A non-partisan, neutral perspective supporting diversity in the color of water

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Serious Gaming in Water

Serious games are useful because they provide a structured environment in which learning and research can occur.  In his blog, The Consensus Building Approach, Larry Susskind writes “There are various ways games can be used to inform, and even alter,  high-stakes policy negotiations…..but this only works when the actual negotiators take part in the game in advance of undertaking their own "real life" interactions.”

When it comes to training students in water negotiations, I found that everybody likes to play a game. Skills in water negotiations are scalable and require cultural competency. The importance of online competency for water negotiations is that many countries are just beginning the organization of alternative dispute resolution systems. As a consequence, I adapted a multi-media approach to water negotiations training using games.

There are many different types of "serious games" and applications.

One of the tried and true approaches to negotiation training are Role Plays. Nearly every academic or professional training program in water negotiations uses role plays. The Harvard Program on Negotiation offers some for free, or for sale at a modest price. I include David Zetland's All-in-Auction game in this category. Some of these are as simple as a Dueling Expert role play as offered in my book Contesting Hidden Waters. Others are multi-day, multi-party extravaganzas such as the Indopotamia basin offered in Water Diplomacy, among others.

The Prisoner Dilemma Game has many forms ranging from oil pricing to water allocations. The Water Message developed by the conflict professionals at UNESCO-IHE is a classic I have seen used at many high level meetings; I have used it frequently in undergraduate and graduate courses in water resources. I developed a version for groundwater that presents an interesting comparison to how parties negotiate over surface water versus groundwater. (Spoiler alert - groundwater always loses).

Board Games are especially useful in settings where shyness or language skills preclude active skills building in negotiations. Santiago is a surface water allocation game with farms, fleeting fidelities, that fiddles with bribery. It is a huge hit with my undergraduate, graduate, and law students who enjoy learning that bribery, otherwise referred to as "grease payments" is "legal". I have been told to watch my back when playing Santiago with a 10 year old kid.

California Water Crisis Game is a groundwater board game where the winner is the player with the best reputation. This game permits three different scenarios - water rights in the "Bad Old Days" where mining and muckraking ruled the day, the situation before the passage of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act where groundwater mining is the norm, and "Looking Ahead" to the future of California under "Climate Change" and an influx of climate refugees. My undergraduate and graduate students have played the Bad Old Days and the pre-SGMA versions. How does one assess impact? Student comments like the following: “The most interesting things about this game wasn’t just that it was fun and entertaining to play, but that it had real life lessons about water rights, negotiation, and competition/cooperation in the water game today”.

Computer Assisted Board Games come in many forms, sometimes pitched as Decision Support Tools which is a fancy way of sometimes selling software.  The Water Footprint Game is described as a "role play" game, but it is much more. The game is supported by an excel-model, four game boards (one for each country), water and commodity notes, role descriptions, country data sheets. The game is free to any who sign a user agreement. It takes a few hours to play, but is a great negotiations training tool. Be forewarned, it is an expensive game to "make" since the game pieces and boards are forwarded as files that must be printed out and "processed" (cut into game pieces). The setup seen in this photo cost me over $150 in printing costs.

Computer Games – A pioneer in this arena is the Tragedy of the Commons Groundwater Game developed by IGRAC. The game was developed by friend and colleague Frank Van Weert when he was with the U.N. International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre (IGRAC) in Delft. Frank completed an amazing job of integrating the Theis Equation into an excel-model that links economics with easy to understand graphics. I use this in my hydrogeology class to teach the role of interfering hydraulic cones of depression associated with pumping wells and surface water capture. A good review of the game by a University of Arizona geography student can be found here.

Online Games – I use AquaRepublica, a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) software program which combines a game layer with water allocation, energy, and food allocation models, to reinforce the notion that Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) is easier said than done. This is an interactive, realistic virtual environment in which players attempt to simultaneously ‘juggle’ the various components of the food-energy-water nexus. This game is an important part of my gaming-based research and provides a learning portal to both discover trends and engage individuals in learning about how the food-energy-water nexus all fits together, or doesn't.

The Omaha District of the Army Corps of Engineers recently introduced the fully online River Basin Balancer Game to provide "...insight into an inland waterway and a system of reservoirs, which are operated with a goal for serving each of the benefits, flood control, navigation, hydropower, irrigation, water supply, recreation, fish and wildlife, and water quality, for which many USACE reservoirs were authorized and constructed".  This is an excellent addition to the serious gaming world.

What is missing from this portfolio of serious hydrogames? A "serious" game on greywater! Like the existing serious games, it will be important to make the greywater game as realistic as possible. One approach includes (1) incredibly detailed and conflictive game rules that can be interpreted many different ways, (2) a high cost to purchase entry into the "game", (3) lots of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD) in order to place a competitor at a disadvantage, and (4) a strategy where the only "winner" are the person(s) who make the rules.

Unfortunately, these games already exist. Sadly, this "gaming situation" is enough to cause a serious water gamer to drink Greywater Watch Gruit.
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Why do we play this silly game?
~ Prince

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Requiem for a Water Rascal

Jim “Fat Boy” Van Dorn died on March 11, 2016. The news of the cancer that killed him was not widespread. I first heard of it from his colleagues at the Wyoming Association of Rural Water Systems on March 9. Jim’s wife Terry called me on March 10. That was the Jim Van Dorn way – a private person when it came to his own life, but a selfless champion for persons in need of just about anything from money to friendship. He was well known for good BBQ recipes, professional advice on anything water, and, of all things, his “bad” hair.

I first met Jim in 1993 when I was a consulting hydrogeologist and he was the wellfield supervisor for the City of Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities (BOPU). BOPU was in the process of rehabilitating 44 wells comprising the wellfield to supplement the extensive pipelines moving water from the Snowy Range over 100 miles to the west.

The complex geology and hydrology of the wellfield was not well known beyond reconnaissance-level studies by the US Geological Survey. A little known historical fact about the wellfield was that one of the pioneers of modern groundwater hydrology, C.V. Theis, tested his mathematical equations on the Cheyenne wellfield in the 1940s. He noted that nearly every one of his limiting assumptions associated with the use of his analytical technique were violated in the Ogallala Aquifer tapped by BOPU’s wellfields.  Theis’s assessment of the Ogallala Aquifer underlying the wellfields was that it was “mediocre”.

Conceptual models were the bread and butter of every consulting hydrogeologist hired by BOPU to help develop or rehabilitate the wellfield, but all of them had to return to the drawing board after a new well was drilled. During the course of the 1990s wellfield rehabilitation, replacement well locations in northwestern area became problematic as past consulting hydrogeologists had not developed a conceptual model of this part of the wellfield due to a lack of geologic and geophysical data.

Jim suggested “witching” a new location since we had nothing to lose. He broke out two bent welding rods and started his survey, making transects across the area, trying to replicate the readings and marking the areas of “positive” readings.  The pattern of “positive” readings aligned in a manner similar to the fracture patterns we had observed elsewhere in the wellfield.  The old well scheduled for replacement declined in production to less than 200 gallons per minute.  The contractor drilled a test hole at the “witched” location, with the geologic logs indicating the possibility of increased fracturing of the well-cemented sediments in the area.  Test pumping of the new well indicated over 600 gallons per minute, much to the chagrin of one of the wellsite geologists with a freshly minted Ph.D. from Colorado School of Mines!

Jim’s work as a professional communicator spanned the classroom to the courtroom. He was a skilled negotiator with an established track record ranging from acquiring access across private property to water sharing with long-established ranch families, as well as the wealthy newcomers who were gentrifying the southeastern Wyoming ranchlands. Jim was instrumental in preserving BOPU’s groundwater rights as the race to the pumps near the wellfields ramped up with subdivision development. While hydrologists watched water move through well screens or across their computer screens, Jim worked with both the lawyers and geologists in the melodramas found on the movie screen – fightin’ over water. Jim’s encyclopedic knowledge of the wellfield was key to fighting off the spaghetti western water wars of the late 1990s and early 2000 in western Laramie County.

Jim was a strong supporter of partnering with universities and training the next generation of water professionals.  As one of the first public water systems to comply with the Wyoming Wellhead Protection Program, Jim used the BOPU wellfield as an opportunity for social learning.  Jim developed the scope of work for BOPU to fund a graduate student in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Wyoming to delineate the wellhead protection areas (WHPAs) for the BOPU wellfield.

One learns the difference between a friend and an acquaintance once you move. Jim always contacted me early to meet up at national groundwater conferences. One year he traveled to the end of the “Oregon Trail” to visit me while I was in graduate school; he even helped me teach a class on water systems during a summer session. He enjoyed driving his Lincoln Continental long distances. His love affair for travel served him well in his encore career.

Jim left BOPU in 2006 to join Wyoming Association of Rural Water Systems (WARWS) as a circuit rider. He asked that I write a letter of recommendation to accompany his application, which was an easy task for me to complete. His unique knowledge of well-based public water systems was of great value to WARWS since the vast majority of rural water systems in Wyoming are dependent on wells. I recall Executive Director Mark Pepper commenting at a conference that my letter read like Jim could jump tall buildings in a single bound. He later learned that Jim could, and did so frequently, while servicing Wyoming rural water systems.

Jim loved working for WARWS. He valued the collegiality of all that worked with him, both at WARWS, and all of his “customers” located across Wyoming. He was famous for his controversial articles on water history in the state (sometimes co-written with me) and the “Ask Hank” columns with Hank Baski. His regular “Fat Boy’s Kitchen” columns and commentary on cooking high energy and mega-calorie recipes were must reads in each issue of The Wyoming Connection.

Returning to Jim’s “bad” hair days. Unlike me, Jim was famous for both having lots of hair and the audacity to wear it long as he did during his Harley Davidson days. Many folks just considered Jim’s hair as a symbol of his rebellious and independent nature. But a few of us knew the real reason – Jim regularly grew his hair long so it could be harvested and used for wigs for cancer patients.

Mark Twain once said, “There are basically two types of people. People who accomplish things, and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded”. Most folks will agree, Jim was an accomplished son, brother, husband, father, water dowser, water professional, and friend. He will be missed by all of the waitpersons and motel staff he regularly encountered on his tours as a circuit rider. Water systems across Wyoming are all in better shape than before Jim visited. He might have appeared to be irascible to some, as he did not suffer fools gladly who claimed “accomplishments” in the water business. But in the end, Jim was a valued colleague and friend to all. He made Wyoming a better place. He will be sorely missed.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Book Review: Water

Disclosure: I had to purchase the book, and it was worth the $15 paid for it.

Water is written by Jennifer Wilson, a self-described "attractive-in-that-older-cousin-sort-of-way"..."former detassler of corn"...and winner of "best hair" while in high school. The book is published by Raygun, described as "the greatest store in the universe". A quick visit of Raygun's website indicates a champion of funny T-shirts, "bibs, glassware, koozies, keychains, shirts (duh), notebooks, cardigans, bags, postcards, magnets, buttons, stickers, and more" some promoting the great state of Iowa and clean water. With such a diversity of products and missions, it makes one wonder why did they get into publishing? Their answer...."well, we already make some questionable business decisions, so what's one more!"

The story behind "Water" focuses on the real time debate about farm nitrates and drinking water. The novel fictionalizes a recent federal case filed by the Des Moines Water Works alleging that drainage of farmland accelerates nitrate pollution, which costs the municipal water supply almost a million dollars a year to treat. The situation has garnered much recent press as Iowa's Nasty Water War.

Water is covered by many different styles of reporting. Knowledge Entrepreneurs such as Aquadoc of WaterWired and David Zetland of Aguanomics have long established their credentials in scholarly peer-reviewed published literature and books and share their expertise through social media or as regular experts sought out by the "mainstream" media.

Knowledge Journalists with strong street credentials in journalism and a focused interest in the hydrologic sciences are few and far between, most notably Brett Walton of Circle of Blue and more locally in Oregon, Kelly House in The Oregonian. The excellent books by Cynthia Barnett fall into this category.

Then there are those writers who could be classified as Knowledge Novelists. These are stories and novels composed by writers with credentials in the hydrologic sciences tempered by backgrounds in journalism. Perhaps the best example I have encountered is The Hidden Sea: Ground Water, Springs, and Wells by Francis Chapelle who weaves the dull and boring water science with water mythology into a well crafted story with excellent illustrations so folks who like water, but don't have time to take classes in water, discover what water scientists debate and do with their time. I always admired Frank Chapelle's textbooks on groundwater microbiology and geochemistry, bottled water, and hydrogeology and asked where he developed his "style" of writing at a professional conference. He indicated his career started in journalism before becoming a world-class scientist with the US Geological Survey.

Then there are stories and novels composed by authors and journalists with credentials in creative writing and interests in the hydrologic sciences. Water by Jennifer Wilson is a wonderful addition to the Knowledge Novelist genre through fiction. While the book fictionalizes a real pollution problem spanning from Iowa to the Gulf Coast, the story covers the knotty problems of a newspaper reporter covering a plethora of real world challenges including downsizing the newsmedia because of technology, professional displacement associated with middle age, while at the same time covering stories and topics ranging from water as a human right, common pool resources, hydrogeology, water rights, fate and transport of nitrate, blue-baby syndrome, the Gulf Coast "deadzone", corruption, and, of all things, collective activism. An interesting twist in the story is a water professional decides to run for political office on the platform of clean water to "make a difference" in the world. Quite alot of topics to cover in 226 pages, but let's not forget the importance of linking all of these important ideals to love, lust, and lost ideals so important to making the novel salable to the general public. It's all there and all written with aplomb.

Like Chapelle's The Hidden Sea, Wilson's Water is expertly illustrated. The diagrams themselves could easily serve as Powerpoint illustrations for any college class on the "nitrogen cascade" and the geography of the lock system on the Upper Mississippi River.

University of Virginia environmental sciences professor James Galloway coined the concept of "nitrogen cascades" and stated "The public does not yet know much about nitrogen, but in many ways it is as big an issue as carbon, and due to the interactions of nitrogen and carbon, makes the challenge of providing food and energy to the world's peoples without harming the global environment a tremendous challenge."  

How do the sciences get the word out about the complex nitrogen "nexus" without falling into the "gloom and doom" portrayals of climate change and water in "Cli-Fi" novels like The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi? 

We can start by integrating "Hy-Fi" novels like Water into academic curricula. A fun novel with fundamental messages on fertilizer, farms, food, and fidelity.

* * * 
Mostly I'm surprised at how water seems like such a faraway issue, though we're right on the banks of this huge artery of a river, and everybody's got a capillary in their backyard, some creek or stream right down the road. Water is everywhere. But it sure doesn't seem like much of a problem at all, unless you've got a microscope with you, or a test kit.
~Water, page 142

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Greywater Goes Ganja

Bong Water Black IPA (for real)
Channeling Chance of Rain's "The Week that Was..." comes The Portland Mercury's Cannabuzz: The Week in Cannabis where, of all things, they define a new variant of graywater - an iced bongwater massage.

Their recipe: "Start with a tall bong filled with ice water. No, taller than that. Think the five-foot duct-taped Graffix you had during those seven years of college. Quickly smoke a quarter ounce with it, and then pour the contents of the bong onto your partner's back. Once the screaming subsides (sexy screaming, I might add), rub the icy, disgusting water into their skin for an exfoliation that just won't quit, even when they beg for it to stop. Just like drinking bongwater gets you high, rubbing it on your skin does the same thing. I think. Probably. Plus, it fills the room with a sexy musk. Call it Fifty Shades of Graywater."

But wait, Oregon is not done yet. The Oregonian reports that a task force composed of "...state officials, scientists, and leading physicians..." think that Oregon should fund a marijuana institute to "....support and conduct world-class research..." Water use for growing medical and recreational marijuana is covered by the Oregon Water Resources Department in this handy flier, but the regulations are silent regarding the reuse of greywater.

Here's yet another chance to feel good about using graywater in Oregon, but I wonder if a permit will be required for the new variant of graywater reuse by the the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality? The Oregon Board of Massage Therapists will more than likely want in on the licensing and permitting action.

Greywater reuse in its apparently many forms clearly serves as fertile ground for world-class research by the proposed Oregon Marijuana Institute to help earn one of the many online higher education certifications available through the Oregon Marijuana College.
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Q: What do the University of Oregon and pot have in common? 
A: They both get smoked in bowls!