Displaying items by tag: groundwater
Over the past 544 million years, Earth's had five major extinction events. A major extinction is one where between 70% and 90% of all species on the planet are lost – never to be seen again. Each of the five was caused by a cataclysmic event – like the meteor that killed the dinosaurs when it slammed into the Yucatan peninsula 65 million years ago.
Have I mentioned "The Big Three"?
These are the three things - in some combination - that all life needs to survive: air, water and food.
Humans live just a couple of minutes without oxygen (which is found in the air around us), we survive just a few days without water, and just a few weeks without food. Thus, the term "The Big Three."
Everything else, as much as we might like it or crave it or desire it, are things we do not physically need.
Yet, in America (and elsewhere) people, businesses and the goverenment often put those other things ahead of The Big Three.
Take hydraulic fracturing (fracking) as an example. States have been granting permits to mining companies to install thousands upon thousands of wells that cover landscapes in a strange grid of access roads and rectangular pads for the well and mining equipment. It is like some demented subdivision with no residents.
The mining takes place thousands of feet below the surface in a rock formation made up of shale, which is a sedimnetary rock that was formed when layers of clay particles were subjected to compaction over millenia deep within the Earth.
These shale layers do not occur uniformly beneath the Earth - just as mountains are in some areas and not others. Also, the type of shale is not identical from place to place. In some places, the shale formation contains natural gas trapped in the fine cracks that occur naturally in the shale. Fracking, then is a process whereby liquids are injected into the shale formation to enlarge the cracks and release the natural gas.
(Note: In other places, the shale might contain oil, as in the Green River Formation in Utah & Wyoming. Unlike natural gas, which is, well gaseous, the petroleum in oil shale formations is not so easily extracted, as it is essentially part of the rock, not just trapped in the cracks of the rock.)
There are two ways that fracking is in conflict with The Big Three, specifically with #2, Water.
Fracking reduces the amount of water available for human use. The fracking process uses millions of gallons of water that is combined with chemicals and then injected deep into the ground to crack the shale - that water is taken out of aquifers and streams where it would otherwise be available for human use. And that water is not cleaned and eventually returned to the public water supply. It is effectively unavailable for human use forever.
Fracking has been shown to pollute groundwater aquifers that people use for their household water. The YouTube videos of people lighting the water coming out of their kitchen faucets are not just publicity stunts. In many cases, they are actually the result of dramatically increased amounts of methane getting into individual's wells after fracking wells were installed in their communities. It is not a big leap to think that the fracking process led to the contamination of the aquifers. According to the mining industry itself, 5% of fracking wells have cracked well casings as soon as they are made. (The casing is the lining that is supposed to prevent leakage - into and out of the well.) So, if 1,000 fracking wells are drilled, 50 of those start out with a leaky well casing.
For purely selfish reasons - our lives - perhaps we should keep our priorities straight. Always put The Big Three first.
In McHenry County, water is all around us: Groundwater. Wetlands. Watersheds. Stormwater. Even so, all of the water people use locally comes from the ground. Municipal and private wells reach down into “groundwater aquifers” and pump water up for human use.
Aquifers are not underground pools. In this area, aquifers are found where deposits of sand, gravel, or sandstone have water filling the spaces between sand particles (or filling cracks in the rock). The water in the aquifers starts out on the surface and slowly works its way down to the porous material where wells can access it for pumping back to the surface.
Sand and gravel aquifers are found 10 to 400 feet below the surface in deposits left by the glaciers 12,000 or more years ago. It can take water up to 50 years to reach these aquifers depending on how close the sand and gravel is to the surface.
Sandstone aquifers are up to 1,300 feet (one-quarter mile) below the surface. Sandstone formations are the remnants of ancient sea beds that were compressed into stone over millenia. Water from the surface may take hundreds or thousands of years to reach the sandstone. Note: the water moving into sandstone aquifers under McHenry County is believed to come primarily from Boone County.
Here are some important things to know about the water under McHenry County:
- Most of the available water is in the shallow sand and gravel aquifers. But, that water is more susceptible to contamination because pollutants from the surface will reach it sooner or later. Note: The communities of Fox River Grove and Crystal Lake had to issue advisories to residents in recent years because of elevated levels of chemicals in their shallow wells. And more than 10 years ago, the City of Harvard had to close a shallow well because of chemical contamination.
- Water in the sandstone aquifers is less likely to become polluted, but there is also much less of it. Also, McHenry County municipalities are already withdrawing more water from deep wells each year than is filtering back into them. So, they will run dry one day.
The good news is that McHenry County has enough water to meet current and future water needs with the water resources that are available to us right beneath our feet – if we plan for it. Planning includes protecting the water quality in our shallow sand and gravel aquifers to be sure that this resource is available for future generations too. Preserving the ability of the land to allow water to soak in so the aquifers can be recharged is critical as well.
There are some simple things that residents can do to help ensure there are ample water resources for the future:
- Stop treating stormwater as a waste product that is sent “away” as quickly as possible. Slow it down. Let it soak into the ground to recharge aquifers instead.
- Use native plants for landscaping. Water use peaks in the summer when residents water their lawns and gardens to keep them lush. Many native plants are drought tolerant once established. They also have the added benefits of reducing stormwater runoff and increasing infiltration.
- Let lawns go dormant during the hot, dry days of summer.
- Preserve open land and farmland that allows water to soak into the ground.
I am fascinated by water.
Humans can only survive a few days without it, and our bodies are 65% water. Less than one percent of the water on planet earth is available for people to use because the vast majority of water is in the oceans (where it is too salty for humans to drink) or it is locked in the polar ice caps.
Water is so essential to life, yet so often taken for granted.
Here in McHenry County, all of the water people use comes from the ground. Municipal and private wells reach down into “groundwater aquifers” and pump water up to the surface.
Aquifers are not underground pools. In this area, aquifers are found where deposits of sand, gravel, or sandstone have water filling the spaces between sand particles (or filling cracks in the rock).
If the water in these aquifers is not replenished, they can run dry just like a river or pond can go dry. And the source of water to refill an aquifer is the same as that which fills our rivers and ponds – precipitation (rain-sleet-snow).
We had a severe drought last year. On average, our area receives about 37 inches of precipitation each year. In 2012 we received about 25 inches.
The drought of 2012 led many local rivers and streams to run dry (like the one on the left side of the accompanying photo). Many ponds are very low, and some have dried up altogether. Farmers are able to cultivate parts of fields that were too wet to farm just a year or two ago.
Groundwater aquifers face a double whammy during a drought. First off, people pull more water out of the ground to water their lawns, gardens and farm fields to compensate for the lack of rain. Additionally, with no precipitation, there is no new water to replenish the water we are pulling out of the ground.
There is one final challenge that aquifers face when there’s a drought. They take time to recover even when rain starts to fall again. After all, the precipitation must be able to soak into the ground is areas where the soil is permeable enough to allow the water to pass through 100 to 400 or more feet of material. It can take several years for water that hits the ground today to make it to the nearest aquifer where it becomes available for a well to pump to the surface.
So, if you are still looking for a resolution for 2013, how about “I won’t take water for granted”?
It seems that local trees have been in the news a lot this year. And it looks like the trees are often losing to "progress" or "infrastructure."
Here are just a few of the items I've heard about recently:
Utilities wanting greater power to remove trees if they think they are a potential problem.
Illinois' State Rep from Marengo introduced legislation last fall that proposed giving electric utilities the ability to remove any tree that they deemed a potential problem if it were within 20 feet of one of their power lines. If the bill had passed, utilities would have been able to remove trees on private property, and it would have been a crime for the homeowner to interfere.
My response: Okay, the whole proposal was an enormous give away to the power companies. In communities where power lines run through back yards, it could have resulted in the removal of thousands of trees, forever changing the character of communities, in addition to increasing stormwater run off and reducing property values. The reason for the legislation was to reduce prolonged power outages due to downed power lines following storms. If the utilities really wanted to reduce power outages, they would bury the lines instead of removing the trees.
IDOT taking down "hazardous" trees along their routes.
You may have noticed that quite a few trees came down this spring along Route 120 between Woodstock and McHenry, and Route 23 between Marengo and Harvard. This work was commissioned by the Illinois Department of Transportation as part of their regular maintenance. Trees in the right-of-way that were dead or leaning over the road were marked and then removed to prevent them from one-day falling on someone.
My response: IDOT is well within their rights to do this, and their intentions are good. I just wish they didn't view the trees that are located in the right of way as "their" trees, and I wish there were some requirement that the public be notified when a project like that is proposed. The trees do not belong to the state, they belong to the residents of Illinois, and it seems the public should receive some notice before our trees are removed.
Municipalities proposing to remove many large, old trees to rebuild roads, put in sidewalks and/or install stormsewers.
Recent proposals in Algonquin, along Fleming Road, and Alden Road between rural Woodstock and the Wisconsin state line, all gained public notice in large part because so many large, old trees were proposed to be removed. To some people, if a tree is located in the public right of way, and the road authority wants to widen or "improve" the road with curbs and stormsewers, those trees are just in the way.
My response: There seems to be a general lack of understanding that trees are an important part of a community's infrastructure. They reduce stormwater run-off, clean the air, enhance property values, reduce the "heat island" effect in urban and suburban areas, provide habitat for birds and insects, and are generally good for our mental and physical health and well-being. Yet, rather than factoring tree preservation in to built infrastructure plans from the beginning, it seems that road authorities and local communities view even historic trees as just something to be removed if they are in the way. While sometimes there are provisions made to plant replacement trees, a 2" diameter tree is going to take a generation or more before it provides the benefits to the community that a 150 year-old bur oak provides.
Farmers removing fence row trees and tearing off tree branches that overhang their fields, all to get a few more rows of corn.
With corn and soybean prices at record high levels, we have been seeing some really aggressive tree removal by farmers who have a strong financial incentive to plant a few more rows of corn (or beans). In several cases, entire fence rows have been removed and burned. 150+ year old oak groves have been cut down and the stumps grubbed out to open up less than an additional acre of farmland. Some farmers have even used equipment to rip the branches off of neighbors trees if those branches overhang the farm field - otherwise the ginormous equipment used these days won't fit.
My response: Back in the day, farmers wanted to have diversified operations and land holdings that typically included a wood lot to provide fire wood, timber, grazing for the cattle in summer, etc. They also left large trees in the middle of fields to provide shady spots where they could stop and have lunch during the middle of a hot summer day. Now, many farmers don't even own the land they farm, and their only goal is getting as much income off the land as possible. Besides that, the combines and planting equipment have enclosed cabs with airconditioning these days, so there is no need to sit in the shade for lunch! A family's farm was their home back in the day, so most families tried to be good stewards of the land resources to be sure the next generation would be able to make a living there too. Today, land is seen as a commodity - something to be bought and sold. Something to wring the most money from today without a thought given to the next generation.
Some highway officials believe that shade from trees damages road asphalt.
There is a rumor that has been passed along for a few years now that says tree shade damages asphalt roads because it prevents them from drying following a rain storm. So, some road departments are getting rid of the road-shading trees. In the most obnoxious cases, road agencies have removed every tree branch that is overhanging a road, severing the branches in the middle rather than pruning them back to the trunk.
My response: This is a rumor based on partial information. This is one of the most dangerous kinds of rumors, because once acted upon, it is impossible to undo the damage done. Namely, once a tree has been damaged through irresponsible cutting of limbs, or removed entirely, it is ruined or gone forever. There is a kernel of truth in the rumor, as is often the case, but it isn't the whole story. Water on asphalt does damage the road surface, so the thinking is that anything that prevents the water from leaving quickly is bad. Thus, shade from trees becomes bad since it prevents the water on roads from evaporating as quickly as it would in direct sun. What this story omits, however is that branches overhanging roads actually reduce the amount of rainfall that strikes the road. That's right, the tree leaves catch a good amount of the water, especially during a light rain, so the road actually may stay dry under the tree. The tree leaves also catch and slow the rainfall, which further reduces the direct impact of rain on asphalt. Plus, shade is only a factor on a sunny day after a rainfall. What happens when it rains at night? Trees or not, there is no sunlight hitting the road during the night. Additionally, trees only generate meaningful shade during the growing season - typically May-October in our area. That means for half of the year, shade from trees is a non-issue.
All this is a long way of saying that I wish more people would view trees as important cultural, historic, infrastructure, aesthetic and community resources, and do more to think about the ways trees contribute to our health and general well-being as a society, and stop viewing them as obstacles to be removed. In some cases they were here long before we were - and if we take care of them, they could be here long after we are gone.