Science news and reports: Tidal marsh restoration, subsided islands, GRACE satellite imagery, adaptive management, declining snowpacks and more!

water molecules
The hydrogen bond network structure of water.
Image credit: vitroid

Will tidal marsh restoration make a difference in the Delta?  The BDCP calls for extensive tidal marsh restoration, relying on the benefits to offset the impacts of water diversions.  But will this be effective?  The recent conference at UC Davis highlighted the uncertainties of tidal marsh restoration to native fish species, especially considering other factors that may be in play:  ” … One of those major factors was that tidal marshes produce a great deal of organic matter. The question remains is if that matter will transport from the tidal marsh out into the open water, creating more food for fish throughout the system. The science is still undetermined if this will in fact take place.   “BDCP’s purpose is to improve production within the food web,” said Larry Brown, USGS Research Biologist for the California Water Science Center. “Phytoplankton is the dominant energy source to the Delta pelagic food web.” … ”  Read more from the River News Herald here:  Tidal Marshes and Native Fishes in the Delta: Will restoration make a difference?

What can be done about deeply subsided Delta islands?  With islands subsiding and sea levels rising, the likelihood of flooding from major storms, earthquakes, or burrowing rodents increases. ” … Fortunately, the most subsided islands also typically have low agricultural productivity, less economic value and few residents.  What can be done with these fragile and subsided lands? Is the fate of subsided Delta islands to become deeply flooded aquatic habitat? … ”  Read more here from the California Water Blog: The Delta won’t rise again

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New satellite imagery shows several areas across the United States that are facing water-related catastrophes, such as extreme flooding, drought, and groundwater depletion.  The new study utilizes data from the NASA Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite mission to track changing freshwater availability all over the world.  ” … “Worldwide, groundwater supplies about half of all drinking water, and it is also hugely important for agriculture, yet without GRACE we would have no routine, global measurements of changes in groundwater availability,” said Rodell. “Other satellites can’t do it, and ground-based monitoring is inadequate.”  The report, entitled Water in the Balance, draws attention to water management as a national, rather than just a regional or statewide problem. The GRACE mission is able to monitor monthly water storage changes within river basins and aquifers that are 200,000 km2 or larger in area, and, according to Famiglietti and Rodell, can contribute to water management at regional and national scales, and to international policy discussions as well.  … “  Read more from PhysOrg here:  Satellite data will be essential to future of groundwater, flood and drought management

GRACE and the need for the project to continue:  The Inkstain blog also reports on the study:  ” … The GRACE numbers have substantially improved our understanding of this problem … “GRACE may be the only hope for groundwater depletion assessments in data-poor regions of the world,” they wrote in 2007. But there are problems, as Famiglietti and Matthew Rodell write in this week’s Science (link might be behind Science’s paywall). GRACE was launched in 2002 with a five-year nominal lifetime, which it has obviously exceeded. A follow-on is not planned to launch until 2017 … ”  Read more from the Inkstain blog here:  Famiglietti on GRACE and the need for good groundwater data

The Water Wired blog also weighs in on GRACE:  ” … The GRACE data are really something, As Jay, others, and I have noted, it is a game changer with regard to water management and also transnational water issues – the whole conflict issue.  I do have one concern with the enthusiasm over GRACE: people – some water managers, policymakers and decisionmakers – might begin to think that all we need are the GRACE data and no longer will have to collect information on groundwater levels, streamflow (stream gauging), soil moisture, (‘ground-truthing’) etc. I can hear them [legislators?] now: ‘Think of all the money we can save!’ Nothing could be further from the truth, especially with respect to groundwater. We need to collect groundwater-level data and monitor groundwater withdrawals; in fact, we need to expand both activities. … ”  Read more from the Water Wired blog here:  GRACE Guru: Groundwater’s Going…Going…

Journal article explores strategies to build stakeholder capacity when implementing collaborative adaptive management From the Ecology and Society Journal, a new paper on adaptive management.  Here’s the abstract:  “Efforts to implement collaborative adaptive management (CAM) often suffer from challenges, such as an unwillingness of managers to share power, unresolved conflicts between stakeholders, and lack of capacity among stakeholders. Some aspects considered essential to CAM, e.g., trust and stakeholder capacity, may be more usefully viewed as goals for intermediate strategies rather than a set of initial conditions. From this perspective, intermediate steps that focus on social learning and building experience could overcome commonly cited barriers to CAM. An exploration of Springs Basin Working Groups, organized around major clusters of freshwater springs in north Florida, provides a case study of how these intermediate steps enable participants to become more reasonable and engaged. This strategy may be easily implemented by agencies beginning a CAM process.”  Read more here:  Intermediate Collaborative Adaptive Management Strategies Build Stakeholder Capacity

When it comes to environmental groups, size does matter, study finds:  Some groups are big, some are small, but the process works best when the size is just right:  ” … Scientists at Michigan State University have found that there is a sweet spot — a group size at which the action is most effective. More importantly, the work revealed how behaviors of group members can pull bad policy up or drag good policy down. The work is published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  “This paper finds that group size does matter — and the answer is right in the middle,” said Jianguo “Jack” Liu, who holds the Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability at MSU and is director of the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability. “Collective action is of growing importance as the world becomes more interdependent. It’s important to understand how collective action works if we want programs that are effective.” … ”  Read more from Science Daily here:  Study Finds the Sweet Spot — And the Screw-Ups — That Make or Break Environmental Collective Actions

Climate change could add more baldness to Mt. Baldy, according to a new study released by UCLA which predicts significant loss of snowfall in Southern California’s mountains by century’s end:  ” … It’s easy to think that snow is great for skiers and sledders but not so meaningful for everyone else.  Our snowpack, however, provides an important source of surface water, especially in drier months.  The good news from this study is that mitigation makes a difference. Cutting greenhouse gases significantly curbs snowfall loss by the end of the century … ”  Read more from the Legal Planet blog here:  Mt Baldy getting balder? Scary projections of SoCal snow loss just released, or read more from Science Daily on the report here:  Dramatic Loss in Snowfall for Los Angeles-Area Mountains Predicted

The success of Los Angeles’ Integrated Resource Plan which reinvented the city’s water management was the subject of Assistant Director of LA’s Bureau of Sanitation Adel Hagekhalil’s speech at the Room for the River conference who credits the success to collaboration and communication:   ” … It takes a village. It takes people working together; it takes government agencies, municipalities, regulators, federal and state agencies—everybody working together to really make it happen. It cannot be done by one agency.  What we do first is establish the vision, the future, and understand the challenge. I think what I learned from Holland is that it’s in their DNA. In our city and region, we have not been good about communicating that need for us to become sustainable as a city. We need to use more water locally. 85 percent of our water comes from somewhere else, and for us to continue and thrive as an economy in the Southern California region, in LA, we have to change how we grow and develop our city. … ”  Read more from The Planning Report here:  LA Bureau of Sanitation’s Adel Hagekhalil Trumpets Water Management Successes

Image credit:  The hydrogen bond network structure of water, by flickr photographer vitroid.
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