April 1, 2015
Jeffrey Harlan, Esq., LEED AP
“Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting” – attributed to Mark Twain
Twain knew a thing or two about California’s culture and politics, and his prophetic words have become all the more poignant in the last year. The Golden State is in the midst of its fourth year of severe drought, with snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains—a significant source of freshwater for the state— at historically low levels.[i] While communities and water districts across the state have been implementing their own water conservation measures—restricting outdoor residential irrigation, offering financial incentives to replace thirsty lawns with drought-tolerant landscaping, and issuing steep surcharges for exceeding allowed limits—the state government has finally taken the regulatory plunge.[ii]
The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014
Last September, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law the state’s first regulations on groundwater resources – the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014 (SGMA).[iii] Up to this point, California was the only western state that did not have comprehensive regulations for groundwater. Groundwater accounts for about 40 percent of the state’s total annual water supply.[iv]
SGMA creates a framework for sustainable, groundwater management, providing local agencies the authority to adopt groundwater management plans tailored to their community’s conditions and needs. The legislation applies only to “high and medium priority” groundwater basins (127 out of 515 in the state), which account for approximately 96 percent of the groundwater use in California. The state’s approximately 30 adjudicated basins (i.e., where water rights in a stream system have been determined by a court) are exempt from the new legislation.
SGMA Details: Focus on Local Control
The intent of SGMA is to provide state government a limited role, allowing it to intervene only if local agencies cannot meet specific deadlines and conditions. The State Water Resources Control Board will supply technical support and $100 million of funding (from Proposition 1, the recently passed state water bond) for planning and implementing groundwater solutions.
Specifically, SGMA requires:
1) New local groundwater sustainability agencies to be formed by 2017;
2) The development of groundwater sustainability plans by 2020 for overdrafted high and medium priority basins (by 2022 for other similar basins not in overdraft); and
3) Each high and medium priority basin to achieve “sustainability” by 2040.
And, of paramount importance to landowners, the legislation expressly preserves their water rights.
Implementation: Implications for Planners, Users, and Communities:
It is certainly too early to raise a glass of whiskey and toast the law’s success. SGMA is in important first step, but as it becomes implemented across the state a number of complex questions will surely bubble to the surface.
About the Author:
Jeff has over 15 years of experience as a community planner, specializing in sustainable development, strategic planning, and environmental design. He brings a unique perspective to challenging land use and regulatory problems, shaped by his experience as a deputy to an elected official, and planning director for a California state land conservancy.
[i] Electronic readings by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) in March 2014 indicate the water content of the northern Sierra snowpack is 4.4 inches, 16 percent of average for the date; the central and southern Sierra readings were 5.5 inches (20 percent of average) and 5 inches (22 percent) respectively. California Department of Water Resources, http://ca.gov/drought/, March 3, 2015.
[ii] Water Districts have adopted a number of mandatory restrictions and prohibitions. http://www.acwa.com/content/local-drought-response
The State Water Resources Control Board adopted new restrictions on March 17, 2015, including limiting outdoor residential irrigation, requiring restaurants only to give water to patrons when asked, giving hotel guests the option to not launder sheets and towels daily.
The City of Los Angeles incentivizes with lawn replacement program for residential and commercial properties ($3.75/sq. ft. for residential).
[iii] The Sustainable Groundwater Management Act is actually a three-bill legislative package, composed of AB 1739 (Dickinson), SB 1168 (Pavley), and SB 1319 (Pavley).
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March 27, 2015
Over the past three decades, thousands of contaminated sites have been assessed and remediated through the EPA’s Superfund program, and many are currently on the program’s National Priorities List awaiting assessment and cleanup. Remediation of contaminated sites and spills is still a major concern in the U.S. and technology is improving to address needed cleanup. In the past, scientifically-proven methods of remediation generally involved engineered technologies, such as removal of materials to a landfill or pump and treat systems, which can be very costly. Technologies that utilize naturally occurring organisms to mitigate or remove toxic substances from soils and groundwater are increasingly being studied and employed on contaminated sites. These technologies, known as “bioremediation,” can offer advantages over conventional methods, including potentially lower costs and less transport of hazardous materials.
Bioremediation has been used to treat a number of organic and inorganic contaminants in the environment including hydrocarbons, chlorinated chemicals, pesticides, metals, and other contaminants. Various treatment methods may be used depending on the chemicals of concern, but most generally employ microorganisms to reduce toxic potential. Microbes, for example, can be applied to contaminated soils where they metabolize contaminants into less toxic forms (Donlon and Bauder 2015).
Phytoremediation, a similar kind of natural remediation, uses plants for decontamination and has demonstrated effectiveness at former mines and industrial sites. The method is attractive because it enables remediation at the site (in-situ) without transport of soils and can be performed at a relatively low cost. Plant species with faster relative growth are used to speed up the phytoremediation process. In particular, species of willow have been studied due to their rapid growth and premature foliation (Université de Montréal 2011). A recent study in Finland looked at the ability of different species of willow, with varying degrees of phytoremediation capacity, for remediation of heavy metals at a mine site (University of Eastern Finland 2014). The observed species which exhibited the best results was Salix schwerinii, as well as a hybrid of Salix schwerinii and Salix viminalis. These projects are helping to isolate the most efficient species of plants, as well as ideal proportions of microorganisms, to speed up site decontamination.
Although bioremediation is a well-known process, a number of studies are being performed aimed at making remediation potential faster and more effective, with fewer toxic byproducts. In the case of phytoremediation, the key seems to be identifying plant species that perform decontamination most effectively and expeditiously. Phytoremediation may have limitations however, which requires understanding of local conditions, including soils and local ecology to design effective remediation strategies. However, the potential for creating more cost-effective remediation that minimizes earth-moving is significant (University of Eastern Finland 2014) – not to mention the aesthetic benefits of a greener landscape.
About the Author
George Patten is an environmental scientist with experience in water quality assessments and watershed planning in Colorado. He has extensive experience assessing ecological and human health risks of contaminated soils, sediments, and groundwater. George also has a strong background in geospatial analysis, GIS, and other data visualization tools.
March 26, 2015
Great Ecology’s Senior Biochemist, Dr. Ioana G. Petrisor directed a workshop this week on “Classic and Emerging Environmental Forensics Techniques and Applications” at the Association for Environmental Health and Sciences (AEHS) conference in San Diego. This workshop reviewed classic and emerging forensic techniques used for age-dating, source identification, and cost allocation, emphasizing on effective strategy building from both scientific and legal perspectives.
Cutting-edge forensic techniques such as chiral fingerprinting, position-specific isotopic analysis (PSIA), mineralogical fingerprinting and dendroecology (tree-ring fingerprinting), were discussed and presented through several international case studies including:
• Evaluating the source of gasoline samples through focused fingerprinting (combining information from chemical and isotopic fingerprinting);
• Distinguishing between closely related crude oils by targeted fingerprinting focused on n-alkanes, Pristane, Phitane and certain biomarkers (isomer pairs);
• Establishing site specific clean-up limits at an historical foundry in France using mineralogical fingerprinting (combining scanning electron microscopy with chemical elemental analysis);
• Determining the occurrence and age of middle distillate releases at a historical gas station in the U.S.
Ioana G. Petrisor, Ph.D.
Dr. Petrisor is a biochemist with 21 years of experience, specializing in environmental forensics and litigation support. She is a member of the AEHS Scientific Advisory Board and a forensic instructor for the organization. Dr. Petrisor has served as an expert witness in California, testifying on issues associated with environmental contamination.
March 12, 2015
Alejandro Baladrón Julian, M.S.
Did you know that small amounts of pollution can dramatically change the species composition of a natural habitat? Biodiversity indicators are excellent tools for assessing which way landscape units are heading in terms of habitat quality. Biodiversity can be easily calculated by using rapid assessment indicators such as species richness and species diversity indices. By comparing results across landscape units, we can predict biodiversity patterns, detect management gaps in natural areas, or implement appropriate conservation planning guidelines. However, results obtained through the use of rapid assessment indicators require cautious interpretation. Sometimes it is assumed that habitats exhibiting very high values of species diversity are of excellent quality. However, that assumption is not always correct.
Understanding Disturbance & Species Diversity
All species have tolerance limits for environmental factors beyond which individuals cannot survive, grow, or reproduce. Disturbance sources, such as pollution and land use changes, can disrupt normal ranges of environmental factors affecting biological communities. Biomonitoring protocols help measure the quality of habitats by studying the attributes of biological communities, including their diversity in terms of species taxa or functional groups. However, the relationship between biodiversity and intensity or frequency of disturbance is not always linear, as is depicted in the parabolic graph (Fig.1) of the Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis.
Fig. 1. Graph showing variation of diversity with disturbance according to the Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis: a) low levels of disturbance allow competition reducing diversity; b) greatest biological diversity occur at intermediate levels of disturbance as a result of loss of the most sensitive species and invasion of opportunistic species; c) high levels of disturbance reduce diversity.[/caption]
Low Intensity Disturbance
Physical disturbance prevents a competitively dominant species from excluding other species from the community, and there is a trade-off between a species’ ability to compete and their ability to tolerate disturbance. For example when disturbance conditions in a river are of low-intensity or infrequent, species diversity may also be low because only the best competitors persist. Headwater streams are usually good places to find highly specialized pollution-intolerant taxa including giant stoneflies and flathead mayflies, as long as there are no cattle or other sources of disturbance.
High Intensity Disturbance
When disturbances have a high intensity, diversity is reduced through the loss of species that are particularly sensitive to disturbance, which tend to be native species well-adapted to pristine conditions. For instance, streams draining heavily urbanized catchments are almost always exposed to high disturbance regimes due to frequent pollution loads entering the streams through sewer systems. As a result, macroinvertebrate communities in urban streams are usually dominated by large numbers of pollution tolerant taxa including tubificid worms, leeches, moth flies, and rattailed maggots.
Moderate Intensity Disturbance
Disturbance scenarios of moderate intensity have been widely discussed in scientific literature because of their implications for species diversity. At intermediate levels of disturbance, there is a balance between competitive exclusion and loss of competitive dominant species due to disturbance. In this scenario, conditions favor the coexistence of competitive species and disturbance-tolerant species. As a result, a peak in diversity may occur at intermediate intensities of disturbance.
Streams affected by moderate intensity disturbances can show an array of native aquatic invertebrates. The majority are usually competitively dominant, with the addition of a few opportunistic species, which are usually benefited by increased disturbance. Ecologists have observed certain streams located on agricultural lands with the ability to support a high diversity of aquatic invertebrates, as long as they are not affected by aggressive practices like the excessive use of pesticides in row crops.
When we evaluate water quality conditions of streams by analyzing macroinvertebrate-based bioindicators, higher diversity may be found in slightly polluted sections of the stream rather than in pristine sections, where we may find only native species. Therefore we may incorrectly conclude that overall habitat quality is higher in polluted sections like those affected by stormwater outfalls. An incorrect interpretation of biodiversity results would prevent us from providing an accurate stream assessment of water quality status.
Analyzing and Interpreting Biodiversity Data
Rapid assessment biodiversity indicators, such as species richness and evenness, can significantly reduce costs of environmental studies and are strongly recommended for pilot or reconnaissance studies. However, their capacity to detect differences in habitat quality is sometimes limited and may not fulfill the most demanding project goals. Rapid assessment procedures can be substituted with studies based on hypothesis testing, replicate samples, and multivariate analysis approaches which increase the accuracy of results but also raise project costs.
It is also possible to increase the reliability of results and reduce projects costs by using multiple diversity and community composition indices to assess habitat quality. For example, Great Ecology uses a comprehensive set of benthic metrics to periodically assess the quality of restored open water habitats and tidal areas at the Woodbridge Waterfront Park project site in New Jersey. Benthic metrics are measurements of the structure, function, or other characteristics of the macroinvertebrate community that change in some predictable way to increased disturbance. Our set of benthic metrics includes measures of species richness, diversity, dominance, presence/absence of tolerant or intolerant species, functional feeding groups, and macroinvertebrate-based indicators of water quality. A broad spectrum of metrics provides more accurate information to address our clients’ restoration goals as compared to using just species richness and diversity indices. Understanding what makes a quality habitat requires an awareness of local disturbances and a comprehensive knowledge of the best practices to approach each particular case.
About the Author
Alejandro Baladrón Julian is an environmental scientist specializing in hydrology. He has extensive experience performing Environmental Impact Assessments and hydrology modeling, including the design of drainage networks for highway and railway lines, the analysis of evacuation capacity in wastewater drainage systems, and flood risk studies.
March 10, 2015
Great Ecology is proud to receive the 2014 Business Achievement Honorable Mention from the Environmental Business Journal. The award cites rapid growth, the expansion of client work and services, and the firm’s core value of providing excellence in ecology and design as outstanding characteristics of the company. Great Ecology’s president and CEO, Dr. Mark S. Laska comments, “it’s exciting to receive this recognition and to witness Great Ecology’s continued growth; 2015 is shaping up to be a great year for the firm.” Dr. Laska will be attending the Environmental Industry Summit this week in San Diego along with other top executives and professionals in the environmental industry.
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February 27, 2015
What happens when the snow drifts begin to pile so high that they start to block out the sun, and the snowplows have no place left to collect their icy haul? With record-setting snowfall and cold temperatures smothering Eastern cities like New York and Boston, officials have been forced to consider drastic measures in order to preserve public safety. The proposed solution to get rid of all the intolerable snow? The same one that sparked the American Revolution; throw it in the Boston Harbor.
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced that dumping excess snow in the harbor could be necessary “as a last resort,” even though the practice was banned by Massachusetts state law. Excess snow was commonly dumped into the Boston Harbor up until about 1990, when a multi-billion dollar cleanup project restricted regulations for the formerly “dirtiest harbor in America.” The decision to dump snow in waterways has sparked controversy due to the potentially negative environmental impact. Snow banks along roadways can contain a variety of chemicals and inorganic matter, which if released, could have a detrimental impact on water quality and aquatic ecosystems. John Lipscomb of the New York environmental group Riverkeeper, adds perspective to the equation by stating, “There’s a lot of stuff in this snow that if I isolated it and threw it in the river, you’d have me arrested.”
Excess snow is traditionally hauled to “snow farms” located in upland areas outside of the City and away from sensitive environments. As the snow melts, pollutants are filtered out through the soil before they can enter waterways, according to Ed Coletta of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MASSDEP). With several snow farms already full, Boston and other affected cities such as New York have resorted to using industrial sized snow melters in an attempt to clear roadways. These machines liquefy thirty tons of snow an hour, discharging it into the sewer system where many of the chemicals are eventually removed at water treatment facilities. However, even these snow melters haven’t been able to keep up the pace with the record-breaking winter weather.
As a result, Massachusetts enlisted the help of hundreds of National Guard Troops to assist with the snow removal, and also had heavy equipment sent in from 8 other Northeastern states.
While the MASSDEP doesn’t endorse dumping snow in waterways, it has granted several cities the option to do so citing public safety as a paramount concern to potential environmental impacts. Several mandatory MASSDEP snow disposal guidelines were established help to reduce the associated adverse environmental impacts. They require that cities:
Bruce Berman, a spokesman for the non-profit group Save the Harbor/Save the Bay summarizes the sentiment of many on the issue, “We prefer not to have to put it in [the bay], but when there’s an extraordinary condition — and these are certainly extraordinary conditions — we support this,”
As crews work around the clock to dig out the frozen cities, East Coasters wait with icy baited breath for an early Spring thaw and an end to the relentless winter weather.
About the Author
Devin O’Dea supports the marketing efforts for Great Ecology. He has an entrepreneurial background with a refined approach to modern marketing tactics. He holds a Bachelors degree in Political Science from the University of California Santa Barbara with emphases on International Relations and sustainable development.
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February 20, 2015
Every year I pack up my ski gear and head out for a few days of fun in the snow with my friends. After a long weekend of skiing, and a couple ice-cold beverages, my friend asked me “what is the impact of ski resorts on local and regional ecosystems?” While work is usually the last thing on my mind when carving up the slopes, I made an exception this once to provide a crash course in sustainability.
I love skiing, but ski resorts can have a substantially negative effect on the environment. Keeping trails open and covered in snow can consume enormous amounts of energy and water. Telluride alone uses approximately 80 million gallons of water a year to keep the slopes white and the skiers happy. Powering the pumps to get the snow up the mountain, keep the lifts running, and the lodges warm also requires a lot of electricity. Jiminy Peak spent about $635,000 on electricity annually in 2009, and that’s a relatively small mountain with only nine lifts in operation (compared to larger resorts like Vail with over three times as many). When you begin to look at the ski hill in a more critical light, you start to see that our exploitation of the natural landscape is at work even when we’re on vacation.
But, this sad news is not without a silver lining. Many resorts are already well ahead of the curve with regards to getting their mountains back into the green. Smugglers’ Notch in Vermont took it a step further and focused on eco-education and wildlife habitat protection efforts. All ski classes stop by the Mother Nature eco-teacher to teach new skiers about their impacts on the environment and what they can do to minimize them. Park City in Utah has reduced their amount of greenhouse gas emissions by over 15,000 tons.
Aspen started their eco initiatives back in 1997 and have become the first ski resort to offset 100% of its electricity with a number of large wind turbines and by patching into solar and wind power plants. Their vehicles and groomers also run on biodiesel and they have the largest solar power generation system in the industry. They have become the example all other mountains try to follow. Even Jiminy Peak has gotten into the mix, installing a massive wind turbine on its mountain which contributes 33% of the electrical demands of the resort.
While the ski industry as a whole has a long way to go, it is exciting to see a lot of the resorts, both big and small, taking serious strides to minimize their impact on the environment. So the next time you hit the slopes, make sure to take a minute and check to see if the resort is doing all it can to preserve the global climate you need to enjoy skiing for years to come. I for one can sleep better knowing my beloved K-1 Gondola at Killington runs on 100% renewable energy.
About the Author
Zachary Lehmann has over six years of experience as a field biologist and GIS specialist in New York City and the surrounding wetlands. He specializes in wetland delineation, wildlife and plant inventory and monitoring, with a focus on bird and mammal species.
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February 20, 2015
Great Ecology is featured in the La Jolla Light Newspaper highlighting conceptual designs created for the La Jolla Whale View Point Shoreline Enhancement project.
Great Ecology’s interdisciplinary team of designers and ecologists were excited to develop conceptual restoration plans for the 20-year coastal restoration project in La Jolla, CA. The La Jolla Light Newspaper featured the Whale View Point Shoreline Enhancement initiative and Great Ecology’s ecological approach to managing the problem of coastal erosion. Great Ecology was engaged by the non-profit, La Jolla Parks and Beaches (LJPB) foundation to examine on-site urban stormwater capture and management, coastal erosion, public access, and interpretive signage.
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February 16, 2015
Great Ecology is excited to join the Energy, Utility, and Environment Conference (EUEC) this week, February 16-18 in our hometown, San Diego.
President, Dr. Mark Laska is leading a session, Remediation, Ecological Design, & Mitigation, and the panel promises to present interesting ideas and approaches. The panel presentations include:
EUEC attendees, come meet our local San Diego team – we’ll be at booth 507!
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February 14, 2015
Chris Loftus, RLA, ASLA
It’s an intriguing vision: miles of luminous sliver ribbon suspended over a wild river, bending light and accentuating canyon curves. First conceived by the artist Christo and his late wife Jeanne-Claude in the early nineteen-nineties, the Over the River (OTR) project proposes to suspend 5.9 miles of silver fabric in eight distinct locations along a 42-mile stretch of the Arkansas River in South-central Colorado.
The path to realization of OTR has been as curvilinear and dynamic as the river over which it is proposed. Years of analysis and thousands of pages of permitting documents, multiple state and federal law suits, and a flurry of public opposition have extended the project’s timeline and still obstruct the announcement of an installation date. Once initiated, the project would take 27 months to implement and would be displayed for a two-week period during the month of August.
Impacts to the ecosystems along the Arkansas’ riparian corridor present one of the most contentious aspects of the project. The proposed installation includes a fabric and cable system anchored to the canyon walls and river banks, which could create temporary obstacles to wildlife movement and altered microclimatic conditions. The entire project area is under Bureau of Land Management (BLM) jurisdiction, and an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) was completed as part of the permitting process. The EIS describes a number of mitigation measures that address terrestrial, avian, and aquatic wildlife and habitat impacts. These measures include the provision of access to previously unavailable bighorn sheep habitat, the establishment of a bighorn sheep adaptive management fund for future mitigation efforts, creation of raptor nest buffers, preservation of all existing trees in the area, and sedimentation prevention to protect instream habitat. The project implementation schedule was also designed to minimize impacts during especially sensitive seasonal wildlife activity.
Following the 2011 BLM Record of Decision approving the project, multiple legal obstacles surfaced. Recent litigious action and associated publicity have rekindled public interest in the project. On January 2, 2015, a federal judge upheld the BLM’s decision to allow the installation. Another federal appeal was filed on January 26, continuing to delay final permitting and project commencement. On February 12, OTR cleared a state hurdle when the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled to uphold a 2013 decision in favor of Colorado State Parks’ approval of the project. The most visible and organized public and legal opposition has originated from Rags Over the Arkansas River, or ROAR, which has fought the project at local, state, and federal levels. ROAR cites potential negative impacts to local communities and wildlife as grounds for blocking the proposal.
Christo, who has successfully completed other large scale projects around the world including the Gates installation in Central Park and a previous Colorado installation called Valley Curtain, seems unfazed by the ongoing opposition. His comments indicate that he considers it a valuable part of the process for projects of this scope. In a 2013 Denver Post interview, Christo remarked, “For many years, all the people are thinking how the work will be beautiful, how the work will be awful. Basically the work is working in the mind of the people before it physically exists. This is probably the biggest satisfaction we have.” OTR, like Christo’s other installations, is funded solely from sales of the artist’s work, including the original concept sketches.
Proponents of Christo’s work believe that it accentuates natural forms and invites people to reinvent their perceptions of the landscape. Opponents find the installations obtrusive and unnatural. Time and the legal system will determine OTR’s fate. In the meantime, the Arkansas River will continue its dynamic flow through the Rocky Mountains toward the Great Plains.
About the Author
Chris is a Registered Landscape Architect with over ten years of experience working in the western United States. He specializes in the reintroduction of highly functioning ecological systems to degraded landscapes.
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