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Tag Archives: 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.

    wisconson-lake

    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

  • 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.

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    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.

    Construction_runoff_Davidson_(6124078615)

    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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  • Using Blue, Green and Gray Water to Improve Water Security

    In last weeks post we looked at the problem of dwindling water resources in light of climate change. Water security is an issue, not just because there is likely to be less water available in a warmer, drier climate, but also because as the world population grows, so too does the demand for water. A growing world population also requires food resources – it is estimated that food production will have to increase by approximately 70% by 2050 to satisfy the needs of the growing global population. In order to meet this demand, agriculture will also place increasing pressure on our dwindling water resources, which will also be in demand from urban areas, industrial users, and for recreation.

    With more and more people depending on a limited supply of water, it is imperative that we manage our water resources prudently, looking at innovative ways to utilize the resource more efficiently. The implementation of integrated water management plans that make use of  'blue,' 'green', and 'gray' water can go a long way to improving water security.

    Irrigation fields

    Let's take a look at what these different colors mean, the role that each of these types of water play in the grand scheme of things, and why they are all vital to water security.

    Blue Water

    Blue water refers to water that is present in rivers, lakes, underground aquifers and reservoirs. This water is used for a multitude of purposes including drinking water, water supplied to domestic households and businesses, and it is also used in agriculture to irrigate crops. Because our freshwater reserves are limited, it is essential that we protect and conserve these resources and use them sparingly.

    Green Water

    Green water refers to water that is held within the soil which is available for plants and microorganisms within the soil to utilize. This water can be absorbed by plant roots, then used by plants for growth before being released back into the atmosphere. Green water is a resource that is frequently overlooked in terms of crop growth, and this is an area that can more optimally utilized in future water management planning.

    Gray Water

    Gray water refers to wastewater that has been used for some other purpose and has typically been degraded or fouled as a result. Gray water can originate from domestic household use, commercial/business use, or industrial use, and while it is generally treated to remove hazardous contaminants before it is discharged, it may still harbor some impurities. Reusing gray water to irrigate agricultural crops will not only reduce the amount of blue water that is drawn from freshwater reserves, but also increase the amount of green water that is available in soils for plants to utilize.

    These three types of water sources will be the topic of discussion during a symposium  “Blue Waves, Green Dreams, and Shades of Gray: Perspectives On Water” that is going to be held on Tuesday, 5th November as part of the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America, which is taking place from 3-5 November in Tampa, Florida. The theme of this year's conference is “Water, Food, Energy, & Innovation for a Sustainable World”.

    All three of these water sources – blue, green, and gray –  have to be protected and optimized in order for agriculture to rise to the challenge of feeding more than 9 billion people by 2050 while still leaving sufficient water for other uses. Rattan Lal, presider of the symposium, sums it up aptly when he states “There is no substitute for water.”

  • 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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