greater pressure on water resources and the availability of these resources in vulnerable regions.

    The research team assessed the impact of a variety of different global warming scenarios, by combining existing simulations from nineteen climate change models with eight different global warming levels ranging from a 1.5°C to a 5°C increase above pre-industrial temperatures. Overall, 152 different climate change scenarios were analyzed.

    In addition to water scarcity, the scientists also examined the impact that future climate change would  have on terrestrial ecosystems around the world, in an effort to assess which regions will be most affected by radical ecosystem changes, and whether any of the areas most likely to be affected are biodiversity hotspots or rich in endemic species.

    According to Dr Gerten: “At a global warming of 2°C, notable ecosystem restructuring is likely for regions such as the tundra and some semi-arid regions. At global warming levels beyond 3°C, the area affected by significant ecosystem transformation would significantly increase and encroach into biodiversity-rich regions. Beyond a mean global warming of 4°C, we show with high confidence that biodiversity hotspots such as parts of the Amazon will be affected.”

    Journal Reference

    Dieter Gerten, Wolfgang Lucht, Sebastian Ostberg, Jens Heinke, Martin Kowarsch, Holger Kreft, Zbigniew W Kundzewicz, Johann Rastgooy, Rachel Warren, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber. Asynchronous exposure to global warming: freshwater resources and terrestrial ecosystems. Environmental Research Letters, 2013; 8 (3): 034032 DOI: 10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/034032

  • Study Finds Coastal Groundwater More Vulnerable to Water Draw-offs than Climate Change

    Climate change has the potential to impact humans in a variety of ways, but the impact on water availability – both for irrigation and drinking water – is without doubt one of the biggest concerns. Similarly, sea level rise is an important factor in coastal areas, not only because it poses a risk of inundation to low-lying areas, but it also poses a threat of saltwater intrusion into underground aquifers.

    However, according to a recent study published online in Nature Climate Change by a team of Canadian geoscientists, coastal groundwater sources used to supply drinking water are facing a greater threat from human activity than from climate change.


    Grant Ferguson from the Department of Civil and Geological Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan University and Tom Gleeson, a geoscientist from the Civil Engineering department at McGrill University analyzed data collected from more than 1400 coastal aquifers. They found that the majority of coastal aquifers are not affected by rising sea levels – the exception being aquifers situated in flat coastal plains that can easily be inundated by rising sea water, however, these are rare in the US.

    What they found more of a concern, is water extraction from coastal aquifers for irrigation, domestic use, and for drinking water, as this appears to have a greater impact on these aquifers.

    “The bulk of the research in recent years has focused on climate change effects on coastal groundwater but increases in water demand could be more important,” explains Ferguson. “This is particularly true in growing coastal cities and towns where groundwater is often an important water supply.”

    Aquifers consist of geological formations, such as gravel or sand, which are saturated with water. Wells withdraw freshwater from these underground aquifers, which are then replenished by surface water sources supplied by rain and melted ice or snow. However, coastal aquifers are bordered by seawater on one side, and this can begin to migrate into the groundwater – including surrounding wells – if excessive amounts of fresh water are drawn off. While a rise in sea levels can also cause salt water to intrude into these coastal aquifers, up until now only issues related to water draw-offs have been recorded in Canada.

    “Coastal aquifers are very vulnerable to increased water demand so we have real policy opportunities,” says Gleeson. “We can reduce consumption of groundwater in coastal areas or manage groundwater use wisely.”

    Approximately one billion people reside in coastal areas around the world, many of whom depend entirely on groundwater. In Canada alone, roughly 25% of the population relies on groundwater, with some areas almost totally dependent on this resource for irrigation, drinking water, and domestic household use. It is therefore critical that we manage this essential resource wisely to prevent saltwater intrusion, which will only be exacerbated further with rising sea levels.

  • Interagency Report on Short-term Water Management Decision Making

    According to a newly released report, “Short-Term Water Management Decisions: User Needs for Improved Climate, Weather, and Hydrologic Information,” published by the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in order for us to adapt to the impacts of climate change, managers need to have the capacity to make short-term water management decisions based on their understanding of hydroclimate monitoring, short-term prediction, and how this information supports future water management decision making. Consequently, agencies responsible for water management need to have the capacity to address these issues.

    water management

    The report highlights the need for NGO's, local and tribal agencies and organizations, together with state and Federal agencies, to work side by side to support those responsible for managing water resources in the wake of changing climatic conditions. The report identifies four key areas:  1) Monitoring Product Needs, 2) Forecasting Product Needs, 3) Understanding and Using Information Products in Water Management, and 4) Information Services Enterprise.

    “Climate change is adding to the challenges we face in managing a multitude of issues, including water supply, water quality, flood risk, wastewater, aquatic ecosystems, and energy production,” explains Reclamation Commissioner, Michael L. Connor. “Meeting these challenges requires close collaboration among water resource management agencies, operational information service providers, stakeholders and the scientific community.”

    “This document describes the short-term needs of the water management community for monitoring and forecast information and tools to support operational decisions,” said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Director of Civil Works Steven L. Stockton. “Large water resources systems with water supply goals have very different needs from smaller systems that primarily service flood control purposes. Because of those differences, having a unified report such as this one communicates not only the national-level water resource needs but the local interactions between the water resource management agencies and the weather, climate and hydrologic service and information providers.”

    The report aims to identify areas where water resource management can be improved by communicating the needs of water resource managers to researchers and information providers so that water management agencies can be provided with the information they need to improve planning and management of water resources.

    The report, the second in a series, was compiled by a team from the Climate Change and Water Working Group, made up of technical specialists from the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation with NOAA's National Weather Service. The first report, “Addressing Climate Change in Long-Term Water Resources Planning and Management,” which was released in January 2011, addressed the need for long-term water management and planning in the face of climate change, particularly the need for information and tools to aid planning and decision making with regards to long-term water resource management.

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