Saturday, July 30, 2011

Summer Update: Pittsburgh, Vermont, Southern California.

I haven't been back to Panther Hollow in Pittsburgh since winter, but the habitat restoration work in Schenley Park and the Junction Hollow Watershed are really taking off.  Yesterday the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy blog had a post by Krissy Hopkins, who is doing research on restoration in Panther Hollow.  The post really brought me back to last year when I spent many hot, muggy days exploring the hollow and the larger Junction Hollow watershed that Panther Hollow is a part of.  I wonder how much has changed in the last six months, and how the rain gardens I helped install in East Liberty are doing.

Meanwhile, in Vermont, the weather has done a 180 degree turn from what it was doing this spring.  (No, it has not reached 180 degrees, though it felt like it for one week.)  Instead of flooding, the weather has actually been rather dry.  As that article points out, the summer rain has been very spotty and localized this year (as it often is).  As it happens, the Middlebury area has been wetter than most areas, as we've been 'lucky' with the thunderstorms and rain.  In fact, yesterday's rain seemed to target southern Addison County specifically!  Nevertheless, it has been dry as a whole, and the rivers are low.  Nothing like what they are seeing in Texas, and I suspect by the time fall comes around it will be wet again.  Still, it is interesting how quickly conditions can change.

The forecast in Vermont is much the same for the next week:  warm and mostly dry, but with a few scattered thunderstorms each afternoon.

Above: a storm approaches the Middlebury Airport.  The Middlebury area has been wetter than much of Vermont lately, probably just due to chance.

Southern California is expecting an easterly wave from the Southwest Monsoon today.  As is often the case, thunderstorms are likely in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains.  With this wave, however, there is also a chance that some of these thunderstorms will move out of the mountains towards the coast, bringing some rain and lightning to areas like Los Angeles or Ventura.  Summer thunderstorms in these areas are quite rare - some years one or two storms make it to the coast in late July or August, but in many years there is no summer rain at all.  If it does rain, enjoy the brief break from the dry season.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Clean Water Should Not Be a Partisan Issue (just one political post)

I have my own political opinions, and enjoy a good debate as much as anyone.  Yet, I've tried to keep politics out of this blog.  Politics in the United States are more and more divisive by the day, and yet clean water and livable conditions are important to anyone and really are not a partisan issue.

Or, at least, they shouldn't be.  I came across this story on the NPR website today about a Republican mayor in a conservative state who has worked to daylight a stream, creating an open space that has coincided with an economic boom in aptly-named Greenville, South Carolina.

I'll admit that I tend liberal on most issues, but I think it is important to give credit where credit is due.  Conservatives, in particular conservative hunters and fishermen and people in rural areas, have been a tremendous part of the conservation movement, and in fact were the people who got the movement started.  The people I know who consider themselves conservative care about water and open space just as much as I do.  In fact, conservation is at its root a 'conservative' value.  These days, though, it is usually perceived as a 'liberal' value.  Really, it should be both.  We all drink the same water, and no one wants poop, carcinogens, or heavy metals in their drinking water.  Everyone likes a cool, clean river or lake to swim in or dip their feet in, without fear of getting sick.  No one wants to live in squalor or misery.

So why are some Republican representatives trying to gut legislation that protects us from filthy water?  The root of the issue seems to be that many believe that federal regulation is ineffective or corrupt, and that state, local, or private forces (corporations???) should keep our water clean instead.  Certainly this is worth talking about, but talking about this isn't what is happening.  If you are fighting a fire and your hose has holes in it, you don't turn off the hose and walk it away.  You fix the hose, or you throw it away and hook up a new one.  I urge any conservative readers of this blog to ask their representatives to propose SOLUTIONS to replace federal legislation, if they feel that the federal legislation doesn't work, rather than getting rid of the laws without a replacement.  It is unacceptable for politicians to be sneaking legislation into an important economic bill, without dialog about these issues.  During my time in Pittsburgh I learned about when the Monongahela River was steaming over 100 degrees in winter and full of every pollutant imaginable.  I find it hard to believe anyone wants to go back to that.  If we get rid of our current laws without setting something else up instead, we can expect to find that our rivers are lighting on fire again.

It has been said that the environmental movement has become lost, that the biggest environmental mistake of the last 30 years was removing humans from the equation.  Perhaps we did spend too much effort on creating 'wilderness' areas 'free of human impact', rather than creating sustainable working landscapes and fostering a reconnection between people and the other elements of ecosystems.  I think it was a necessary and reasonable reaction to the 19th and 20th centuries, but the old environmental movement may need a major overhaul.  I also think it is time for something new.  The new conservation movement needs to be non-partisan, needs to be realistic, and needs to be based on the things that are important to everyone, regardless of our other beliefs.

Thankfully, I am not the only one who feels this way.  There are a lot of people trying to find good solutions as we speak.  As we face possible and ongoing economic and ecological collapses on a variety of scales, we can't afford to squabble any more. We need to get things done.  At our root, our species is defined by our use (and perhaps overuse) of tools.  Our tools got us into this mess, and now is no time to throw them away.  We need to use every tool we have at our disposal, from smartphones, satellites, and space research to our oldest, deepest spiritual and religious beliefs... and most important of all, our brains.

Hopefully, by my next post I'll be done talking about politics on this blog and will be back to talking about weather or the river.  And, hopefully by then, we'll have a few more solutions and ideas to work with.  Maybe you have one of them!  Feel free to post your thoughts here - all civil comments are welcome.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Summer 2011 Sketchbook, Part 1

Most of these are not water-related but I thought it would still be fun to post them.  Sorry about the ugly photos, I don't have access to a scanner anymore.

More here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Vermont Summer Storms and Fickle Mountain Streams

The mountain streams and small rivers of Vermont are one of the state's treasures.  These streams, which hold copious water all year, are a huge draw to people looking to fish, swim, wade, dive, and explore.  These activities are an important part of the summer in Vermont and other areas with mountain streams, and by all means people should be enjoying these places.  However, they need to do so with respect for the fact that these waterways change fast, and can be quite dangerous at times.

This month a tragedy struck at the Bolton Potholes when a 12 year old boy drowned.  Another tragedy was narrowly averted when two people were rescued from Huntington Gorge.  There are many factors that can lead to danger, including dangerous cliff diving, drunken exploits into dangerous waters, or just bad luck.  One of the strongest factors, it seems, and one that is also often not well understood, is just how quickly these rivers and streams change during and after summer storms.


Saturday, July 16, 2011

iNaturalist - more tech-based citizen science

In my search for fun, useful citizen science projects that involve smartphones and location data, I somehow managed to miss iNaturalist until now.  It's too bad, because this project seems to work a lot better than other ones I've tried out.  Among other things:

  • species are organized on a database that is hierarchical based on taxonomy, making it easy to search, make partial identifications, and obtain linked info.
  • For some species, range maps are already present, and there are plans to upload more
  • You have the option to control your geoprivacy, meaning you can upload location data that only you and the site admins can see.
  • Projects are versatile and seem easy to set up (I haven't tried yet, though).
  • The iPhone app and website are easy to use and not buggy.
  • There are a lot of neat people on the website who will help ID organisms.  In some cases, I've had IDs entered within minutes of an upload
  • It is easy to save observations on the phone and upload them when you are in a WiFi area.
  • It's fun!
So far, it doesn't appear that there is an easy way to track abiotic features of the natural world, such as weather events, urban hydrology, or geologic features.  That may, in fact, be too off-topic for the website, but I hope someone creates one for those things someday.

If you're interested, try it out!  You can see/follow my profile and sightings here.

Monday, July 11, 2011

July 6 Severe Thunderstorms near Burlington, Vermont

On July 6, another line of severe thunderstorms passed through Vermont, causing wind damage in many areas.  I had the opportunity to get a very good view of these storms, because we ended up driving through the line in Charlotte, Vermont.


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Slow Water in the Garden

One of the neat things about water is how it is scalable - how water flowing over a small area acts similar to how it would at a much larger scale.  I've been experiencing this in our garden this summer.