GIVE DRINKING WATER A HAND
Dates for this year's National Drinking Water Week are May 2-8, 1993. Once again, the Blue Thumb campaign is a national call to action on drinking water issues. People are urged to use their "Blue Thumb" to conserve water, protect water, and get involved in their local communities. The Blue Thumb concept also provides a way to acknowledge each other for good work with water. Having a Blue Thumb means we not only care for water, but show it through our actions.
National Drinking Water Week Blue Thumb programs are the result of coordinated efforts by the National Drinking Water Alliance, which includes the Extension Service-USDA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the American Water Works Association, and the American Ground Water Trust. Support is provided by the League of Women Voters, the Water Education Foundation, the American Water Works Association Foundation, the American Library Association, and the National Geographic Society.
What are Blue Thumbs?
Blue Thumbs symbolize the need to take better care of our water supplies. A Blue Thumb encourages the three basic actions we must take: conserve water, protect it from pollution, and get involved in drinking water issues in our local communities. Each community's emphasis on the three Blue Thumb basics will differ according to local conditions and issues.
Why do we need Blue Thumbs?
More than 300 billion gallons of water a day are used in the U.S. About 250 million people are using the same water resources that four million people did 200 years ago. And, pollutants are pouring into our water resources at a rate of about 500,000 tons a day. That's just industrial waste. Experts estimate that non-point pollution, agricultural and urban runoff, improperly working septic systems, and residential drips and drabs of pollution threaten our water resources more than industry.
Where can we use our Blue Thumbs to make an impact?
Use your Blue Thumb by doing something every day that protects water sources, conserves your finite water supplies, or affects decisions about drinking water in your community. Use it at home, at work, at school, or in any public place. You have the opportunity to make a water decision every time you reach out to turn on the tap to take a shower, walk by a dripping faucet at work, see a business running its sprinklers on a rainy day, buy recycled paper products, or read about a public meeting on a local land use. There are many opportunities each day to practice the Blue Thumb basics.
Since the early 1890s, when chlorine first was used to treat drinking water, the United States' water supply generally has been safe to drink. Water chlorination has all but eradicated deadly outbreaks of typhoid fever and cholera once common in regions with poor water treatment systems. Today there is a whole range of new issues related to drinking water -- availability, risk of contamination vs. cost of protection or cleanup, new regulations, how decisions are made -- that have become important public issues. The balance between risk and treatment, who decides how safe is safe, and how communities are coping with and solving drinking water problems are of concern to all Americans.
Individual citizens can do much to pitch in and help . . . to use their "Blue Thumbs" to conserve, protect, and influence drinking water decisions. The following steps describe actions that you can take to affect the quality and quantity of your community drinking water.
Step 1. Begin by finding out the source of your drinking water. If you receive public water, it is captured and then treated from either surface water or groundwater or some combination of the two. Forty-eight million people in the U.S. receive their drinking water from private or household wells.
Step 2. Learn what activities could contaminate your water. Many activities can affect your water quality public supply or a private well. The most important of these are:
To encourage people to get involved in water decisions at both the community and personal levels, many of the successful Blue Thumb activities used last year are being planned across the country and in Canada. These local community events include:
Drinking water is an issue that is close to home. Families turn on water taps
about 70 times a day. We drink water. We offer it to our children. We make
coffee, cocoa, and fruit juices with it. We boil our vegetables in it. We make
soup out of it. We wash our clothes, our dishes, and our bodies in it. We are
about 65 percent water. We depend on it to live, and must drink it to survive. It
is time to use our Blue Thumbs to take action to nurture and protect our precious
(Adapted from National Drinking Water Week Coalition)
CONSERVING WATER AT HOME
Surrounded by seemingly unlimited freshwater resources, Idahoans are the largest per capita users of domestic water in the USA. We must learn to use it more wisely if we are to continue to enjoy the benefits it provides. Water conservation begins at home, and you can do your part by following some simple tips around your house.
About 75 percent of all indoor water use is in the bathroom. Kitchen and laundry water use account for the remaining 18 and 7 percent of indoor water use, respectively.
Here are some tips on conserving water use for various areas of the home:
In the Kitchen:
IFB WELLHEAD SURVEY: ELMORE
AND EASTERN OWYHEE COUNTIES
On November 12, 1992, Elmore and Owyhee counties became the 13th and 14th counties in Idaho to take part in the wellhead survey program coordinated by the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation (IFB). Although this program was coordinated by the IFB it was truly a cooperative effort as five different government agencies and the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation united to make the program a success. The Idaho Department of Agriculture (IDA), Soil Conservation Service (SCS), and the University of Idaho Cooperative Extension System (UI-CES) assisted with program logistics, sample bottle distribution, and dissemination of information. The University of Idaho College of Agriculture's Analytical Laboratory (UI-AL) had major roles in planning and designing the quality assurance phase of the analytical part of the program and analyzed all samples for nitrates. The Idaho Division of Environmental Quality (DEQ) designed the quality assurance plan for the field effort, the questionnaire, and sampling procedures for the public. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) also participated in this study.
Quality control in this sampling project was the top priority. Blind spiked samples and blanks were randomly dispersed with farmer-provided samples to assure top quality. In addition, in some cases, duplicate farm wellhead samples were included. Nitrates were determined on water samples by the UI-AL in Moscow. After collection, a preservative was added to the sample before shipment to Moscow. Samples were run in the laboratory within 72 hours after collection. The most modern analytical techniques and equipment were used in this operation. A high degree of confidence should be placed on the numbers obtained from these samples.
In Elmore and Owyhee counties 250 private wellhead samples were collected from farmers and rural residents. Ten percent of the sampled wells in Elmore and Owyhee counties contained nitrate-N levels greater than 10 ppm, which is the National Public Health Service drinking water standard. Forty percent of the wells had nitrate-N levels above 2.0 ppm; 15 percent contained nitrate-N values between 2.0 and 5.0 ppm; and 25 percent of the wells had values greater than 5.0 ppm.
A total of 1,849 samples from private wells and 1,162 control and quality assurance samples have now been collected from 14 Idaho counties. Over the next 12 months this program will be brought to several more counties. UI-CES has and will continue to prepare county by county brochures that provide the data from each sampling event as they occur. Brochures can be obtained directly from the individual county Extension offices.
WHAT AFFECTS BMP
(This is the third in a series of four articles on agricultural BMPs)
Best management practices (BMPs) are methods, measures, or practices designed to prevent or reduce pollution. They include structural and nonstructural controls as well as operation and maintenance procedures. They can be used in varying combinations to prevent or control pollution from a particular nonpoint source. Both farm-level and institutional factors affect the implementation of BMPs.
With the exception of conservation tillage (but not no-till practices), farmers generally have not adopted BMPs except in special projects or where high levels of cost-sharing and technical assistance are available.
This is a result of either the inability or the unwillingness of implementation agencies to direct BMPs for maximum impact in an effective manner. Agencies have been unable to concentrate resources on a few farms and are more likely to widen the criteria for site selection to make cost-sharing available to most farmers willing to participate. This diffusion of effort results in lower effective control of pollutants and makes it difficult to monitor effects even when they are likely to occur.
Evaluation of rural clean water program (RCWP) projects suggests that the most effective BMPs are those that the farmer is likely to maintain after cost-sharing is terminated. This is an essential consideration since nonpoint-source pollutant levels in a watershed are strongly buffered by natural watershed processes. For such sediment-associated pollutants as phosphorus or DDT, response time is on the order of a decade after significant implementation of BMPs, which suggests that they must be maintained for at least that long.
Directing BMPs and funding for such implementation procedures as cost-sharing, technical assistance, and education are critical to maximize impact in most agricultural nonpoint-source pollution-abatement projects. This factor recognizes the reality that suffi-cient resources likely will never be available to treat all sources of pollution.
Efficient allocation of surface water and groundwater protection funds is made even more difficult by lack of water quality criteria in selecting treatment areas. Soil Conservation Service (SCS) and state conservation agencies have relied heavily on soil erosion rates and the concept of soil loss tolerance to target many land treatment practices. These, however, may not correlate with particular water quality problems.
Watershed computer simulation models, such as ANSWERS, offer an effective means of identifying critical areas of surface water nonpoint-source pollution. Groundwater models provide similar capabilities for identifying critical areas for groundwater protection. Once identified, these areas can receive intensive, long-term treatment, resulting in easier monitoring of BMP adoption.
Along with implementation constraints at the farm level, a number of institutional issues can affect implementation of groundwater protection programs based on agricultural BMPs:
(Adapted from Groundwater and Public Policy. Series No. 5 by T. J. Logan)
WETLANDS IN IDAHO
Wetlands are some of the most productive and essential components of life. Historically they were naively considered wastelands that should be "reclaimed" for human uses, and consequently many of the country's wetlands were destroyed. Wetlands are lands that are transitional between aquatic and terrestrial systems where the water table is usually at or near the surface or the land is covered by shallow water.
The United States has lost approximately 56 percent of its original 215 million acres of wetlands. This is due to several factors related to population growth and government policy. For example, the Swamp Lands Act of the 1850s gave 65 million acres of federal wetlands to 15 states to be "reclaimed" for agriculture (drained or filled). While federal policies were not fully responsible for wetland loss, direct financial help was provided to convert wetlands to other uses through various federal laws until 1977. Currently 80 percent of the riparian areas (areas adjoining moving water) managed by the Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are degraded from livestock. Although scientific proof makes the value of wetlands unquestionable, they continue to be destroyed at a rate of 350,000 to 400,000 acres per year since the 1950s (1 acre/minute). Much of the remaining wetlands are under siege from pollution and degradation from altered water flow.
Idaho is similar to the national average with approximately 50 percent of its original wetlands destroyed. There are currently about 95,140 acres of wetlands remaining in Idaho, and 380 of these acres are lost every year. Losses are due to agriculture, urban growth, dams, and other activities. For example, 70 percent of the wetlands on the mainstem of the Snake River and its tributaries have been drowned from reservoirs. Palisades, Anderson Ranch, Black Canyon, and Alberi Falls reservoirs drowned 11,000 acres of wetlands and created a total of 75 acres of emergent wetlands and 289,000 acres of open water. Current losses in the lower 48 states are 87 percent from agriculture, 8 percent from urban growth, and 5 percent from other development and natural causes.
Why are Wetlands Important?
Wetlands are essential to the existence of most species of life in Idaho. More than 75 percent of Idaho's wild species depend on wetlands during some stage of their life cycle. Since wetlands represent only 1 percent of the land in Idaho, they are important to the balance of nature (food chain). In addition, they are essential to certain sectors of tourism, hunting, fishing, and recreation.
Wetlands are also very important to water quality. Wetlands are natural sediment and chemical filters. When water passes through a wetland it slows down due to friction with wetland vegetation and the flat nature of the area. As the water slows, sediment drops out of the water along with any chemicals that have adhered to the sediment. In addition, plants take up nitrates, phosphates, and other chemicals from the water. The result is cleaner water.
Wetlands also help stabilize the banks of waterways and help attenuate flood water. The root system of wetland plants stabilizes the soil near a shoreline or river, thus preventing erosion and improving fish habitat. Shoreline vegetation keeps the water cool for fish with shade, root systems reduce siltation that can cover spawning gravel, and roots allow the banks to become undercut, thus providing a refuge for fish.
Wetlands minimize floods by controlling water when it overflows its streambank. If there is an adjacent wetland, the water will flow out into the relatively flat wetland, slow down because of friction with vegetation, and partially be absorbed into the ground. If streams are channelized and wetlands destroyed, floods can be much more severe and damaging.
Wetlands are also areas of groundwater exchange. If the groundwater table is high, it will feed a wetland. If it is low, the wetland will recharge the groundwater. A single wetland can provide both purposes depending on the season. It can accumulate water during the wet season and discharge water into the ground or stream when it is most needed during the dry season.
IWWRI AWARDS FUNDING TO 5
The Idaho Water Resources Research Institute (IWRRI) has selected five projects submitted by faculty at Idaho universities for funding this coming year. Faculty submitted 15 projects for IWRRI funding consideration. The objectives of successful projects are summarized below.
"Anthropogenic Impact Assessment of Agroecosystem Behavior Using Spatially-Integrated Economics and Biophysical Models" was submitted by D. Walker (Agricultural Economics) and M. Brusven (Entomology) of the University of Idaho College of Agriculture. The objective of this interdisciplinary study is to approach nonpoint source pollution from the perspective of ecological impacts on offsite environments. Since nonpoint source disturbances occur over a wide area and have no clear point of origin, the economic consequences and costs of individual mitigating strategies will also be studied. Using combinations of computer models and information systems, impacts of different best management practices will be evaluated to provide the highest water quality while retaining biotic integrity.
"Free and Encapsulated-Cell Transport in a Hetergeneous Subsurface Environment" was submitted by R. L. Crawford (IMAGE) and D. R. Ralston (Hydrogeology) of the University of Idaho. The rationale for this research is that in conditions where there is no viable native microbial population to degrade a particular contaminant, non-native encapsulated microbes must be added for biodegradation to occur. This research project will characterize how microbial, encapsulated-cell, and contaminant movement is affected by different media as they travel through a shallow, confined, unconsolidated aquifer.
The third proposal that received funding was submitted by J. E. Hammel, R. L. Mahler, and P. A. McDaniel, (Soil Science) of the University of Idaho College of Agriculture. The proposal is entitled "Impact of Nitrogen Fertilizer Use in Bluegrass Seed Production on the Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer." The purpose of this project is to conduct a detailed field investigation of nitrogen fertilizer management under bluegrass seed production. This will be accomplished by studying the losses of nitrogen fertilizer, primarily by leaching, from the root zone of fields under bluegrass seed production.
"Microbiological Fingerprinting of the Idaho Groundwater System" submitted by S. Kellogg (Bacteriology) of the University of Idaho was also funded. This research proposal will utilize the adaptation patterns of microorganisms found in groundwater to fingerprint and separate different groundwater systems in the state.
J. Griffith of Idaho State University received funding for a project entitled "Winter Flow Effects on the Survival of Juvenile Rainbow Trout in the Henry's Fork of the Snake River." This proposal outlines the provision of field data to assist in developing recommended winter flows for trout survival below Island Park Dam. Possible measures to restore overwinter habitat, if appropriate, will also be identified.
RECENT WATER PUBLICATIONS
The University of Idaho Cooperative Extension System has printed a series of publications dealing with water quality. A complete list of these publications as well as copies are available at no charge from your local extension office. Three recent titles pertaining to our state are:
|CIS 887||Idaho's Water Resource|
|CIS 900||Groundwater in Idaho|
|CIS 986||Idaho Wellhead Survey for Nitrates, 1990 to 1992|
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All contents copyright © 1997-2003. College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, University of Idaho. All rights reserved. Revised: January 3, 2003