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

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Life Through Greywater-Colored Glasses

My Water Resources Management in the US class had their final exams where part of the *exam* was critiquing briefing notes prepared by other participants in the class. A sociology student with true grit stepped outside their comfort zone for their degree coursework and interviewed local greywater *gurus* and the public about greywater reuse for their briefing note.

Her briefing note titled Looking at Water Conservation through Greywater-colored Glasses. The analysis was so well done it warranted being awarded one of the last Hughie sinks the friendly folks in Australia sent me!

Forgetting that blogger does not permit uploading documents, the following are highlights from her briefing note:

First, a cool word cloud summarizing the entire note!

Next, in her interviews she discovered nearly everyone seemed to believe that a water price increase would in some way be effective. However, a member of the general public had a very good question
about the price increase idea. “ Where’s the money going to go if you increase the price of water? What’s the justification? Is it just to poke people into being environmentally conscious?... Does [the money] go to education?”

Other highlights - "We can encourage greywater reuse as much as we like, greywater professionals and the general public alike, but are we practicing what we preach, so to speak? I posed a question to all of my interviewees about personal greywater reuse, and I was pleasantly surprised by the responses this generated. Out of the 7 people I interviewed, 5 people said that they do have greywater reuse in their water conservation practice."

The takeaway message from the briefing note - "I thought education in schools is key because the kids learning how to conserve could potentially influence the parents."

Fair enough. And a message carried forth in the latest entry in the Living Building world. Introducing the Brock Environmental Center, an educational building project for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation as described in this article in Architect Magazine. "The Living Building Challenge’s requirements is documentation that the project produces at least 105 percent of the energy it consumes through renewable energy sources on-site, supplies all potable water needs through captured precipitation or other natural, closed-loop water systems, and manages and treats all stormwater, graywater, and blackwater." 

It is also the first commercial building in the continental U.S. that is approved to treat harvested rainwater, to federal standards, for human consumption and other potable uses. 

* * * 
Oh well, a touch of grey
Kind of suits you anyway
That was all I had to say
It's all right
~ Touch of Grey, Grateful Dead

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Bottled Water Brush Off Debriefing

To sell, or not to sell, Oregon's Oil: that is the question (apologies to Shakespeare's play Hamlet). Nestle Waters North America expressed interest in opening a bottled water plant in the Columbia River Gorge at Cascade Locks since 2008. Their odyssey has spanned three Governors in Oregon, one in favor of the idea, one non-committal, and one that changed their stance as more voices demanded being heard. 

It is not as if the proposed plant would be Oregon's first. Kelly House and Mark Graves of The Oregonian are knowledge journalists par excellence following the situation and prepared the map showing the 30 plus bottlers that already bottle and sell Oregon's Oil - the perceived "abundance", save even "surplus" by some water experts, of water in the Oregon Cascades.

The proposed bottling plant is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to water conflict and water awareness in Oregon. The Certificate Program in Water Conflict and Transformation at Oregon State University videotaped one of the first public meetings held on the project. The video is used as an example of what happens when process professionals do a poor job of intake and preparation before a public meeting. This meeting became testy when many of the public were worried about truck traffic when the meeting conveners tacitly assumed the contested issues would focus on water rights. 

Students from the Conflict Resolution program within the University of Oregon Law School regularly study the conflict for course projects or MS theses. Students at Oregon State University regularly select the conflict for course projects in International Water Resources Management and Water Resources Management in the US because the policy associated with bottled water is global as well as national, and more importantly, there is alot of media coverage on the topic. 

I am regularly interviewed by the media on the Cascade Locks situation. VICE News was the latest inquiry after ballot measure 14-55 passed in Hood River County - 69 percent of Hood River County voters supported the bottling ban while 42 percent of voters in the Cascade Locks precinct did. 

But it is easier to refer the media to other articles rather than taking up their valuable time to get up to speed. This Oregon Business Magazine article reported that the Cascade Locks city council passed a resolution setting municipal water rates at $2.50 per thousand gallons. Cascade Locks would also permit users of at least 250,000 gallons a month to negotiate a lower contracted rate..."one that, in the case of NestlĂ©, would include the Oxbow Springs water, to which only the company will have access".... “We pay $10 per thousand gallons, a fair rate [for springwater],” says Steve Emery, CEO of Culver-based bottler EartH2O. 

As part of the Oregon Business Magazine article I suggested legislation that enabled a public-interest review of all water rights transfers given the amount of money being made from a public resource like springwater. “Oregon maintains an international reputation for having abundant clean water,” says Jarvis. “Why not have the companies that are profiting from this reputation pay a fee to Oregon to maintain it and use the sorely needed revenues to shore up budget shortfalls?” 

Crazy idea, I know, kind of like the State of Wyoming imposing a tax on wind, or the State of Oregon imposing a timber tax to fund the College of Forestry at Oregon State University.

The *gift* keeps getting larger and more diverse. The Cascade Locks situation has morphed into *video wars*, both pro and con. I used these videos in a class on Water Conflict Management that I taught at UNESCO-IHE in Delft in early April. The students examined the visual and verbal messages in each video as part of an exercise in the use of video on water conflict: 

Nestle Waters North America funded this video where they used upbeat music, interviews with Cascade Locks residents who support the bottling plant, and images of closed businesses to sell the message that the bottling plant would help revive the local economy. 

The Local Water Alliance and Food & Water Watch, in concert with the folks from the Story of Stuff, developed this video where the music is less upbeat, interviews with Cascade Locks residents who oppose the bottling plant, and images of the incredible beauty of the Columbia River Gorge including agriculture in the gorge that is reliant on local water resources perceived to be at risk if the bottling plant is constructed. 

A local media consultant developed this video that starts with an interview with a woman representing the Wanapum Fishing People Against Nestle and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation. The Tribes also marched on the Oregon State Capitol, arguing the Oxbow Spring that is the subject of the debate is a "healing" spring protected by the Warm Springs Treaty of 1855.

Despite the "landslide" victory of ballot measure 14-55, The Oregonian reports that Cascade Locks is not throwing in the towel yet. Cascade Locks is exploring possible options for moving the bottling plan forward, and .... "those options wouldn't be revealed later because of attorney-client privilege." The Hood River Board of Commissioners are concerned they will get involved in a potential legal battle. NestlĂ© indicated that the company "does not currently intend to pursue its own legal challenge to the measure." And yet, Hood River operates under "home rule charters" as opposed to "general law" like most other Oregon counties. According to The Oregonian article...Oregon law expressly states that general law counties cannot enforce their ordinances and rules within city limits. But the law says nothing about such limitations or rights for home rule counties."

And what about the State of Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) position on the situation? Word on the street is the following:
  • OWRD claims the ballot measure would have no influence on how they process the water exchange application.
  • OWRD is beginning the development of a new policy regarding independent parties seeking state held water resources.
Update - Folks from the Alliance for Democracy, KNOG (Keep Nestle Out of the Gorge), Crag Law Center, Food and Water Watch, and Water Watch of Oregon gave me permission to post a summary of a meeting they had with OWRD Director, Senior Policy Coordinator, DOJ Attorney, and the State's Native American Liaison in April, 2016. The meeting notes are *as-received* with minor editing (for example, I removed reference to personal names).

The gist of the meeting:

Ballot Measure:
  • They claim the measure will have no influence on how they process the water exchange application (even after Crag Law Center made the point that water bottling would be an illegal activity and the application process should hopefully take that into account)
  • They haven't even really started the development of the new policy the Governor's Office asked them to come up with so they wouldn't say if or how the ballot measure outcome would effect that
Water Exchange Process:
  • When asked what the process will be for this water exchange application (that they have been sitting on since 2010) they said they didn't have one yet
  • When specifically asked if there would be a chance for new parties to officially weigh in or submit comments (with standing) they would not say whether or not that would be possible. Even after we mentioned that in the past 6 years a lot has changed and groups like the tribes might want the chance to weigh in, especially since the new drought conditions--they still refused to say if new groups could intervene in any substantive way
  • They did say there would be a public hearing that was separate from an actual contested case hearing, but again, exactly what that looked like and if new entities to intervene with standing was not clarified
  • It seemed clear that unless ODFW withdraws the application that OWRD will proceed with processing the application and will not re-open it to public comments
Development of new policy regarding independent parties seeking state held water resources:
  • They are just getting started. No real news here other than: they will have a transparent process, will involved stakeholders (wouldn't say who) and coordinate closely with the Governor's Office
  • They have formed a committee of two OWRD commissioners to oversee this policy proposal 
  • The Senior Policy Coordinator asked a question that seemed to come out of left field about state lands as it would pertain to Nestle or any other water water bottler gaining access to spring water sources through access to state lands (it was very out of the blue and made us wonder what prompted her to ask)
  • Timeline: would not commit but would like to have a policy before the next leg. session starts. They have a tentative goal of new policy of by the end of 2016.
  • They agreed to meet with us again after the election and hopefully when they will have more info about the policy development and about the water exchange process
* * * 
~Lenny Kravitz

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.
* * * 
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.