Thursday, May 29, 2008

Not my summer vacation...

I'm off to tribal lands tomorrow, to look at a proposed small ag dam rebuild location. Then I'm off to an unnamed location in NM, to make home decisions with my significant other. Then back home, a week of work, then it's off again to give two talks and do some field work on the way. The rest of the summer runs somewhat similar. In between all the travel, I need to organize my both my home and work belongings enough to be able to be schlepped to the above-mentioned unnamed location at the end of summer. And amongst, all of that, I need to take care of child, make child school decisions, regular work, home, meals, bills, and dog. phew. When's that lottery ticket gonna win?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Let it May?

This is the view out my significant other's back door yesterday. I'll be moving here in August. The elevation is close to 8000 ft. This was a somewhat freak system; there were slight accumulations at lower elevations across NM and CO from this event.

One of the little pieces of local wisdom I took to heart when I moved here is that the gambel oaks won't leaf out until after the last danger of frost has passed. I don't think that was the case this year. It's ten minutes to seven, and it's 33 F outside.

Regardless, I don't put out plants until after the oak leaves have shown up (that was around the beginning of last week). It seems as if the hummingbirds appear around the same time. I'm looking forward to the wildflowers this spring. More to come.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Go to the source before forming your opinion...

I somehow came across this blog post this morning. I had not intended to get this political in my blog, but this post raised my ire.

The author is seriously misinformed and is using a quote from a politician to form her opinion instead of the actual text of the bills before the House and Senate, and the judicial, regulatory, and technical history of the issue. [Personally, I rarely form an opinion in direct response to a politician's quote, noting that there is almost always an underlying agenda. I form my opinions surrounding political issues based on fact, not party line.]

Due to the 2001 SWANCC and the 2007 Rapanos-Carabel Supreme Court decisions, the federal government has had isolated waters lacking interstate commerce and waters without a "significant nexus" to a navigable water removed from regulation. This has reduced the reach of the Clean Water Act and limited the ability of the federal government to regulated discharges of pollutants to the waters in question, ranging from prairie potholes and vernal pools, to ephemeral washes and arroyos in the southwest. In the absence of federal regulation, theoretically, states are supposed to fill the void. In reality, that only happens in the most progressive of states. Most states have limited ability to emplace new water regulation due to state and local politics and funding limitations, much like other sorts of regulation, like health care and education.

The persons who brought those cases to court and the supporting interests had the underlying interest to reduce the scope and breadth of the federal government's regulation and reduce the regulatory burden on the regulated community. Unfortunately, it has had the opposite effect, making the determination of regulation much more difficult, time-consuming, and burdensome on both the regulators and the regulated community. Where federal jurisdiction was once clear-cut, now it is fuzzy and takes considerable time and effort on everyone's part.

Personally, these two cases have made my work, my customers' work, and especially the work of regulators I work with much more time-consuming, onerous, and burdensome. It has also confused the cross-regulation of different sections of the Clean Water Act, making communication between several different branches and agencies of local, state, and federal government critical. A behemoth task.

The Clean Water Restoration Act mentioned in the above blog would restore the previously-removed regulation and effectively ease the regulatory burden [on the federal government, on states, localities and private interests] by making the geographic scope of federal Clean Water Act regulation crystal clear.

My office

The first is in uranium country in NM. The circle you see is a rock shelter structure. I haven't yet seen the archeological reports for this area, so I can't tell you who built it or when. I'm not giving out any details of the location (the photo doesn't, either). This is to protect cultural resource sites from unscrupulous people.

The second is an example of a culvert placement gone bad. Hyper border collie mix for scale. There are actually three or four more in similarly bad shape along this NM creek, effectively stranding the residents in this canyon as they need to keep their cars on the other side of this crossing in order to travel. Just outside of the picture, there is a footbridge across the creek the residents use (including children and older folks who have to walk several miles from their homes to the footbridge).

The last is the Rio Grande in Colorado. The structure is a rock structure designed to effect bank stabilization and create fish habitat by working with, instead of against, the river's energy. I sometimes have a problem with the aesthetics of these structures, but they're better than some of the alternatives (gabion baskets, riprap, channelization).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Another oldie but goodie...

I promised Tuff Cookie over at that I would post some text from my 1914 Handbook for Field Geologists by C.W. Hayes, Ph.D. (a former Chief Geologist at USGS)*. It's a second edition, the first being published in 1909 (?).

Some of my favorite selections come from the first chapter of the book, "Pre-requisites for a Field Geologist." Take this one:

"The first qualification is a good physique and a strong constitution, for sooner or later severe and long-continued physical exertion will be required, and a defect in ability to sustain this exertion will result in serious handicap [ADA was clearly not an issue then]. The second is adaptability. Few occupations present so wide a diversity in conditions under which work must be carried on as that of the field geologist. His [no her yet] surroundings may vary all the way from the luxuries of a summer resort hotel to the bare necessities which he can pack on his back, and he must be able to adapt himself with equal readiness to either extreme. If one cannot so adapt himself, but is dependent on any particular kind of surroundings, he should abandon the idea of becoming a field geologist, for he will find the occupation extremely unsatisfactory. A geologist must possess a practical knowledge of horsemanship, of boating, and of general woodcraft, so that he will equally be at home in the saddle, in the canoe, or on foot in a trackless forest. One is fortunate who has already acquired this practical knowledge, but if he does not possess it he must be sure that he has an aptitude for acquiring it quickly."

There are actually few geologists I know who have and regularly use horsemanship skills in the course of their field work (I've only known a few who needed pack animals and a muleskinner usually came with the mules/ponies/horses/burros - my grandfather needed dog-sledding, fishing, and hunting skills for his gold-mining in Alaska). Besides that and a little gender-bias, his words remain fairly true. At least a couple of profs I've known over the years have wanted to instill this understanding in their field-oriented students. More to come...

*Hayes, C.W., Handbook for Field Geologists, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York 1914.

More words that bug...

Geology Happens and Callan Bentley have asked for additions to words that bug you. My issues are more with grammatical usage. Having a four-year-old in whom I am trying to instill an appreciation for proper grammar (thus far not very successful), I am acutely aware of grammatical improprieties in my local area that make me cringe.

Without further adieu:

"It works good." "It plays real good." Any usage of the word "good" for "well" creates an immediate impulse for correction. I have actually hear this usage from one of the my child's pre-school teachers. My significant other is being continually subjected to this correction, much to his chagrin. We live in the southwest, we have college degrees, therefore there is no reason to subject your audience to this incorrect term usage. There shouldn't be a reason if one has graduated from junior high, yet it persists.

The action of ending a sentence with a preposition. "Where's it at?" "Where are we going to?"

"Anyways" There is no "s" on the end of "anyway."

"Located" as a redundancy, as in: "Where is it located?" I regularly strike out the word when used similarly by my employees or colleagues. True writing skill is getting the most across with the least amount of words.

Loss of definite articles, such as the British usage "He went to hospital." No, "he went to THE hospital."

Finally, a misspelling that is a clear indication of never having seen the correct spelling of the word. Examples I have seen recently: "Escavate" for excavate (the writer is first generation American of Hispanic origin and so I give him/her great credit for trying) and "spicket" for spigot. Enough said.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

What worth ephemeral?

One of the questions with which I am repeatedly faced regards ephemeral streams, washes, and arroyos. These systems have an ordinary high water mark (a easily noted bed and bank), clearly convey flow, can be only a foot wide, but are dry most of the year, only run in response to a storm event, have no vegetation or upland vegetation only, and are written off by most consultants, regulators, and the general public as having limited to no value.

In the generally accepted classification schemes for wetlands and riparian habitats, we talk about functions and values. Functions are a fairly easily defined activity conducted by the aquatic resource, such as infiltration to the water table. Values are the socially-defined worth we give to that function or resource. My value can be different from your value, which is why we don't usually use values in the whole aquatic resource regulation scheme.

Clearly, headwater ephemerals do something. They convey water and sediment, they allow some infiltration. But what I find little of in the literature is any other function they conduct in the whole biogeochemical scheme of southwest aquatic systems (related to water quality and system function as opposed to strictly fluvial geomorphology). There is research that suggests (I don't have it at hand, otherwise I'd cite it here) that headwaters in wetter systems conduct some pollutant attenuation and act as a buffer between uplands and the perennial reaches, and there's plenty of research on biogeochemical activity in an intermittent-to-perennial stream system in AZ (Sycamore Creek) but I haven't seen any research in the southwest on strictly ephemeral systems, other than grey literature on what flood event to which the OHWM actually corresponds (Lichvar, et al, Corps of Engineers ERDC-CRREL). (Funding is probably an issue; Sycamore Creek is lovely and inviting, an ephemeral wash is not so much, what hypothesis to test, durability of equipment in the summer monsoons, etc.)

With such limited information, it is hard for consultants/regulators to have concern regarding the regulation of ephemeral systems, much less argue with clients/applicants that piping, wholesale filling, or otherwise constricting the inconveniently-located dry washes in their development is not a good idea. We've been trained to think "green is good, brown is not" in our aquatic values (inherent in Clean Water Act regulation - wetland is better and more precious).

I'd love to have a biogeochemical argument other than flooding/water conveyance as to why it is important to avoid/preserve our ephemeral headwaters here in the southwest. There's nothing I like better than to walk through a large wash in the lower Coloradan, Sonoran, Mojave, and Colorado plateau deserts on a spring day, with wildflowers abounding, birds chirping, and lizards scrambling away from the day's sunshine.