Explore Utah Science - Explore Utah Science - Science News http://www.exploreutahscience.org Thu, 22 Jun 2017 08:14:21 -0600 en-gb How Do You Find Water in the Desert? Southern Utah Faces Tough Choices http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-topics/environment/item/153-how-do-you-find-water-in-the-desert-southern-utah-faces-tough-choices http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-topics/environment/item/153-how-do-you-find-water-in-the-desert-southern-utah-faces-tough-choices Wikimedia commons--Sean Shebs

How will Utah deal with increased demand for water in the future? Build more infrastructure, conserve, or both? That debate is now taking place in southern Utah.

How will Utah deal with increased demand for water in the future? Build more infrastructure, conserve, or both? That debate is now taking place in southern Utah. Ross Chambless has the latest story in our "Follow the Flow" series.

Utah legislators and Central Utah Water Conservancy District staff recently toured some of the reservoirs, pipelines, and tunnels that have nourished Utah's cities of 3 million people over the last half century. The Central Utah Water Project was an ambitious federally funded project to divert water from the upper basin of the Colorado River to the Wasatch Front. It cost over $3 billion and took 50 years to complete. But it now delivers about 82 billion gallons of water annually for farming and municipal and industrial users.

Rich Tullis, an Assistant General manager with the Water Conservation District, was the tour guide speaking to the group atop the Jordanelle Dam, near Heber, Utah.

"When it came online, it first filled in 1997. And all of our delivery contracts started in 2008. It was just in the nick of time. Just in the nick of time. Without this reservoir here, there would be massive, massive shortages in Salt Lake, Utah counties now."

Forecasters tell lawmakers that Utah will need to find even more water to meet the needs of the state's growing population. It's expected that by 2040 Utah will need to make room for another 2.5 million people. State planners say the first swelling populace that may exhaust its water supply is Utah's Dixie in this dry, southwest part of the state — also a popular vacation destination.

St. George and other cities in this red rock region rely solely on the Virgin River watershed for water to drink and to maintain a golfer's paradise. The region's population – now around 150,000 - has tripled since 1990. Yet, people here consume about 270 gallons per person, per day – an average that's higher than most other cities in the American Southwest. By comparison, Phoenix – which averages the same amount of annual rainfall but hotter temperatures – consumes 184 gallons per person, per day.

"We expect that we just have to cut back to what a reasonable use is in order to make it into the future," says Eric Millis, Director of Utah's Division of Water Resources.

He says conservation programs have already helped Washington County to surpass its goal to cut consumption by 25 percent from 2000 to 2025. But adds that this and other measures won't be enough to meet demands of the future population. That's why in 2006 the Utah legislature directed his agency to begin developing a plan for a Lake Powell pipeline to divert more water from the Colorado River.

"If you look at Washington County's water supply, the project we're looking at is being needed by 2023. They're getting close to the limit of their developed supply," says Millis. "They've got a few projects they could build that could help. They'll have water reuse, the conversion of agricultural water. They'll have those sorts of things that are built into our projects of the supply. But they still need this Lake Powell pipeline, we believe."

The pipeline is estimated to cost over a billion dollars, to carry 28 billion gallons of water 139 miles to residents in Washington and Kane Counties. But others question the entire notion that St. George is running out of water.

"My friends... (laughing), that's not a water shortage. That's playing golf in the wrong place."

Dan McCool is a professor of political science at the University of Utah, and obviously a pipeline critic. The proposal has pit pipeline proponents against people who think Dixie residents should live within their means. McCool points out that water shortages in California and Nevada indicate that the actual supply of Colorado River water is much less than what was allocated to states over 90 years ago. And climate change is making a bad problem even worse.

"All the models predict that Lake Powell will effectively dry up and go to dead pool sometime in this century. Probably by 2040 or 2050," says McCool. "So when St. George says we'll need that water in about 2020, well, that's just about the worst possible time to build a pipeline. And whenever they say it'll cost a billion dollars, a good rule of thumb on water projects is it will cost twice as much as what they tell you. Spend two to three billion dollars for a pipeline from a reservoir that's projected to go dry. Does that sound like a sound investment of the taxpayers money?"

With the Federal government now 17.5 trillion dollars in debt, and little hope of action from Congress, McCool says the era of big Federally-funded water projects is over. That means all Utahns will have to foot the bill. Still, he says Utah policymakers need to address a more fundamental issue.

"You can't have infinite growth in a desert. So when they say we need to divert all the rivers for the next three million people to show up. Well then, what about the three million after that, and the 10 million after that, and the 300 million after that? You can't do it," says McCool. "The problems of finite growth are now obvious to the city of Las Vegas. And it needs to become obvious to the city of St. George. St. George cannot have three million people in it. It can't handle it. There is no water," he adds.

Water Resources director Eric Millis says the state is only looking as far as 2060. And by then, he says, Washington County could have as many as 600,000 people.

"That's quadrupling the population," says Millis. "You could say, well, can't we just conserve our way into the future and not build the Lake Powell pipeline? Well, here's what happens in my mind. You've got four times the population with a given water supply. You reduce your water use by 75 percent, is the only way I think that 'conservation only' option could work, and still sustain that population. So you get down to the point where you've really just met the needs for indoor use, and absolutely no water for outdoor use."

But some disagree with even the most basic of these conclusions, including the assumption that people in the future will use as much water per person as we do now. Research by the Pacific Institute, a science-based think tank, found that from 1990 to 2008 other arid regions such as Southern Nevada, Phoenix, and Albuquerque actually delivered less water despite significant population growth. The U.S. Geological Survey also found the same pattern nationally.

In 2013, the group Western Resources Advocates submitted an alternative proposal. They argued that Washington County's population forecasts are inflated, and the County could meet all its future supply needs by 2060 with conservation, water reuse, and agricultural transfers for as little as one-third the cost of the pipeline. Key to their plan is getting Washington County to reduce per capita water use by one percent every year through 2060—a 40 percent total reduction.

"To expect people to reduce at one percent a year is not asking very much," says Professor Johanna Endter-Wada, who researches water conservation at Utah State University.

She says along with appropriate landscaping, analytical tools that gauge whether people are watering appropriately can help fix wasteful behavior. So can implementing conservation-oriented water rate structures that alert customers when they move up to a higher price bracket.

"People are motivated to conserve for a number of different reasons. For a wide variety of reasons: they want to conserve to save on their water bill; they want to conserve to act responsibly; they want to only use their fair share," says Endter-Wada. "They also want to conserve because they know the benefits of conserving water, in terms of keeping water in streams and making it available for other needs is important."

But she adds that part of the conundrum is that water purveyors need to sell water in order to pay for new projects, and for any needed upgrades to aging infrastructure.

"So it creates a situation in which there is a big incentive on their part to use as much water as possible," explains Endter-Wada. "So I think we need to incrementally move forward in the future, so that we aren't developing new supplies that then have the obligation to be sold in order to repay the cost of the infrastructure developed to provide them."

The Lake Powell pipeline may reach completion of a $25 million environmental impact study by the end of 2016. Even though predicting the future is not an exact science, Utahns will have serious decisions to make. Can we reduce per capita water consumption even while maintaining our high quality of life for a growing population? Will it be wise, or even possible, to divert more water from the diminishing Colorado River? How would we pay for it? Can we adapt our cities, our economy and our culture to live with the water we already have? In other words, can we live within our means?

"Follow the Flow" is made possible by iUtah, a National Science Foundation–funded statewide effort to maintain and improve water sustainability.

 

]]>
rosschambless@hotmail.com (Ross Chambless) Environment Thu, 11 Dec 2014 10:17:40 -0700
Blog: Science Helped Me Learn to Love Middle Schoolers http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-topics/science-and-society/item/152-science-helped-me-learn-to-love-middle-schoolers http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-topics/science-and-society/item/152-science-helped-me-learn-to-love-middle-schoolers Blog: Science Helped Me Learn to Love Middle Schoolers

A graduate student gains a new appreciation for middle schoolers when she finds they can be just as passionate about pikas, and the threats to their livlihood, as she is.

A decade ago, I would have NEVER believed that I would write the following words, but here they are: I love working with 7th graders! My twenty-something self would have further cringed at the idea of leading dozens of boisterous middle schoolers through quiet mountain landscapes. And yet, here I am, traipsing across alpine boulder fields with 60 of my closest 7th grade friends.

So, how did I get here? When I began really thinking about inaction on CO2 emissions, I realized there was a disconnect between understanding that climate change is happening on an abstract level and viscerally feeling as though one has experienced its effects. Climate change can often feel as though it will happen in a distant place at a future time. I decided that we needed a better way to connect policy makers and voters with the changes happening today.

Digging deeper, I learned that close connections with science and nature are often forged in those terrifying, but formative, middle school years. Still wincing at the thought of addressing a room full of 13 year olds, I participated in a K-12 teaching fellowship as a first-year graduate student. Fortunately, I was paired with two fantastic teachers at the Salt Lake Center for Science Education who taught me how not-scary 7th graders actually are. In fact, they are a rare group that has enough knowledge to tackle real science, yet retains their youthful, energetic curiosity about the natural world.

Read more of Johanna Varner's blog on the Union of Concerned Scientists website

]]>
johannavarner@gmail.com (Johanna Varner) Science and Society Sat, 08 Nov 2014 21:42:23 -0700
Can Farmers and Cities Share Utah’s Water? http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-topics/science-and-society/item/151-can-farmers-and-cities-share-utah-s-water http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-topics/science-and-society/item/151-can-farmers-and-cities-share-utah-s-water Can Farmers and Cities Share Utah’s Water?

As Utah's water needs grow with a rising population, the temptation is to siphon water from the state's largest water user, agriculture. Can farmlands survive a growing urban thirst?

As Utah's water needs grow with a rising population, the temptation is to siphon water from the state's largest water user, agriculture. Can farmlands survive a growing urban thirst? This is another story in our ongoing series, Follow the Flow.

Rex Larsen ratchets down bails of straw on his flatbed truck, ready to take to market, here in this community called Leland, on the southern edge of Utah's Wasatch front. "My Great grandfather was one of the first to farm at this area. Where we live right here, it was originally called the New Survey," he says.

Larsen grows corn, barley, but mostly alfalfa which is used to make hay to feed horses and cattle. And to do it he uses a lot of water. His heirloom water right – passed down from his great grandfather - comes from Strawberry Reservoir and is channeled nearly 50 miles down Spanish Fork Canyon through a network of culverts and canals.

"When they were able to get the additional water from the Strawberry project and dig the tunnels through the mountains to bring the water this direction, all of this land here was surveyed," says Larsen. "They put in drains to keep the water table low enough. It's turned into beautiful farm ground from doing that."

Every spring, Larsen says different canal companies disperse the water to him and other farmers in the area, many of whom also flood their fields to grow alfalfa. The plant has deep taproots that suck up the water, and it grows fast so Larsen says he can harvest a new crop three or four times a year, bail it, and truck it away to market.

Larsen has farmed these 300 acres of farmland here that surrounds his home since the late '70s. In that time he says he's watched plenty of neighboring farmland vanish under new homes, roads, and traffic.

"There are some areas closer to Spanish Fork that have started to develop, and we have three new subdivisions in our community here. So that's changing a little. Nice people moving in. It's fun to meet them but it's different than it was."

So far the new urban neighbors aren't disturbing his life's work. But with Utah's population set to add another 2.5 million people in the next 35 years, that could all change.

Sterling Brown with the Utah Farm Bureau says almost everyone understands that some of the water needed for new homes, parks, schools, and businesses will have to come from agriculture, which uses 80 percent of the state's developed water supply.

"For a hundred plus years, and certainly today, ag [agriculture] provides the bank for water growth," says Brown. "And as that growth continues to come to Utah, cities and counties and industries and others will increasingly have to go to the farmer. And in a willing buyer, willing seller – we hope – arrangement, convert that ag water that is growing our food and fiber, and convert it to industry, or municipal, or other needs."

Yet others claim that with conversation measures, future urbanization will have little impact on agriculture's water supply. If urban water use doubles from roughly 15 percent to 30 percent as predicted, officials estimate agriculture will still have 65 to 70 percent of the state's water available to them. What's more, according to Zach Frankel with the Utah Rivers Council, there may be little need for agriculture to give up water if farmers take measures to use less of it.

"As you urbanize these ag lands, especially irrigated ag lands, you actually create a surplus of water because you're not irrigating your streets and parking lots, you're not irrigating the rooftops. You're only irrigating the section of lawns that is the new landscape. And those lawns added together are a small percentage of the total land mass.

But it has been hard for some to even discuss the topic, since in some circles, the mere mention that cities may take over water that's historically been used for growing crops, is taboo. Doug Jackson-Smith researches the sociology of agriculture at Utah State University.

"Most of the conversation I hear about meeting future water needs is focused on finding new sources of water," says Jackson-Smith. "Certainly conservation is a huge piece of that strategy because it reduces the future demand that we're going to have. I anticipate we'll be using water a lot more efficiently as urban people in the future. But not many of those conversations have been open to talking about ways to incorporate agricultural water into that solution."

In theory, diverting agricultural water to a growing urban population can be done without harming agriculture if farmers can free up water by using it more efficiently. The problem is, there's no incentive to conserve because Utah's century-old water laws punish those who do so. Jackson-Smith says if you don't use your full water right, you give up that right and it reverts to the state.

"If you cut your water use by 25 percent in farming, you don't get anything back except the benefit of knowing you're using 25 percent less water. Unless that changes, it's hard to imagine how agriculture could be an industry that might find ways to make water more available for serving these different land uses and urban customers that are taking over that landscape."

Utah's current laws, some say, effectively put ownership of water at a premium. Which leads many to hold onto water rights for so long, that they eventually become forgotten.

Tucked back in the trees here just east of a parking lot for Fashion Place Mall in Sandy is an old farming canal still carrying someone's water rights. A remnant of a now vanished farming community. Instead of nourishing the local stream from where it was diverted, this water here travels through a concrete landscape until eventually making its way to the Great Salt Lake. Such canals now dot the urban landscape.

Recently Walt Baker, director of Utah's Department of Water Quality, told state legislators that the state doesn't know how much water could be available from older farms for Utah's growing population. Here's Baker showing lawmakers an overhead image of the Lehi area.

"Where those farms used to be there were a lot of water rights. But guess what! Here's an overlay of those old farms and the city now. There's still lots and lots of water rights in the very same place... As these areas change use, often the water right is abandoned or forgotten and we lose track of the use," says Baker. "It wasn't even a state law until this last year that county recorders had to keep a record of water rights. But this causes us to tell you, there is a need for adjudication."

Yet, Sterling Brown, with the Utah Farm Bureau, say there is little money for adjudication to determine exactly how much water could be available from converting old, and perhaps some current agricultural water rights to urban use.

"That adjudication process is essential to meeting Utah's water demands," says Brown. "We need to know how much water we have, where it's being used, when it's being used, and who's using it. Those are some fundamental questions. And those are answered through the adjudication process. That's the good news. The bad news is there's only limited dollars to fund that adjudication process. It's going currently at a snail's pace. And that process isn't keeping up with the demand."

While figuring out just how much water there is currently to go around, Jackson-Smith says Utah should consider mechanisms that work for other states, like water banking. Using water banks, water right holders can retain their rights, but are financially rewarded for conserving, while other parties can apply for new uses for that water.

"Looking at the future for Utah... there might be ways to work with agriculture to come up with solutions that hold agriculture harmless – both financially and in terms of producing what they need – and incentivize smart changes to improve efficiencies of uses in exchange for compensation that makes it worthwhile," says Jackson-Smith.

Reconfiguring water laws, conserving, and re-evaluating existing water rights are all approaches to preserving agriculture while still making sure there's enough water for everyone. But Frankel says if agriculture and urbanization can't find a middle ground soon, it could be at the expense of a way of life we take for granted.

"The Wasatch Front's growth is squeezing farmers out of business all along the Wasatch Front," says Frankel. "And the question must be asked, at what point do we not want Utah farming. There are a lot of concerns about having to truck all of our food in from outside of Utah. Clearly that's not really in anybody's best interest."

Back at Rex Larsen's farm, Larsen gazes out at the rush hour traffic on the highway. For now, he's using his water to grow his crops as he sees fit. But he says he has mixed emotions about the future.

"Certainly, I don't want to be the last generation, but that may happen because of development, because of encroachment. And the fact that no one wants to take over for me," says Larsen. He adds, "I think as long as I'm healthy and can keep farming we'll keep doing that. And if something else changes, we'll analyze that when it comes."

This is the latest story in an ongoing series by Explore Utah Science on research to maintain and protect Utah's critical water resources. The "Follow the Flow" series is made possible by iUTAH, a National Science Foundation–funded statewide effort to maintain and improve water sustainability.

]]>
rosschambless@hotmail.com (Ross Chambless) Science and Society Thu, 06 Nov 2014 19:01:24 -0700
From Nuisance to Resource: Reconsidering Stormwater http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-topics/science-and-society/item/150-from-nuisance-to-resource-reconsidering-stormwater http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-topics/science-and-society/item/150-from-nuisance-to-resource-reconsidering-stormwater From Nuisance to Resource: Reconsidering Stormwater

New practices promise to reduce the pollution that stormwater brings, and turn stormwater into a resource that can help replenish parched lands.

As part of an ongoing series called “Follow the Flow” that examines Utah’s water future, this story examines how water managers in Utah are shifting their point of view when it comes to stormwater. New practices promise to reduce the pollution that stormwater brings, and turn stormwater into a resource that can help replenish parched lands.

With every storm comes stormwater that sweeps up anything in its path, including oil, grease, leaves, litter, fertilizer and what ever else accumulates on roadways, parking lots, and on our lawns. It washes down gutters and into underground pipes that deliver the gunk straight to our rivers and streams.

“The big problem we have with stormwater is that it’s not treated before it goes into the rivers,” says Jason Draper, a stormwater manager for Salt Lake City. “And so as water comes off the parking lot, it would go in a pipe and go in the river with whatever else is in the parking lot.”

In fact, half of the pollutants in our nations waterways come from stormwater runoff, causing civic leaders to rethink how they should deal with it. “Traditionally it’s been about flood control and getting water away,” says Draper. “Now we’re looking at this water as a resource and what we can do to clean it up. It’s an exciting time.”

Managers like Draper are looking toward the next generation of stormwater management practices called Low Impact Development (LID). It’s sort of a throw back to nature. The idea is to keep rain as close as possible to where it naturally falls, and let soils and plants do the hard work of filtering out pollutants as it seeps into the ground.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been promoting LID for years, but it’s been slow to catch on here in Utah, and the semi-arid West. “People have the perception that it doesn’t rain. Well, it does rain here, just during certain times of year,” says Christine Pomeroy, a professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Utah. “We don’t get as much rain but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have pollutants accumulating on our surfaces that end up in the stormwater. So it’s still important.”

Planning for the urban future             

LID projects are finally starting to pop up, even in Utah. Midway between Provo and Salt Lake City, the planned community of Daybreak offers a glimpse into the urban future. Along with light rail and solar powered homes, it has put it’s own twist on stormwater management.

When rain falls, stormwater travels through a series of gutters and above ground channels into common-use lawns that sink into swimming pool sized infiltration basins. Dry wells at the bottom of the basins act like drains that send the water deep underground, promising to replenish lands that have been parched in recent years.

Plus, the system catches nearly all of the stormwater runoff, keeping pollutants out of the nearby Jordan River.

Daybreak engineer Gary Langston says their system will save $70 million over the lifetime of the community, largely because they didn’t have to put much pipe in the ground. “For me, one of the personal things that I like about our stormwater system is that it keeps the stormwater where it landed,” says Langston. “Obviously with development we’re modifying the natural environment a little bit but it maintains the ecosystem in place as much as we’re able.”

Though their custom approach appears to work as planned, it isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. “Storing the 100-year storm event doesn’t work for every project,” says Langston. “When you have the size of the development we have it makes a lot of sense. When you have a small 10-lot subdivision it probably doesn’t work for you.”

Rain gardens in the desert

Yet there are some LID practices that can fit nearly anywhere. These include green roofs, pervious pavement, rain barrels, and rain gardens. Originally designed to handle the soggy East Coast weather, scientists with the water research group iUTAH are now adapting them to cope with the unique conditions of the semi-arid West.

The University of Utah in Salt Lake City is home to some of these experimental gardens. One, nestled between a parking lot and brick building, is planted with clusters of bunch grass and rabbitbrush, bursting with pretty yellow flowers. Under crushed rock and topsoil is two-feet of gravel, which acts like a reservoir.

“What happens when it rains, the water goes to that gravel layer and fills that gravel layer during the storm and then after the storm slowly infiltrates to the soil below. Then during the summer these plants can root down, as far as 20 or 30 feet in some cases, to access that water during the summer, reducing your need for irrigation,” explains Dasch Houdeshel. He built the rain garden four years ago when he was a scientist with the water research group iUTAH.

By many measures, the garden is doing quite well. Unlike the lawn it replaced, it hasn’t needed sprinklers or drip irrigation in three years. “We’ve probably saved 37,000 gallons per year which is roughly one-third acre-foot of water since the garden was built,” says Houdeshel. That’s equivalent to one-half of a football field filled one foot deep with water.

But, Houdeshel acknowledges that more research needs to be done. He’s found that waterwise plants aren’t as good at extracting pollutants from stormwater runoff as wetland plants used in East Coast rain gardens. Plus, some are afraid that rain gardens may actually deliver pollutants to underground sources of water. “There’s just not enough known to be able to make certain recommendations about these designs and to ensure them,” he says.

Perpetual motion

Despite uncertainties, regional stormwater managers are excited by what they see. Salt Lake City Public Utilities has installed a demonstration rain garden on its property just east of downtown, hoping to promote the concept within the city and in private industry. “This is more expensive then just putting in traditional pipe. But in the long run when you factor in social costs, water costs, and any other costs that could happen if untreated downstream, it’s a big money saver. And it looks nice,” says Draper. Some studies show a long-term savings of up to 80%, over the traditional curb and gutter approach.

According to Utah State University social scientist Andrea Armstrong, it may not be long until practices like these are embraced on a wider scale across the state. She ran a statewide survey showing that half of the 70 cities who responded are implementing LID water management practices already, and the number of projects is growing.

“It’s ripe. It’s a really ripe area in Utah. Other semi-arid states are grappling with this as well. The seeds of these innovations are starting,” she says.

While ordinances that support or limit LID practices vary widely across the state, there seems to be a general feeling among stormwater managers that it’s only a matter of time before such practices catch on. “Once you start, it becomes perpetual motion after that,” says Trace Robinson, public works director with Riverton City. “Once you have a successful project, it’s something you can show others, and there’s a lot of those starting to show up.”

Rain garden at the University of Utah

]]>
julie@exploreutahscience.org (Julie Kiefer) Science and Society Tue, 16 Sep 2014 22:57:24 -0600
Crowdfunding and Private Funding Are Changing Science - Blog http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-topics/science-and-society/item/149-crowdfunding-and-philanthropy-are-changing-science http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-topics/science-and-society/item/149-crowdfunding-and-philanthropy-are-changing-science Crowdfunding and Private Funding Are Changing Science - Blog

Reductions in federal budgets for science and technology are forcing scientists to increasingly rely on philanthropy and crowdfunding to fund their research. Are we prepared for the consequences?

A profound change has taken place in the way science is paid for and practiced in America. American science, long a source of national pride has become the domain of private citizens, from the wealthiest to average people like you and me. Federal budget stalemates and partisan in-fighting have decimated government funded research programs, making ghost towns out of the nation’s research laboratories. Scores of scientists have been laid off, projects have been shut down and shelved mid-discovery and many labs have closed entirely. This has led to the burgeoning culture of “science philanthropy”, a controversial yet effective means to skirt the federal budget disasters and get scientific discovery and innovation underway once again.

Most scientists are uncomfortable at the thought of rattling their cup on the street corner, but the privatization of science is a hot trend being seized by the villains of Silicon Valley and Wall Street, as many of the richest Americans see the opportunity to reinvent themselves as scientific patrons (see examples such as Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York mayor (and founder of the media company that bears his name), James Simons (hedge funds) and David H. Koch (oil and chemicals), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Eric E. Schmidt (Google) and Lawrence J. Ellison (Oracle). The flip side of that penny is the rise of “crowdfunding” for scientific research, in what amounts to a shake down of the desperate scientist’s family and friend social networks and the hope that one’s campaign will “go viral” with a catchy hashtag. Experiment (formerly Microryza), IndieGoGo and Kickstarter are just three of the many crowdfunding platforms available.

Just how did we get here? In the realm of basic biomedical research, nationwide, roughly 16 percent of scientists in 2012 with sustaining National Institutes of Health (NIH) (known as "R01") grants lost them in 2013, according to one analysis. That amounts to 3,500 scientists nationwide trying to find money to keep their labs afloat. Since 2004, the NIH budget has decreased by more than 20 percent.

And this is for research that can be easily explained to Congress: anyone can understand cancer, however not everyone can understand what the spin of a subatomic particle means. Therefore, these branches of scientific research have been systemically gutted in the great budget wars of the last few years.

The long-term importance to our economy of government-supported research cannot be overstated, but yet it is the low man on the totem pole in the current debate over how to reduce the federal deficit.

Illustrating this, a report published this year by the National Research Council, looked at eight computing technologies, from digital communications, databases, computer architectures and artificial intelligence, tracing government-financed research to commercialization. It calculated the portion of revenue at 30 well-known corporations that could be traced back to the seed research backed by government agencies, at nearly $500 billion a year!

The controversy and criticism of the private funding avenue is creating rifts in the scientific community. Whereas public funding for science seeks to level the playing field among the nation’s scientific investigators - whether geographically, economically, or racially - private money can and often does play favorites. The result is a brave new world of influence and priorities that the scientific community views with ambivalence.

For example, disease research has been particularly prone to unequal attention along racial and economic lines. A look at recent major philanthropic initiatives suggests that a number of campaigns, driven by personal adversity, target illnesses that predominantly afflict mainly Caucasians — such as cystic fibrosis and melanoma, or most recently the Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) Association in the “Ice Bucket Challenge”. Crowdfunding campaigns are often won on “personality and likeability” two traits that would never be evaluated in a true scientific proposal.

The impact and influence of private funding is likely to be more than just a flash-in the-pan. A recent New York Times analysis shows that the 40 or so richest science donors (who have signed a pledge to give most of their fortunes to charity) have assets surpassing one-quarter of a trillion dollars. And recent major successes in crowdfunding have demonstrated that significant amounts can be raised in small increments, such as the “Solar Roadways” campaign, which raised $2.2 million.

No one, either in or out of government, has been comprehensively tracking the magnitude and impact of privately funded science. The new science philanthropy is personal, antibureaucratic, inspirational even, but will it also allow the continued de-funding of federal for science, and what long term effect will that have on our economy?


The author, Dr. Carol Lynn George is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to raise $5,000 for renewable energy research. If you wish to contribute to her campaign you can do so here

]]>
carolcurchoe@32atps.com (Carol Lynn George) Science and Society Sun, 14 Sep 2014 13:55:40 -0600
Beaver Dam Mapping App Now Available for Citizen Scientists http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-topics/environment/item/148-citizen-scientists-can-now-use-an-app-to-help-map-beaver-dams-in-utah http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-topics/environment/item/148-citizen-scientists-can-now-use-an-app-to-help-map-beaver-dams-in-utah Beaver Dam Mapping App Now Available for Citizen Scientists

Scientists are studying how beavers could be used as a tool for stream restoration and are looking to you for help.

Although western farmers and irrigators have long deemed beavers to be pests, scientists are studying how these dam building rodents could be used as a tool for stream restoration and mitigating impacts of climate change on Utah's water supply. Watershed scientists at Utah State University have created a smart phone app and are asking people out hiking in the wilderness to track these furry builders so they can better model which water ways would benefit the most from their help. This story is part of our "Follow the Flow" series that examines our relationship to watersheds in Utah.

Utah State University scientist Joe Wheaton studies forces that impact Utah's waterways – specifically beavers, those furry overgrown rodents with the buckteeth and the flat flapping tail.

"I doubt we'll see any today, unless we get lucky and sneak up on one," says Wheaton.

A few weeks ago he brought me up Logan Canyon to see what beavers are doing here. We've also come with some other researchers and a pair of eager black labs.

Though historically prized for their fur, in recent decades scientists have begun seeing beavers as ecological heroes. In 2010 the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources formulated a beaver management plan that sees beaver as a tool for restoring incised and degraded streams.

"Where we're standing now is on a little bridge across Spawn Creek, and... what this is, is an abandoned beaver dam," says Wheaton.

He points to what's left of a short wall woven with sediment and aspen branches – chewed like corn on the cob - about ten feet away. Here it once held back a shallow pool of stream water.

"What happened is they built a dam, roughly a meter high. And it's filled in with sediment."

This sediment, he says has raised the whole level of what was an incised and degraded stream in just a few years. Through the clear water you can see small round rocks – gravel. This stream is a stronghold for cutthroat trout, a protected native fish, and the sediment has created a safe place for the fish to lay their eggs, he says.

"It's like perfect spawning gravels, right. It's filled to the brim with sediment. And since that dam is breached and they've abandoned it, now what's left behind is really good spawning habitat," says Wheaton.

Currently most Utah streams struggle with sediment and nutrient overload. Only 30 percent of in-stream habitat for fish and other aquatic life in Utah's streams is considered "good", with most streams listed as "poor" or in "fair" condition, according to a preliminary Utah Division of Water Quality report this year. Here Wheaton and the other scientists are researching how beaver dams help sustain fish populations, and help trap sediment that recovers riparian habitat.

"Why do we want beaver dams? We don't one hundred percent care so much about the beavers," explains Greene, who is a researcher and educator at Utah State University Extension. "But what they're doing is they're taking the water and now connecting it to these other areas and they're pushing it out into the riparian zone. So now we have this really complex habitat that's good for the birds. It's good for the amphibians. It's good for the plants. So it makes really unique habitat."

Watershed scientists like Joe Wheaton are also assessing whether beavers - and the water-keeping dams that they build - could indeed help mitigate some impacts of a declining snowpack. Snowpacks in the Mountain West – including the Wasatch Range - provide millions of people with water, and recent studies suggest climate change is behind a withering trend over the last century.

"Certainly a number of people have speculated that if you have a bunch of beaver dams on the landscape, they're sort of providing a similar function to what a larger snowpack would, that provides this store of water that slowly releases it out over time," says Wheaton.

Hiking our way up along the stream, we cross over a cattle guard into a fenced area. About ten years ago the Forest Service, realizing this high elevation tributary was ideal habitat for cutthroat trout, set the area aside and fenced it off from cattle grazing and forbade beaver fur trapping, which still happens today, although with some regulations.

This recovering area now gives Wheaton and his team a chance to ground-truth a new mapping model called the Beaver Restoration Assessment Tool or BRAT, using an iPad. The BRAT predicts the capacity for beaver dams on every perennial stream in the state using nationally available satellite imagery of all the drainage networks. Wheaton's iPad is showing the stream we're walking along. It looks like a thread with different colored segments.

"Red means an area where you can't have any beaver dams. Orange is an area where it's not great, but where we might see up to one dam per kilometer. The yellow are occasional, we might see between one to four dams. Green we would see between five to 15. And blue is the best, is pervasive. Those are short reaches that could support up to 40 dams per kilometer. So that's like a dam every 40 or 50 meters," explains Wheaton.

We're now entering an area the BRAT model identifies as a blue segment, or "pervasive" along the stream. And sure enough, here we've entered into a complex chain of ponds and beaver dams. The shallow stream water is spread out everywhere, and fresh groves of aspen, willow and green grasses are all growing up around us. Wheaton points out the telltale signs of an active colony of beavers living here: a mound of sticks that's their lodge; a skid trail that marks where the beavers drag the aspen trees into the water; and a network of underground tunnels.

"You're standing right above the tunnel to their lodge. See there's an underwater entrance, and it goes to the great big mound of sticks, which the dogs have smelled that there's probably some beaver in there."

None of this beaver activity was here ten years ago, according to Wheaton. Given time, and a stream protected from overgrazing, he says beavers will move downstream, which could mean more water gets stored on the mountain for longer periods.

"What we have done with the model is try and predict where in the landscape could beavers be. Even in places they are not now. What's the capacity of these different streams to support what sort of densities of dams," says Wheaton.

For these scientists, checking every perennial stream in Utah for beaver dams will be a time consuming job. That's why they've also made a smart phone app to enlist help from volunteer citizen scientists – basically anyone out hiking or fishing in Utah who might encounter beaver activity.

"It allows them to very easily take a photo and send us the GPS coordinates of beaver activity," says Greene.

"If we're getting a lot of volunteers reporting back that we're seeing lots of beavers in this area and the model predicted that's a good area for beavers, then that means the model is working well. If they're finding lots of beavers in areas the model says there shouldn't be beavers, then maybe the model isn't as accurate as we'd like it to be," Greene adds.

Still, not everyone thinks beavers belong everywhere. Historically beavers have been reviled – and often killed – for being pests that cut down trees, stop up creeks and culverts, cause floods, or take water from farmers downstream. A few years ago Wheaton says he was asked to help water managers in Park City resolve a problem with beavers in their city.

"They just did what everyone did with beaver if there were any. You'd blow up their dams with dynamite and kill 'em, right. And this wasn't a policy. It was just what they did as routine maintenance. And roughly five years ago some local residents, there was some beaver ponds that were built. And the residents liked it, and all the wildlife that came around it. And then they complained to the city when the city went in to do what they normally do."

So the Park City workers left the beaver dams alone, and they didn't kill the beavers. Soon the number of beaver dams grew, and the beavers built their dams higher. This eventually caused flooding of roads and houses. And the beavers upset neighbors by harvesting ornamental yard trees. So in 2013 Park City officials asked Wheaton to help them draft an adaptive beaver management plan.

"For example, you could go in and put in a 'pond leveler', or a 'caster master', and that would lower the water level, and alleviate the flooding, and still allow the beaver to be there," says Wheaton. "Or fencing around ornamental trees, etc. And then the worst case scenario is, OK, we've tried these living with beaver strategies or we're in an area that's so sensitive, like a canal diversion, we absolutely cannot allow beaver. So that's when we'll live trap nuisance beaver and relocate them to areas, either within the city limits or beyond, where they want beaver for restoration or the ecosystem services they provide."

We're now approaching a dam that Wheaton says has been here since the 1940's. If this were near a road or housing, it surely would've have been destroyed by now. It's over a meter high, like a fortress wall of sun-baked sticks holding back an Olympic-sized pool of water. And nearby is a giant lodge.

That is the mother of all lodges. It looks like a damn two-story beaver lodge.

I'm just in the middle of asking Wheaton another question, when we see him.

"There he is! He's swimming around right by the lodge. You see his nose," asks Wheaton. "Oh yeah, that's a beaver! And the dogs are in pursuit."

The beaver swims at the surface just for a moment, before splashing down his tail and disappearing.

These beaver buffs hope interested citizens will help to document beaver dams - and beavers - when they find them all across Utah. They also hope this information will help people to better manage and appreciate what the beavers do for our fragile water systems... that is, even if they'd rather stay out of sight.

This story was made possible by iUTAH, a National Science Foundation Funded statewide effort to maintain and improve water sustainability.

]]>
rosschambless@hotmail.com (Ross Chambless) Environment Sun, 13 Jul 2014 20:05:02 -0600
Pristine to Polluted: The Journey of an Urban Stream http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-topics/science-and-society/item/146-from-pristine-to-polluted-following-the-journey-of-an-urban-stream http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-topics/science-and-society/item/146-from-pristine-to-polluted-following-the-journey-of-an-urban-stream Pristine to Polluted: The Journey of an Urban Stream

Salt Lake City’s Red Butte Creek offers a unique opportunity for scientists to study how a mountain stream changes when it enters an urban environment.

Salt Lake City’s Red Butte Creek offers a unique opportunity for scientists to study how a mountain stream changes when it enters an urban environment. As part of an ongoing series called “Follow the Flow”, that examines our relationship to our watersheds in Utah, this is the story of the journey of an urban stream.

Entering the Red Butte Canyon Research Natural Area offers a rare glimpse of a near pristine watershed that’s right next to a bustling metropolis. It is surrounded by a 7-square mile fenced enclosure that’s managed jointly by the Forest Service and the University of Utah. The fence normally keeps anyone who’s not a scientist, out.

At the creek side, lies what looks sort of like an inert robot, with a white box for a head, a solar panel for a hat, and two black cylinder arms reaching into the water. The GAMUT station (Gradients Along Mountain to Urban Transitions) is one of five instrument stations installed last summer with funding from iUTAH, an organization that supports water research, to gather data from this creek as it flows out of the protected research area and into Salt Lake City. Hydrologist David Eiriksson recently got the stations setup to transmit data every 15 minutes to his University of Utah laboratory.

“Each one of these guys is measuring something different. This one’s dissolved oxygen. This one’s measuring pH. This one’s measuring conductivity. You can think of it as how salty the water is. This one’s measuring chlorophyll and blue-green algae, and this one is dissolved organic matter,” said Eriksson. “Really pretty neat data coming out of these.”

Eiriksson says the data is still provisional, but he hopes these multiple stations along the stream will tell a story over time. The data is also being shared with researchers at Utah State and Brigham Young Universities, who can compare it with similar data collected from the Provo and Logan River watersheds. Eventually it will be made available to the public through the internet.

“We’re starting to develop a long term record,” explained Eriksson. “That’s one of the goals of the project. To get some baseline data that researchers can then start to ask other questions.” 

How this watershed came to be protected ties back to when U.S. soldiers arrived in 1862 and built Fort Douglas at the mouth of the canyon. The story goes that as they kept their cannons trained suspiciously on the Mormons in the valley below, they realized that rock quarrying and animal grazing in the canyon was polluting their drinking water. In 1890, the Territory District Court declared the creek’s waters the sole property of the U.S. Army, and they built the fence to safeguard it.

Today, this creek is no longer used for drinking, but in the protected Research Natural Area, the water is clear. Red sandstone boulders and a thick canopy of gamble oak, mountain maple, and other native vegetation cradle the stream banks. Just below this point the water flows into Red Butte reservoir that’s managed by the Central Utah Water Conservancy District for growing endangered native June Sucker fish.

“There hasn’t been a lot of people up in this watershed. Never had a lot of grazing. Never had a lot of development. There’s not a paved road,” said Eriksson. “So it’s really a unique thing to have such a pristine watershed so close to a major urban center.”

A short ride back down the canyon, and out of the protected research area, the scene changes quickly.
In the area known as Research Park south of the University of Utah, construction crews erect another building on land next to the creek that’s already paved and packed-in by brick, steel, and concrete structures. Behind the buildings, and through a tangle of bushes and tree branches, is another hidden aquatic station.

“One of the things we really see, is how much flashier this site is than up higher. By flashy, I mean the response to rain is much more dramatic here than up higher in the watershed,” said Eriksson. “The reason is we have a bunch of concrete. Instead of rainwater infiltrating, it runs down, into the concrete, then into storm drains, and then down here.”
The creek’s banks are noticeably deeper and eroded from heavy and fast storm water run-off.

Erosion isn’t the only problem brought on by storm water. A bit further down the stream, Kelly Brown, Salt Lake City’s storm water manager, uses his long handled rake to pull debris, and anything else that gets caught in a creek storm grate.

“Everything. Trash. Leaves. Limbs. Bicycles. Whatever gets into the water,” remarked Brown.

Brown says he routinely inspects the creek downstream too, as it meanders behind backyards, and goes underground through a series of culvert tunnels. The creek makes a final appearance into Liberty Park Lake, before disappearing again under 1300 South, a bustling roadway that runs directly west. In the 1920’s for flood control protection, the city moved the creek underground. It flows through both a rectangular culvert tunnel large enough to drive a car through, along with a 60-inch cylinder pipe running directly under the street.

With the water out of sight, it’s also unfortunately out of mind. Currently, several streams along the Wasatch Front are impaired by the State of Utah, with degraded water quality conditions.

“There are a lot of people in my experience, that somehow believe it’s all treated. The storm water that goes down that grate ends up going through a treatment plant. And that’s just not the case. It’s collected in storm drain systems in the streets or runs down the curb and gutter, but ultimately across our city, and in most urban cities, it ends up in the natural waterways,” said Jeff Neirmeyer is Salt Lake City’s Director of Public Utilities. 

In recent decades, the City and health officials have sought to educate people on the problem of letting household chemicals or fertilizers wash downstream. What’s more, water managers increasingly view riparian corridors as “green infrastructure”, ecological systems that are just as important as water and sewer infrastructure.

If maintained, urban streams provide environmental benefits such as habitat for wildlife, but also practical benefits such as flood damage control, shading, nutrient filtration, and sediment trapping. To protect existing open streams from further degradation, Salt Lake City now forbids developments within one hundred feet of creeks. And property owners and developers are given incentives to install detention basins to slow the runoff.

Not all challenges faced by urban streams are within our control. A few years ago the Red Butte Creek met one of its biggest threats.

In 2010, a pipeline owned by Chevron ruptured, dumping nearly 33,000 gallons of oil straight into the creek. The spill and its subsequent cleanup upset not only stabilizing vegetation along the stream bank, but also the chemical and biological balance of the stream itself. A $4.5 million Chevron settlement is now paying for long-term mitigation and enhancement efforts, like replanting native vegetation.

Dry years coupled with historic water claims have become another recent hindrance for the stream. Salt Lake City and the Mount Olivet Cemetery near the University of Utah clashed recently over their irrigation needs after the cemetery drained the creek dry for several summers to keep their cemetery lawns green. Jeff Neirmeyer says the City engaged the State Engineer to mediate the conflict.

“When we get into these drought cycles, we have very little water coming in, and a bigger demand for it. And people question, is the cemetery the right use? Is it better to have instream flows and down? And that’s where the tension comes in,” Neirmeyer explained. 

A few years ago, University of Utah researchers and students recognized the many tensions and challenges facing urban streams, but also the growing scientific interest in Red Butte Creek that runs through their campus. Brenda Bowen, a professor of Geology and Co-Director of the University’s Global Change and Sustainability Center, says they formed a “Friends of Red Butte Creek” group to coordinate stakeholders, and what’s being learned from studying the stream’s urban transition.

“We really have an opportunity to study the system, but also a responsibility for stewardship. We’re the first one’s it’s passing through. And this integration of, the opportunity to study it. The responsibility for stewardship, and this chance to integrate it into the University community. Use it for academics, for research, for teaching. For part of the student experience,” explained Bowen.

In the coming months and years scientists will continue to interpret this creek, and its story. Miles downstream from the University, behind a blue dumpster and service station on Salt Lake City’s west side, Red butte creek completes its nearly 12-mile journey from its headwaters.  The stream flows quietly and rather unceremoniously out of two concrete culverts into the Jordan River. From here, this main artery of the Salt Lake Valley will take the water into the Great Salt Lake.

In many ways, the water exiting these culverts holds traces of everything from within a half-mile to a mile of the creek’s urban watershed. The same stream that gets flashed and flooded, diverted and dried up, restrained and buried, and even occasionally poisoned, ends up here. It casts a reflection of the overcast sky above and also a reflection of our City and the people who live here.

This is the second story in a five part series by Explore Utah Science on research to maintain and protect Utah's water. The "Follow the Flow" series is made possible by iUtah, a National Science Foundation–funded statewide effort to maintain and improve water sustainability.

 

]]>
rosschambless@hotmail.com (Ross Chambless) Science and Society Thu, 08 May 2014 21:33:34 -0600
Desert Dust Events Could Trigger Early Wasatch Snowmelt http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-topics/environment/item/144-desert-dust-events-could-trigger-early-wasatch-snowmelt http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-topics/environment/item/144-desert-dust-events-could-trigger-early-wasatch-snowmelt Desert Dust Events Could Trigger Early Wasatch Snowmelt

Dust events occur regularly each spring along the Wasatch Front, and they could be impacting how much water is ultimately available for Utah residents.

Dust events occur regularly each spring along the Wasatch Front, and they could be impacting how much water is ultimately available for Utah residents. This is the first story by Explore Utah Science in a series called "Follow the Flow", that examines ongoing research to maintain the sustainability of Utah's precious watersheds.

It is over 50 degrees, and it's mid February here in the winter backcountry of Millcreek Canyon, just east of Salt Lake City. The snowpack is soft and slushy. And it's melting. Whether this is climate change or not, skiers should be disappointed by this early melt-out. For millions of people living in the Wasatch Front valleys below, things might be ok, but only as long as the early snowmelt can still supply enough fresh water.

Some think that warming temperatures are not the whole story here.

"There's this popular misconception that snow melts faster because of increases in temperature," says Tom Painter, who spoke at a TED talk last year. "Now, it's true that that's the case. But that's not the primary driver. The primary driver is absorbed solar radiation."

Painter is a geophysicist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and used to work at the University of Utah. He says the thing forcing snow to melt earlier is not just the temperature, but also darkly colored particles of dust.

"There are little particles in there. Little black carbon particles, dust particles, pollen, that are just slowly absorbing a little bit of radiation, and putting that into the snow."

When dust gets blown onto the snow's surface, Painter says it reduces the snow's albedo, or its ability to reflect back the sun's radiation, causing it to melt faster. About ten years ago he and other researchers in Colorado began studying how dust from the four corners area was affecting the alpine snowpack of the San Juan Mountains in western Colorado, a major source of water feeding the Colorado river.

"We recognized dust was having really significant impact on snowmelt processes here in our study area, let alone perhaps the rest of Colorado," said Chris Landry, executive director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Colorado.

Back in 2003, when Painter approached Landry about wanting to study how dust affects snowmelt, there was very little science on the subject.

"Very quickly we understood that water managers in the west were... most anxious to understand whether or not snow melt yields, or actual runoff quantities were being affected – especially if they were being reduced," says Landry.

Their research showed that dust loading on the snowpack caused the peak runoff to occur about 3 weeks earlier than it had historically. But most important for western water managers, was their finding that, as a result, mountain soil and plants were exposed earlier, and consuming snowmelt water sooner. This was reducing the Colorado River's annual runoff by more than one billion cubic meters, or 5 percent on average, each year.

Understandably, researchers back in Utah began to wonder if Wasatch Mountain snowpacks were meeting the same fate.

Olivia Miller, a geology graduate at the University of Utah, points to satellite images of dust events.

"This is from 2009, March 4th, and you can zoom in and see little plumes right here."

The dust originates from places in southwestern Utah and Nevada, with names like the Sevier Dry Lake Bed, Milford Valley, Black Rock Desert, and the Carson Sink. Although these dried remnants of the ancient Lake Bonneville are seen as one cause, lots of data show that agriculture and cattle grazing contribute greatly to soil surface disturbance, along with off-road vehicles and military training activities. Burned areas also produce dust, such as the site of the Milford Flat fire - Utah's largest wildfire ever – that's been a major source of dust since 2007.

"So this is down in the Sevier Desert. That is the Milford Fire scar," says Miller. "The sources get activated down here. And they just travel with the wind, get mixed in the atmosphere, and they encounter the Wasatch Mountains, so the dust can get deposited on the snow."

80 years of recorded observations at the Salt Lake airport show an average of 4.3 dust events occurring each year. Most of the events occur in the spring, when cold fronts blow in from the west. In recent years, Miller and other Utah graduate students have taken to studying the thin and brown horizontal lines of dust in the Wasatch's backcountry snowpack.

"You can dig down and see... it's like stratigraphy in geology. You can say, 'This event happened on January 2nd, and this event happened on February 16th.' So you can kind of map that out. Which is pretty neat. The snowpack is great for preserving these events," says Miller.

To verify the dust sources, Miller collected samples from the snow and examined it for traces of the chemical element strontium.

"It's kind of like a fingerprint. You can use it as a tracer. So the strontium in the dust, you can tell where that dust source was."

She then took core samples from older trees nearby in the Wasatch Front canyons.

"Most of the strontium that trees take up is from dust," says Miller. "Like, 90 percent in some cases. So the dust is really having a big impact on the ecosystems here."

Miller's findings indicate that dust has always been a part of the Wasatch Front ecosystem. Indeed, environmental scientists increasingly recognize dust as an important player for ecosystems around the world. But how a more quickly melting snowpack will affect the ecology of the Wasatch remains a question.

"This is preliminary, but what we're seeing is there's a longer growing period and longer flowering period," says Lafe Connor, a doctoral student at Brigham Young University.

Connor wanted to see how soil and plants would respond to a faster melting snowpack. He scattered dust over plots to force early melting at two different elevations in Fairview Canyon in Sanpete County. And he saw that after the snow melted early, plants flowered early, which meant sometimes they aborted their flowers when the soil water also went dry early. He says this leads to more questions about the impacts on pollinators, for example.

"There could be disconnect between when plants flowers, and when the pollinators arrive, like hummingbirds... is that going to affect the hummingbirds when they arrive? Are they going to have the same resources that they need," asks Connor. "It's an important thing to understand. Are these systems going to be disrupted?"

Rick Gill, a professor at BYU adds, "So what we see is we have these interacting processes. The timing of snowmelt isn't just what happens right after snowmelt, but how that sets up the entire growing season in terms of water availability."

Gill and others at BYU plan to work with other Utah researchers through a collaborative project to continue to study soils and plants, as well as the quality and quantity of snowpacks along the Wasatch front beginning this year.

"We are also measuring the dust, the albedo of the dust... modeling per se how that is potentially changing the water availability patterns in these three watersheds across the Wasatch front. We have real-time instruments measuring flow is one the big ones. So we can hopefully start linking dust to see how much water is in these different watersheds," says Zach Aanderud, a professor of plant and wildlife sciences at BYU.

Utah scientists seek to share with water managers the connections that link deserts and dust, with snowpacks and water.

There is a renewed sense of urgency since signs point to an even drier and dustier future, as scientists predict temperatures will increase by up to 7 degrees by the end of the century. Meanwhile, proposals like Nevada's Snake Valley water pipeline, threaten to parch another patch of desert by pumping groundwater near the Utah border, to Las Vegas.

With growing populations, and rising temperatures, the dust is not likely to settle when it comes to fighting for water in the west.

This is the first in a five part series by Explore Utah Science on research to maintain and protect Utah's water. The "Follow the Flow" series is made possible by iUtah, a National Science Foundation–funded statewide effort to maintain and improve water sustainability.

]]>
rosschambless@hotmail.com (Ross Chambless) Environment Tue, 04 Mar 2014 11:17:15 -0700
Ancient Humans Took A Long Pause When Crossing From Asia to the Americas http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-topics/life/item/143-ancient-humans-took-a-long-pause-when-crossing-from-asia-to-the-americas http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-topics/life/item/143-ancient-humans-took-a-long-pause-when-crossing-from-asia-to-the-americas Ancient Humans Took A Long Pause When Crossing From Asia to the Americas

The progress of the early human migration from Asia into the Americas was incredibly slow. In fact, the people whose descendants ended up populating the American continents may have spent as many as 10,000 years inhabiting the Bering Land bridge. 

The progress of the early human migration from Asia into the Americas was incredibly slow. In fact, a new column in the journal Science by University of Utah Anthropologist Dennis O'Rourke and two other researchers argues that the people whose descendants ended up populating the American continents may have spent as many as 10,000 years inhabiting the Bering Land bridge. KCPW's Roger McDonough spoke with professor O'Rourke to find out more.

 

Image: This map shows the outlines of modern Siberia (left) and Alaska (right) with dashed lines. The broader area in darker green (now covered by ocean) represents the Bering land bridge near the end of the last glacial maximum, a period that lasted from 28,000 to 18,000 years ago when sea levels were low and ice sheets extended south into what is now the northern part of the lower 48 states. University of Utah anthropologist Dennis O’Rourke argues in the Feb. 28 issue of the journal Science that the ancestors of Native Americans migrated from Asia onto the Bering land bridge or “Beringia” some 25,000 years ago and spent 10,000 years there until they began moving into the Americas 15,000 years ago as the ice sheets melted.

Photo Credit: William Manley, Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, University of Colorado.

]]>
scarpenter@kcpw.org (Roger McDonough) Life Sun, 02 Mar 2014 19:21:48 -0700
Can Utah Develop Solutions to Clean Up the Air? http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-topics/science-and-society/item/142-can-utah-develop-solutions-to-clean-up-the-air http://www.exploreutahscience.org/science-topics/science-and-society/item/142-can-utah-develop-solutions-to-clean-up-the-air Can Utah Develop Solutions to Clean Up the Air?

The public has made it's voice heard when it comes to air pollution in the state. Regulators and government officials say they are developing a Utah solution for air quality. This year, there are plenty of people ready to hold them accountable.

The public has made it's voice heard when it comes to air pollution in the state. Regulators and government officials say they are developing a Utah solution for air quality. This year, there are plenty of people ready to hold them accountable.

Around 5,000 men, women, children, and dogs, many wearing masks, rallied at the state capitol on Saturday. They sang songs and listened to community leaders rail against the political and regulatory barriers to cleaning up the air.

Randal Autrey came to the rally from Draper with three of his nine children. He moved to Utah from North Texas 17 years ago for a job in the computer software industry. He says his family has had to deal with multiple cases of pneumonia over the years and two of his kids have asthma that gets worse during inversions. Beyond the health consequences he also has seen how the bad air hurts his company's ability to hire new talent.

"I recruit a lot of technical people to come to Utah and occasionally you will hear that, that they have seen we have had bad air and so they're not real excited to come here," says Autrey. "A little bit like we used to view Los Angeles, like you didn't really want to live there, but if the opportunity is good enough you can still get people here, but it definitely dissuades people."

Last year there were 35 days where small particulate, PM 2.5, pollution reached an unhealthy level that required mandatory action from residents. This year we've already had more than 20 days in this category.

Recently, the Division of Air Quality passed a State Implementation Plan, or SIP, that regulates air pollution emissions within the state. Perhaps the most controversial parts of the plan are regulations on large industries, or point sources, such as oil refineries. DAQ director Bryce Bird says, when developing the regulations, they had to take into account the costs of emission control upgrades in order to make them economically feasible. Even so, he says the upgrades required in the plan are costly.

"Some of these are hundreds of millions of dollars for the refineries for instance," says Bird. "They have to really go in there and re-engineer and redesign their existing facilities to bring them up to the current standards that a new refinery would have to meet today."

Overall, large industries will be able to increase their emissions by 12% in 2019 compared to 2010. This is unacceptable to many clean air advocates and a recent poll by the Salt Lake Tribune shows that 67% of the public wants tighter controls on industry.

One such advocate is Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for Clean Air. His organization and others have filed lawsuits against Kennecott and the Holly and Tesoro refineries in order to stop expansions that were permitted by the DAQ. Moench believes the permits violate the Clean Air Act.

"I guess our source of frustration is you can look at two different issues and if your priority is to protect industry, you're going to come up with one conclusion," says Moench. "If your priority is to protect public health, you look at the same data and say 'no' we're going to come up with a different conclusion, which is you cannot expand."

Director Bird says the companies met requirements for air quality at the time they applied for the permits, and the DAQ had no choice but to give them the permits to expand.

The Kennecott lawsuit has already been heard by a judge and is awaiting a decision; there is no court date scheduled yet for the other lawsuits.

Matt Pacenza, policy director for HEAL Utah, agrees that regulation on large industrial polluters like refineries are not stringent enough and this will likely come back to haunt the state.

"Everyone involved agrees that we're not going to hit the deadlines that were supposed to hit by 2015," says Pacenza. "And when that happens there will be a level of rigor that will need to be applied to industry for example that we chose not to do this time around. It's essentially a system where the federal government continues to ratchet and apply greater pressure. And that's one of the many reasons why knowing that's coming, we have urged the state to be tough now." He adds, "Why wait those two or three or four extra years when you'll be forced to do it? Do it now because we're breathing this air every day."

Despite the controversy over industry, the DAQ estimates that the majority of emissions, 57%, come from vehicles. Most of the gains in the state plan are the result of federal regulations that are requiring cleaner fuels and vehicles to be sold over the next few years.

The plan predicts the state will just barely reach attainment by 2019, leading many to think that the SIP doesn't go far enough. This year, a bipartisan group of legislators wants to be part of the solution. Of at least 16 air quality bills being drafted, one of the most important may be an Air Quality Revisions bill sponsored by Representative Rebecca Edwards. Her bill would reverse a Utah law requiring that state regulations may not be more stringent those required by the EPA.

Kathy Van Dame is on the board of Breathe Utah and represents organized environmental interests on the air quality board. She says the current rule causes a lot of problems for developing a Utah solution to air pollution.

"One of the other things that is just absolutely insidious about the requirement is that it is a fearful thing. So that whenever somebody comes up with a new idea, the naysayer only has to say 'that's more stringent than the EPA,' and it falls off the table," explains Van Dame.

She adds, if Edward's bill passes, it would open up the possibility of bringing cleaner, low sulfur fuels to the state, sooner than required by federal law.

"If Utah would for instance, go early for very clean car standards and fuel similar to what they have in California, right now that's not something that's required by EPA and so that would not be something that the DAQ could do," says Van Dame. "If we could get lower sulfur fuel in our cars right now, we would get a 9% reduction in the PM2.5 and precursory emissions from our gasoline fleet that's on the road right now."

While she recognizes the limitations of the State Implementation Plan, she voted to support it.

"One of the things that really is very hopeful is that throughout this process many people have recognized that the SIP by itself isn't enough to accomplish what it is that needs to be accomplished to clean our air." She adds, "It's one element, it's one tool. We need to figure out the ways that we're willing to go forward."

It's just possible that through regulations, laws, lawsuits, or maybe all three, Utah may finally get cleaner air.

Unused filter (white), normal air day (grey), red air day (black)

]]>
kim@exploreutahscience.org (Kim Schuske) Science and Society Tue, 28 Jan 2014 12:19:16 -0700