Native Plants, Habitat Restoration, and Other Science Snippets from Athens, Georgia

Wednesday: 31 October 2007

Halloween Battle  -  @ 05:59:58
Our human world is a scary place, but it's not this scary:

Those were the only indications I had of the centipede's jaws, and the spider (possibly a Leucauge) was intent on avoiding them. She was equally adamant about going for the head. What was the centipede doing, three feet above the ground, anyway?

That was Sunday night. This morning Wednesday the centipede was still feebly twitching as it continues to provide meal after meal.

Happy Halloween!

Monday: 29 October 2007

IP  -  @ 07:19:14
Bells and whistles are something we've always been late in coming to, and having Caller ID was one of these. But it's been great, once you know what sorts of ID'd calls to avoid answering. If you ever get a call identified as "IP", answer it. Out of the required curiosity that informs me on answering future such calls, I answered it, and learned something that I probably should have already known.

It was basically a third party who was relaying by voice the primary call, which was being typed in by instant message. I was to respond to the third party's voice relay, ending my segment with "go ahead", and then an interminable period of time would pass until he read off the next segment from the primary caller.

It was only the next day that Glenn realized this was a method by which a hearing or speech impaired person could communicate by telephone. That a disability is involved is not made clear, and indeed this ambiguity is accepted as a necessary evil by the community who wish their phone calls to be as transparent as those calls being made by those without a disability.

It's a result of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and if you look at your phone bill you will probably see that among the long list of arcane charges you have a 5-cent monthly charge to support this. On our phone bill it's under the header "Georgia Relay Service Fund." There are some things that I'm happy to pay taxes or imposed charges for. This would certainly be one of them.

According to Wikipedia, this service goes by other names too:
The most common type of TRS call, involves a call from a person who is Deaf and utilizes a TTY to a person who is Hearing and does hear and speak. In this call type, typed messages are relayed as voice messages by a TRS operator (OPR)[1] (also known as Communication Assistant (CA)[2], Relay Operator (RO)[3], Relay Assistant (RA)[4] or Relay Agent (Agent) ), and vice-versa. This allows callers unable to use a regular telephone, to be able to place telephone calls to people who use a regular telephone, and vice-versa. When the person who is Hearing is ready for a response, it is customary to say "Go Ahead" or "GA" to indicate that it is the TTY user's turn to talk and "Stop Keying", "SK", or "Ready to hang up" when hanging up, and vice-versa.

Presumably some of these identifiers, rather than "IP", might show up on a Caller ID phone screen.

Sunday: 28 October 2007

Bouncing Back  -  @ 06:54:13
Sometimes I think that observing nature can't help but introduce an element of paranoid schizophrenia into the works. Or maybe a bipolar state. The resulting pages and pages of angst-filled writing must appear far more alarming from the outside than they do from the inside.

I've been trying to convince certain parties that a little water goes a long way but it's like shouting into a vacuum to address those who don't actually bother to listen or look. But I have the opportunity to present the data they scorn. A few days after our 0.65 inches of rain last week, atop a prior 0.55 inches the previous week, the levels in Goulding Creek are up at least 4.5 cm:

That measuring stick, crude compared to the instruments and methods used by the hydrologists whose cherry-picked expertise informs aforementioned parties, has been my guide over the course of the summer (along with a few others). It was originally set so that the then-exposed bed was at the zero mark. And this hasn't been the first time that an inch of accumulated rain has made a difference.

Granted, it isn't much, and it won't last without continued rainfall. What little rain we've had is certainly not enough to recharge the water table or depleted soils, but this little demonstration is sufficient to give incontrovertable indication of the low permeability of the creek bed.

We haven't seen much evidence of this organismal Kingdom this year, but a dozen of these were making their way up yesterday. Not sure what they'll turn out to be - perhaps puffballs, perhaps amanitas - both are possibilities at this time of year.

This one was available only in remnants:

No one will have to do much recollecting to drum up references to our continuing drought. But I should remind you of the cold snap that engaged my overactive imagination last April, since we have some results now.

Some plants were indeed zapped, either by the cold or the dry conditions. I've found no fruits on the Painted Buckeyes, Aesculus sylvatica, that abound in the lower elevations. Last year they were fairly copious.

In contrast I've been pleased to see evidence of acorn drop from the white and red oaks. The new leaves of the white oaks were damaged irreversibly by the cold. Within 3-5 weeks a new, second set had emerged. Nonetheless I was afraid that the developing acorns from the previous year might have been aborted from the white oaks, and the newly fertilized flowers from the reds.

And since black walnuts were flowering in the beginning of April, I was sure that they had been zapped. Not so. The trees are full of developing fruits this year, and the ground is littered with them from the highest point of the property to the lowest points next to Goulding Creek:

I'm not sure what patient animal feeds on these - squirrels? Flying squirrels? Deer? Wild turkeys? Whatever, there are plenty to go around.

Saturday: 27 October 2007

Birds  -  @ 07:22:32
I'm afraid I do not photograph birds very well. Mostly the problem is opportunity either lacking or not taken. Around here most birds are quite shy, chickadees and titmice excepting. Even bluejays keep a lengthy distance, and never come to the feeders. Combine that with the dominant shady environments and it's a great recipe for the hundreds of poorly lit fuzzy photos that lie abandoned in dozens of folders.

I've mentioned before that one of our favorite birds is the Eastern Phoebe. They like the shading canopy and apparently find enough food in the flying insect populations. We always have a number of individuals around. My old 1966 Golden Guide migration map shows the year-round range as somewhat north of us, with the breeding range north of that. We're relegated in this edition to the winter range, and yet that's not the case, at least it's not anymore. In the late winter they will begin to call, perched atop some twig or house structure, generally twenty or thirty feet up. And then we'll usually have at least one and up to three nests built atop the downspots from the gutters.

But because they like the shade and will generally not tolerate my presence to less than 40-50 feet, they're awfully hard to image sharply. This one (and surely it is a phoebe - I did hear its call, and am reasonably certain it wasn't a confusing fall warbler) was down at Goulding Creek the other day, hunting along the banks of the near-dry creek bed:

I wasn't able to advance very close before it took off a dozen feet to a new, even more difficult location.

A few thumbnails of even worse-quality captures, the last one demonstrating what probably 90% of my attempts look like.

I suspect my attitude is wrong here. I'm used to coming upon my subjects, and to the relative lack of attention paid by most arthropods and plants to my presence. Birds are different - they are watchful and private things. I suppose I should instead be situating myself quietly and motionlessly in one place for long periods of time and waiting for the opportunity to present itself.

Friday: 26 October 2007

Frogs in Rapidly Heating Water  -  @ 08:14:03
Here in northeast Georgia the pleasant October temperatures (and they have been wonderful), coupled with the last four days of 0.65 inches of rain amid misty cool weather already have folks sighing in relief that the drought is over. After this incredible 2007 summer, the last few days are tempting but beguiling. As of October 24 there have been 21 days with daily high temperatures averaging 8 degrees above normal highs. Because I'm such a glutton for punishment, I decided to check on the year as a whole. 204 days of 296 so far have been above average in terms of high temperatures:

If I were a climate change skeptic, and a major snow fell, I'm sure I'd trot out the usual "so much for global warming" comment. Since I'm not, I must grant that these are possibly local events, and I don't take advantage of that. Maybe I should, since maybe they aren't. It's edifying to look at the cumulative Athens rainfall since 1997.

Serious journalists talk about the drought of the last few months - a very few note that we've been in a drought here for the last two years. In reality we've been experiencing ongoing rainfall deficits and can even peg the beginning to May 1998:

I used NOAA's ENSO Update Page to add the ENSO events. Disturbingly, we're supposed to get more rain during an El Niño event.

It's one thing to receive "only" 92% of expected rainfall over a period of a month, and quite another to realize that you've been maintaining a deficit averaging 8% of expected since February of 2000. At this point we're down 10% from expected over the last decade. It's been asked: how much rain would we need to make up the deficit? Well, we'd need an entire normal year of *additional* rain just to catch up. With the Pacific Decadal Oscillation trending into its cold phase for the next 20 or 30 years, it's not likely to happen. These are ecology-changing events.

Firefly, in comments, reminded me about Eurekalert, the early alert on scientific publications compiled by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This is a remarkably useful site, with daily updates on things you'd probably really rather not know. The summaries are concise, very readable, and full of googleable keywords with which you can enrich yourself, at the expense of peace of mind, admittedly. I have it bookmarked, and you should too, because you can be sure that you won't see most of this stuff on CNN.

While we were enjoying our beguiling weather this past week, those evil scientists are telling us about those kinds of things. Just in the last week:

Decline in uptake of carbon in world's oceans , from CSIRO and published in PNAS: It's now measureable and measured - the major source of removal of CO2 from the atmosphere may be beginning to fail. The study also states that global CO2 emissions were up to 9.9 billion tons of carbon in 2006, 35 percent above emissions in 1990 (used as a reference year in the Kyoto Protocol). Funny - in the ecology portion of our courses we used to use the benchmark of 7 gigatons of carbon just 15 years ago. Guess we have to update.

Along these same lines, the North Atlantic slows on the uptake of CO2, in Geophysical Research.
Results of their decade-long study in the North Atlantic show that the uptake in this ocean, which is the most intense sink for atmospheric CO2, slowed down dramatically between the mid-nineties and the early 2000s.

A slowdown in the sink in the Southern Ocean had already been inferred, but the change in the North Atlantic is greater and more sudden, and could be responsible for a substantial proportion of the observed weakening.

Yet another: Warming oceans can't hold as much carbon dioxide. It's a simple fact that most gases dissolve better in cold water than in warm water. CO2 in the atmosphere rise more drastically than hitherto assumed, published in Nature.
Oceans that warm up as a result of climate change release more CO2 into the atmosphere. This discovery has far-reaching consequences for the climate. The ocean warming caused by humans contributes to the formation of additional greenhouse gases, mainly CO2. Consequently the positive feedback with the atmosphere associated with the latter leads to an even greater acceleration in global warming.

It seems like only yesterday that it was announced that the Southern Ocean (Antarctica) was declining in its ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere. Unlike the above reports, published in the last week, the Southern Ocean report published was June 22.

Along with an Arctic warming much more rapidly than thought, the two-ton gorilla of Arctic peat poised to rot into CO2, continued land-use degradation, and a hopelessly burgeoning human population increase, there seems to be more and more indication that warming is moving much faster than is generally thought to be the case. Nothing I've seen this year would refute that possibility.

This week the United Nations Environment Programme produced its "Global Environment Outlook: environment for development (GEO-4) report published 20 years after the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission) produced its seminal report, Our Common Future." It's a dire document. Read it at your own risk. Of course, it's "just" the United Nations, and so suspect from the get go. Besides, they spell it "programme" and you know that's not right, so there.

(By the way, the "Brundtland" reference is to Gro Harlem Brundtland, Norwegian Prime Minister from the mid 80s to the mid 90s. Her background is as physician. I was actually living in Norway, for six months, in 1988-89. Norwegians were quite proud of her. She was thinking about this silly stuff more than two decades ago. That was while our current president was busy running baseball teams and oil companies into the ground, and turning himself into the kind of guy you'd like to have a beer with. In all fairness 50% of US voters decided they probably weren't going to have a beer with him by 2004. They then decided you don't change horses in midstream. Woe are we.)

Speaking of Bush, his Administration will not be commenting on the GEO-4, surely, since they won't be able to remove 60% of it. It's been the usual two-day wonder, atop all the others in the last seven years, with the Bush Administration redacting more inconvenient truths. The Washington Post reports Heavy Editing
of the CDC's assessment of health issues involved with climate change. A CDC official familiar with both versions said [CDC Director Julie] Gerberding's draft "was eviscerated," cut from 14 pages to four. The version presented to the Senate committee consisted of six pages.

Heh. Who got the four pages left over after the Bush Admin had its way? As a member of the unwashed public, you did. Sort of like the airline safety thing last week.

So what did the White House delete and why did they delete it? Ostensibly because it didn't jibe with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Absolute lies, since they don't give a crap about what the IPCC thinks in the first place, but you can find out what was censored here. Did the White House think no one would check? (Well, they probably have good reason to believe so, by now.)

Here's what the charming Dana Perino, Bush's spokesperson, had to say about it:
...this is an issue where I'm sure lots of people would love to ridicule me when I say this, but it is true that many people die from cold-related deaths every winter. And there are studies that say that climate change in certain areas of the world would help those individuals. There are also concerns that it would increase tropical diseases and that's -- again, I'm not an expert in that, I'm going to let Julie Gerberding testify in regards to that...

Perino is right about one thing - the Bush Administration is clinching its reputation as planetary laughingstock, and I'd certainly be ridiculing her if I thought it was funny. Steve Benen has it right:
Too bad she didn’t get into specifics; I’d love to know what these “public health benefits” might be. Less hypothermia? Fewer instances of frostbite? A steep decline in the number of snowball-fight-related injuries?

Monday: 22 October 2007

Cycles of Arthropods  -  @ 06:41:52
For awhile it appeared that starting today we'd be in for some precipitechnics through Tuesday, but the front moving through seems to have stalled in the midwest. Nonetheless we may get at least some spitting rain for the next few days, probably what I generally mark down as "trace".

This summer I've noted cyclic appearances and disappearances of many of our arthropods - various flies, odonata, and spiders. The dragonflies have been largely gone for weeks now, although I do see the occasional Eastern Pondhawk. I suspect this is normal behavior and informed by time of year, perhaps day length, rather than environmental conditions, since it certainly has been warm enough to keep things going if that were all there was to it. Dry, yes, but our four ponds still have plenty of water in them and odonata could continue to appear if warmth were the only factor.

The butterfly faction of the lepidopterans has been rather scarce this summer, but nocturnal moths have been fairly abundant. Still, another explanation for disappearance of predators, at least, might be lack of food.

Most recently in the cyclic group has been the Orb Weaver species - the Argiopes and Marbled Orb Weavers must be around in tiny form throughout the summer but hidden. They make their spectacular debuts in late summer and now are the major large spider form around.

This one has been around in adult form all season, and is still going strong:

Saturday I ran across at least four of these in places widely separated, from the floodplain down to Goulding Creek to the front porch. It's Anasaitis canosa, Twinflagged Jumping Spider, and this year has emerged as the Constant Arachnid. I first noted it on April 25 and then again on May 13, and have periodically seen them throughout the season.

(And by the way, what did happen to the First Annual Blogger BioBlitz? There was to be a presentation with maps and results, but it never came to pass, unless it appeared elsewhere. Well, it was fun, but too bad about the wrapup. Maybe a little too ambitious for the time required.)

We haven't had a stereo photo in awhile now, and despite that no one seems to be able to do them, the duckweek-covered Rana Pond below the house was striking on late Saturday afternoon, and particularly in 3-D.
Click pic for crosseyed stereo images (opens in new page). (Instructions for Viewing)

I do have to do something about the duckweed in this, and in the Hyla Pond on the east side of the house. It seems the snapping turtle probably infected both ponds. Oddly, the Bufo Pond above the Hyla remains clear, and that's the only pond in which there are koi. Koi are vegetarians, primarily, so they may be feasting on the duckweed. It's too late in the season to introduce them, but I may try that next year.

Sunday: 21 October 2007

Hunting Season, and More  -  @ 07:46:19
Deer hunting season opened yesterday, conventional weapons, that is. Bow season started a few weeks ago, and last Saturday began a week of primitive firearms. Now we start getting into the true amateurs, among them the ones who wear camoflauge, use semiautomatics, and run around on ATVs and get good and drunk before they hunt. This will last until January 1. (If you've followed me over the last few years you know I don't have any intrinsic problems with hunting, though I do have some with some "hunters".)

Although we used to hear a lot of gunfire at this time of year, in the last two or three years there's been considerably less. I'm not sure why that is. Some part of it certainly was on our property, and gradually locals became aware that they weren't supposed to be there. But it may also have something to do with the dispensation of a large 300-acre tract that adjoins ours.

(The following is my analysis of stuff that relates to me me me. I heartily recommend that others do similar sorts of analyses. Tax assessor parcel maps, county development plans, knowledge of the land barons in your area, especially when they're overseas. It's all on the internets.)

Here you see that tract in red, with our property in green. That red tract was owned, when we purchased our land in 1985, by Champion Paper Company, and they did rent it out to hunting clubs. In 1994 it was sold to a land baron in this part of the county, and simultaneously we bought twelve additional acres to prevent the subsequent harvesting of 100+ year old trees along our little creek.

One of the odd little things about hunting clubs is that they post their property. That is, to say, they post *our* property. Facing us, stapled to trees, are little signs that warn us that we must not trespass onto their hunting club property. Cognizant of this warning, I kept both feet on my side and craned my neck across the line to see whether there were signs facing the other way warning their hunting clients not to trespass onto *my* property. Then I threw caution to the wind and simply trespassed. Nonesuch.

In the last few years the red blob has apparently been sold again, this time to a consortium overseas, and the intent seems to be to develop it.

Just to refamiliarize you with the area above, the orange road at the bottom is Wolfskin Road, a narrow 7-mile two-lane that connects Oconee County with US Highway 78, a major artery winding southeast east from Athens through Oglethorpe County north of us, to Augusta, Georgia. Wolfskin Road has become a sort of informal bypass of Athens, with large through trucks and heavy small traffic moving along its length.

The yellow road winding above the red tract is Blacksnake Road, a gravelled road on which we often ride bikes along its seven-mile roundtrip length. Wholly inadequate for large-scale transportation.

The rumor, for the last decade or so, is that that red tract is to be developed. Its proximity to our western boundary gives us considerably greater pause than what we've dealt with in terms of hunting clubs.

The latest figure is for 360 homes to be built on its 300 acre expanse. How true this is, or how likely it is to happen given present and future trends in demographics I can't say. I'm inclined to not worry too much about it for several reasons, foremostly that there's probably nothing to be done about if it is to happen. And secondly, that Oglethorpe County is extremely pennypinching. I doubt if they would fork over the bucks necessary to fund access roads that would accomodate up to a thousand more vehicles travelling at least two or three times a day on these inadequate roads.

But I think too that there may be some changes in the wind that will make such a venture unlikely and unprofitable. While this area is relatively close to Athens, it is still far enough away to preclude those who cannot afford gas prices likely to continue rising without obvious limit. The housing market is not particularly favorable (to say the least) even for more attractive purchases. And the 300 acre/360 household = 0.8 acre lots, with poor access to transportation arteries will certainly be unattractive to those who could otherwise afford everything else. Not the best venture at this time, it would seem to me, and in my more imaginative Malthusian projections, not the best venture in any likely future I foresee.

These are all my rationalizations, of course, and are equivalent to wishful thinking. The wheels of rampant development may grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.

The regional situation here is this: Athens-Clarke County is the home of University of Georgia, with its 30,000+ students and additional faculty and staff. There are several large industries as well. Oconee County to the south has become the default bedroom community in the last 30 years or so, and growth is rampant. Our own county, Oglethorpe, to the east of all this, is primarily an agricultural, low population density county. Its situation in 1985, including being on the other side of Athens from Atlanta, was one of its attractions to us.

Oglethorpe County would dearly love to become another bedroom community for Athens, as well as to encourage development. You can see this in the future plan for development in Oglethorpe County, in which I've outlined the above map in a blue rectangle. Athens-Clarke County is to the west-northwest, and Oconee County is to the southwest. Basically the county is triaging its western portion and giving it up to a high population density and the potential for yet another westside Athens or Gwinnett County (Atlanta area) sort of scenario.

All this musing spurred me on to extract a few statistics about these three counties with their current situations and future hopes. Here they are, nestled against each other:

The following data come from Wikipedia, linked to in the headers, but I've done enough fact checking to be assured that the numbers are accurate. Census is mostly 2000, unless indicated otherwise.

GeneralAthens-Clarke County
University of Georgia
Developed Bedroom Community for ACCBedroom Community Wannabe
Area (mi2)121186442
(2000 census)
Density per mi2
Rate of Growth, % per year
Housing Units
Density per mi2
Per Capita Income$17,123$24,123$17,089
Population Below Poverty28.30%26.50%13.20%

1population apparently includes UGA students
2Among the accolades you'll find for Athens-Clarke County on its website, you won't find this one: Clarke ranks among the poorest counties in the state and nation; it is the fifth-poorest county in the United States among those with populations over 100,000. In all fairness, I'm not sure how unemployed students figure into this but suspect that the population of Clarke County divides into a large group of well-off and another large group of have-nots.

Now that you've gotten a gander of the above statistics, I should point out the population densities in that tract of land. Housing units: 800 units per square mile, more than twice Athens-Clarke County. Population density: 2300 people per square mile, about three times that of ACC. Currently no electricity, no water hydrants or water supplies in any reasonable future, no fire department, little transportation access. Awesome!

Why am I inclined to make myself crazy with all this? I don't think I am - I do want to document it, and it isn't as if we weren't forewarned. In 1985 as we were considering things like this we were told a number of times that in a decade or two our area would look like east-Athens. It's been just about 22 years now, and the threat looms larger. We actually have long-time residents around here who would love to have a golden pantry right next door so they didn't have to drive so far for conveniences.

I'm also constantly aware that this isn't something that 90% of the human population of this planet will ever have the good fortune to wring their hands about - most live now under conditions that are unimagineable to me, and the rest are already enslaved to rampant development. So a part of this is the beginning of trying to make something constructive of it, should it happen. I know this makes me a bleeding heart liberal, but I should be periodically slapping myself upside the head if only just to remember this.

Saturday: 20 October 2007

Weekend Fun  -  @ 06:24:21
Two or three things this morning:

First, we did get 0.55 inches of rain yesterday, mostly before dawn. That's nothing to sneeze at, since it's the first real rain in a month and stacks up well against the 7.8 inches of rain we've gotten since June 1. To compare, we should be getting 20 inches of rain in that time period. Moreover, there's the potential for some interesting things to develop after the next couple of days of very dry air mass, beginning Monday or Tuesday. It looks like the Bermuda High that's been dogging us for the last few months may be finally shifting away.

Second, there's this NOAA prognosticator. Passing the cursor over one of the links gives you an image of prediction of precipitation, drought, or temperature expectations over the indicated time period. The expectations over the next 3 months for the southeast certainly reflect what you'd expect from a deepening La Niña.

Finally, I ran across this very neat NOAA website. It provides monthly discussion of climate conditions nationwide or by region or state, and allows you to select among a limited number of cities for specific data and trends for any particular month or season. Neat. The billion dollar weather disasters are a trip down memory lane.

Friday: 19 October 2007

State Water Plan Meeting  -  @ 07:36:11
Yesterday we had an 80% chance of rain but chose to take the 20% chance of no rain. The air mass that caused trouble from Missouri to Florida passed well to the south of us. It does look like we will get some rain today, though - looking at the weather maps it hardly seems that it could miss us. (Indeed, as I write this, we are getting RAIN!)

Last night two of us attended the public comment session for the latest draft of the Georgia State Water Plan (SWP). At least on paper, this is a fairly progressive effort to manage state waters in a comprehensive fashion. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division was authorized by the state legislature in 2004 to come up with this plan and has been working through drafts and public commentary ever since. Last night was public commentary on the second draft release and after comments are closed on Oct 31, a third draft will be produced. This will be subject to hearings and comment in November and then will go to the state legislature in January of 2008.

The public meeting last night was a gathering of fifty or sixty participants, and competently and patiently moderated by Kevin Farrell of the GAEPD Watershed Protection Branch. After a very brief introduction the rest of the two hours was turned over to commentary. I counted twenty or so individuals actually getting up and speaking, including one of us. A quarter of the comments came from the "green industry" contingent, which includes plant nurseries, greenhouse growers, and sellers. Three or four comments came from nongovernmental organizations such as the Upper Oconee Watershed Network (and I'm sorry I didn't catch this representative's name), April Ingle of the Georgia River Network, and I suppose you could include us in that category, and one of us did make a one-minute statement.

Comments ranged from very specific and brief (ours) to long-winded and only tangentially connected to the SWP. The latter included the green industry growers, who tended more toward complaint about the Level 4 water restrictions. They have something of a point in claiming that their industry has borne most of the brunt of the outdoor water restrictions, although I think much of the truth of this is obscured. Most don't rely on municipal water sources anyway, and those that do are surely in the wrong place using the wrong resources and, frankly IMO peddling the wrong wares (do we really need more Bradford Pears?). But they were passionate, and it is true that the biggest users of water (University of Georgia, poultry and other industries, residents, and so forth) are untouched by the restrictions because they fall under indoor water use, and not outdoor. They tended to characterize themselves as mom and pop businesses unfairly targetted and in danger of going out of business. I can see this point.

More directly addressing the SWP itself were comments lamenting the exemption of metropolitan Atlanta from the SWP. Atlanta apparently has its own regional water plan and so would not be a part of this. April Ingle of Georgia River Network spoke to this issue and has also summarized it here.

Comments also addressed the weak conditionality of the language of the SWP. Many of them urged the drafters to replace "shoulds and coulds" with "wills and musts". We've run into this ourselves: such ambiguous language provides tons of loopholes for exceptions and escape holes, precisely what a good SWP should correct.

Quite a number of comments addressed watersheds downstream of reservoirs, offering almost exclusively the opinions that more reservoirs would be detrimental to ecologies downstream and that current enforcement of outflow from reservoirs is inadequate. (The recent lawsuit by the Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue against the Army Corps of Engineers is an exception to this.) This is especially pertinant. There has been an increasing number of voices crying to dam up creeks and rivers to create private reservoirs, and we were relieved to hear that the vast majority of commenters saw this as insanity.

A quick rundown of some of the points made, without attribution:
Conservation was a periodic topic, although not as much as I'd like to have heard.

Related to this, no discussion of controlling rampant development and growth.

One individual railed on the SWP's deficiencies in being vague, but was himself rather vague. Nonetheless I gleaned a few important points that coincide with my reading of the SWP: no performance measures; does not address tri-state water wars; ambiguous governmental entities involved; projected $30 million implementation is laughably small, it's just a start; no mention of resources or locations of growth (I would disagree somewhat); ambiguous language.

While non-point source pollution is addressed, nothing about identifying sources or how to curb.

Evaporation rates from reservoirs, much higher than without a reservoir interruption, should be included in calculating withdrawal rates. (This was our own point, but others mentioned it too.)

"Realtime Water Management", a concept for getting water back into the streams, creeks, and rivers within 72 hours of withdrawal. This idea was pushed by a particularly fascinating fellow, Hoke Thomas, if I have that right. Former military, manufacturer of hydroelectric turbines, he declared himself an environmentalist at the end of his comment.

Concern about authority all in the hands of one agency with final disposition in the hands of the Director. Given the vagueness of language, I see the point. Presented with equal passion was the diametrically opposed opinion that authority *should* be in the hands of one authority. Local governments and reservoir owners should be allowed input but not autonomy in decision-making. (I'm not sure where I come down on this, and it's probably fodder for a future post, but it does seem that recurse only to lawsuits is a Really Bad Idea. Perhaps a Water Court sort of alternative to potentially arbitrary bureaucratic decisions is a good idea.)

Perhaps most important to us were the following: water in the state belongs to everyone, not merely reservoir owners. Lack of language addressing how much water should flow from a reservoir. More reservoirs is a bad idea on a number of grounds. More emphasis on conservation. Atlanta not required to comply. Inflow=outflow should include vastly increased evaporation rates from reservoirs.

After the meeting we met a number of folks that we'd only spoken to on the phone, or by email, all this time. This included the moderator, Kevin Farrell, Assistant Watershed Protection Branch Chief for the Oconee, Ocmulgee, and Altamaha River Basins. We also had the pleasure of talking briefly with April Ingle, Georgia River Network Director, who had had some pertinant and concise commentary earlier in the evening.

All in all, quite an interesting evening.

Wednesday: 17 October 2007

USGS  -  @ 05:11:00
CNN seems to have run out of front page news on the latest crimes of the unwashed and foibles of the celebrated, since they (at least briefly) spotlighted the drought in the Southeast early this morning.

Last week Mark mentioned United States Geological Survey website, and I spent a bit of time surveying *it* the last few days. It's quite a rich website, and has a lot of current data on meteorological and geophysical conditions that can be accessed by state from the front page.

Mark had targetted some real-time data on the flow rate of the Oostanaula River near Rome, and commented on the historic lows. I went to our own section of the Oconee River monitored about ten miles south of here, and got some numbers that confirm what we can visually see.

While the last day or so of data isn't recorded yet, and while this section of the Oconee River is southeast of Athens and has therefore been recently used as a water source, the current flow rate is below the 3% percentile. The normal flow of 500-600 cubic feet per second is down to about 50 cfs. Since 1977, when this monitoring station was established, the previous lows were around 100 cfs in July of 1986 and 1988.

I should probably note two things: first, a good bit of the water that *is* making it down below Athens is probably discharge from sewage treatment plants, whatever that means in terms of water quality. And that must make things severely unpleasant for those cities south of here that rely on the Oconee for their water supply. Second, although the exhaustion of the Bear Creek Reservoir is slated for the end of December, this is an extension of the previous assessment of drainage at 45 days, two weeks ago. The reason for this is that Athens got permission to remove an addition 20 million gallons a day from the Oconee from the Georgia EPD, for 25 days. Anything not used goes into Bear Creek Reservoir. It's hard not to suspect that this is likely to be an ongoing exception granted for as long as it takes.

Meanwhile, there are still, amazingly but probably not coincidentally, people around here who don't get it. The northern third of Georgia has been at Level Four watering restrictions for several weeks, the last reservoir is due to be exhausted by Christmas if there are no improvements, and the students I see have at best only a vague idea that there's something going on. I was pleased to have a student ask me last night if the rumor was true that Al Gore was going to win the Nobel Peace Prize, but only because it's completely off the radar screen for most of them.

The USGS site also has neat maps of drought conditions - here is the current one for Georgia targetted to streamflow. That's a specialized view of drought separate from the overall NOAA picture that is found here and shows us to be in "exceptional drought."

It's just very odd to go day after day for months on end with blue skies and not a hint of rain in the forecast. Or if there is a hint it's the tease of a 20% chance that never materializes. My bicycling companion and I took a short jaunt on Monday to the confluence of Moss and Goulding Creeks, about two miles below our house. Both creeks are totally dry - not a bit of water in them, at that point. We know why that is for Goulding Creek - it's been true for weeks now. Moss Creek is a bit of a conundrum, since it runs and then doesn't run, and precipitation cannot be the reason for it. One of us hiked it a few weeks ago when a sudden unexplained two-day surge of water appeared. There was no particular explanation along the three-mile trek all the way up to Highway 78 where Moss Creek begins, but there was evidence of private pumping activity that had ceased at one point along the creek. A day later the creek dried up again and has remained dry.

Athens claims 0.93 inches of rain for this half of October, about 50% of what it might expect by this time, and that would be official for the Athens area. My own personal measurements, unofficial of course, are 0.2 inches for the same period, predicting with fair confidence that our area will get about 10% of expected for October. This would repeat the final tallies for August and September.

Monday: 15 October 2007

New Orb Weaver  -  @ 06:52:02
A dorsal view, showing the hairiness and the cross on the back of the abdomen. Two of the eyes are reflecting back. The posture is what you come to expect of a mildly alarmed orb weaver - not quite frightened enough to take to the hidey hole, but pensive.

These modestly large orb weavers have taken up residence all about the house. When I first began to look closely at them I had assumed they were more of the same Marbled Orb Weavers, Araneus marmoreus, that we see so much of around here, but clearly they are not. The much greater hairiness and the lack of the brightly patterned dorsal abdomen makes this clear.

A ventral view from inside the house. This individual has been building her fine web across the doorway to the south deck for the last ten days.

I figured it she at least had to be the Araneus genus in the orb weaver family, Aranediae, but none of the species matched up - always something unacceptably missing or present whether it be hairiness, patterning, or abdominal shape. That Bugguide taxonomy page shows that there are a coupla dozen genera in the family. Some I recognize, and some I don't. Besides Araneus, I recognize Argiope and Micrantha, those little woods spiders with the funny-shaped abdomens. The other 90% I'm less familiar with.

This one appears to be a Neoscona species, perhaps Neoscona crucifera, and once again that Featured Creature website has an abundance of information on the species.

A not-so-sharp action view. This time she had been sufficiently alarmed and up she went to hide in the top screen door track. Ten minutes later she was back down and in position.

Saturday: 13 October 2007

Fire Training At Thomson  -  @ 05:44:10
Last Tuesday afternoon we finally got some rain, 0.2 inches, the first in almost exactly a month when we had 0.1 inches. We have a slight chance for some more next Wednesday, it seems. The temperatures since then, however, have been very pleasant. The last couple of nights have been down into the lower 40s, and daytime temperatures have not much exceeded 80 degF. Still warmer than usual, but by only a few degrees.

Thursday afternoon six of us loaded the BAs and PPEs into Glenn's truck and ourselves into my Honda and off we went to Thomson, Georgia for a structure fire training with their city department. Thomson Fire Department was training some of their new city firefighters for Thursday night's event, and Deputy Chief Johnny Crawley extended a kind invitation for us to join them.

Thomson, you may recall, was one of our hosts for the live fire training day last November, also organized by the Georgia Fire Academy and a couple of other organizations. Thomson's Fire Department is a hybrid of full time, part time, and volunteer personnel. Thursday night's event was shorter - just three hours - but much more intensive and we ended up doing nearly as much as before.

Thomson has a resource we don't have - the use of several block houses for training purposes: smoke mazes, hose mazes, and as on Thursday night, controlled live fire. The houses are actually in the same neighborhood as the two real houses that we burned last November. Since these block houses don't themselves burn, a pile of pallets are used to simulate floors, ceiling, and walls:

Unfortunately most of the photos didn't turn out very well, so we don't have the hubbub captured properly here. The event last November was quite large, with well over a hundred folks involved, including training and safety crew. This was much smaller, perhaps 30, but very well organized and a model of procedure. A table on the sidewalk outside the building was the site for keeping track of firefighters entering the structure, leaving it, rotating to relive the previous Rapid Intervention Crew out back (RIC - in case something goes wrong), then rotating to rehab out front until it was our turn to go back in.

Here's our contingent, mostly, with Glenn absent as photographer, and Scott hiding behind Lieutenant Anonymous:

We turned in our Personal (or Personnel, designations vary) Accountability System (PAS) tags that hang on the back of the helmets, and here I am waiting to go in with my Thomson partner, Junior Williams.

The Safety Officer stood at the door to radio the PAS table of our numbers and time of entry and exit. My partner went first this time, and I backed him up behind for an attack on the fire. Then we backed out, switched positions, and went back in for another attack. Backed out, turned the hose over to the next attack crew, and rotated out back of the house to replace the previous crew at the RIC station where there wasn't much to do but pant. At each interval we had to pass the IC table to announce our new station and they moved our PAS tags from one station to the next one. Then onto rehab, advising the IC table and getting our PAS tags moved once again. The system ensures that no one is left unaccounted for (unless someone fails to notify the table - that's the weak link).

There was very little time between each of the three attacks that we made, just enough to take the face mask off for a few minutes, then put it back on and go in again. It all has to be done on hand (note singular) and knees, since you're not supposed to stand up in a fire-involved structure (remember that!). In a real situation you might be inside for up to 20 minutes, the amount of air in the BA. We were inside for only 3-4 minutes at any time.

We finished up around 9:30, took off our PPEs and stashed them, thanked the Thomson folks, and went back to their station. They had loaded up our air tanks and refilled them for us in the meantime. We picked them up, put them in the back of Glenn's truck, and stopped for dinner before heading back to Wolfskin, arriving at the station around midnight to put things away before going home.

When I got home and took off my pants I realized why my knees were sore - a couple of square inches of skin on each one had peeled off. Friday was a day of mild misery. Time to think about knee pads!

Friday: 12 October 2007

Spin This  -  @ 09:01:42
Al Gore and the IPCC win the Nobel Peace Prize. Very satisfactory.

Tuesday: 9 October 2007

Bikes and Fires  -  @ 05:43:54
On our regular business meeting Thursday Oct 4 we all marvelled at the lack of fire calls in September, especially given the exceptional drought we've been in since the beginning of summer. September and October daily highs have regularly been 10-20 degF above normal, and you'd have thought that fire calls would have been more frequent.

To set this busy weekend in context I should say that three of us have been regularly riding bikes on near-daily seven to ten mile trips down the dirt and gravel backroads in the area. This has, incidentally, been a great way to explore the area, and we've discovered some really fine woods, creeks, and plants. Just yesterday, on a very long trip down Bull Bray Road I found a nice patch of Agalinis fasciculata, Beach False-foxglove.

Anyway, on late Friday afternoon, our luck ended. The pager went off as we were returning around 7:30pm and we peddled madly back to the POVs and off to the fire station. The call was for a woods fire a bit northeast of Arnoldsville, and we worked with Arnoldsville VFD, Beaverdam VFD, and Crawford VFD until 9:30PM on that.

Then on Sunday morning, and again during a 10-mile bike ride way out in the dirt road sticks, the pager went off. This time we were at least a half-hour away from the POVs, so we had to call for a lift - fortunately Glenn was able to pick us up and drop us off.

This time it was a chickenhouse fire in the northwest part of the county. Lots of departments involved - at least ten fire trucks of various sorts. Wolfskin, Beaverdam, Arnoldsville, Crawford, Winterville, Devil's Pond, Pleasant Hill, Salem VFDs all present. It was a big to-do, and a closeup view of a chickenhouse operation, which is as awful as you might think. We worked on that until well into the mid-afternoon, before leaving.

Within 30 minutes after returning home, the pager went off for a return - they needed the WVFD tanker and all available manpower. I was off to work and so was unable to participate, but everyone was involved in that until at least 7pm Sunday night.

When it rains, it pours. And when it doesn't, too, apparently.

Sunday: 7 October 2007

Year 5 Final Report on the Microstegium  -  @ 07:49:14
This is one of the two subjects you can be sure I'll always come back to. Just so's the first one isn't neglected, looks like high temperatures will continue this coming week, with a high in the lower 90s predicted for Tuesday. If so, we could break some 87-year records this week. And no rain, of course.

This is Year Five of the Microstegium vimineum eradication project. I'm more or less declaring its annual end, although like last year on Oct 12 there's still a bit left to do, checking a few places over again, and so forth.

Here's the map from last year, with 2006 numbers in green and 2007 numbers added in red. Click on it for a more readable version.

The green sprackling and occasional circles indicate places that I either sprayed or neglected through triage this year. Much of that is upland, and the drought this summer has worked for us in at least one respect. I've noted that plants in this area are small and desiccated, and are not producing flowers. So I'm tentatively ignoring them, for the most part.

I've mentioned too that the creeks this year were problematic. The flooding last March here, and its aftermath here, washed down huge numbers of seeds, apparently. So I ended up spending about three times the amount of time on SBS Creek as last year, and ended up pulling 14,000 plants compared with last year's 6000. I completely gave up on the banks of Goulding Creek. I think that as long as the plant is infesting upstream of Goulding Creek, we'll never get rid of it there. After all, if so many of the folks upstream are bereft of the understanding of nourishing a downstream watershed, the idea of wildly invasive plants certainly isn't going to appear on their radar screens.

I see I mentioned that I spent 90 hours on this project last summer, and estimated similar times for previous years. This year it will probably end up being about 65 hours. This is not a reflection of less time donated, but of less time required. And here's the table of statistics continued from last year:

YearPlants PulledGallons Sprayed

Gallons Sprayed" refers to glyphosate at about 0.25%, half to a quarter the usual recommended dose. And just to repeat myself again, redundantly, no I did not and do not like using it. And yes, it was necessary for the first three years. And fortunately the Microstegium is very sensitive to it. I only applied it when the plants were a lush, tall, monoculture so that the droplets were generally caught by the foliage. And the time of application is such that most other plants have died back for the season anyway. This is all in keeping with the notion of Integrated Pest Management.

I now have two years of reasonable estimates of plants pulled from the area, about 20 acres, bounded by green lines. Neglecting the SBS Creek numbers, which were perturbed by the flood, these are the dark blue numbers and line bounded by 2006 and 2007 in the log plot below.

It's pure folly to extrapolate the green future and estimate the red past on the basis of two points, especially in the face of such complications, but I can at least predict that in this area next year I will only find and pull up 4000 plants next year. And if I backtrack, I can estimate with wild abandon that there must have been a little over 50 million plants when I started out in 2003. I suspect this number is minimal.

Even less informative, but more dramatic is the linear plot, which I present for fun:

This is a project that I started naively, but that ended up as a tiger by the tail sort of thing. I realized at least two years ago that having started it I was ethically bound to continue it for two reasons. First, I'd spent three years spraying with glyphosate. If I didn't continue removing the survivors, it was possible that I'd select for a glyphosate-resistant Microstegium, much in the same way that antibiotic-resistant bacteria arise. Second, and in the same sense, by this Year Five, many of the plants I'm dealing with germinated from seeds that were in the soil for six years. If I didn't get rid of them, I'd be potentially selecting for genetic variants that produced long-lived seeds.

I'm at the same time pleased with myself, and in a practical way, despondent in the long run. It's unlikely that there are many others who will be similarly motivated, and I can't blame them one bit. But it's been a grand experiment, however that it may fail in that long run when I am no longer capable or present to patrol the area and keep the monsters out.

Saturday: 6 October 2007

Pretties  -  @ 07:27:32
Yesterday was quite a busy day. We're replacing a casement window that had some rot, and much of the early afternoon was taken up with assisting the resident expert who is deft with such things. Said expert and I have been bicycling four or five times a week, and in the early evening took an hour ride down a couple of back roads (we don't peddle down busy Wolfskin Road). The pager went off as we were returning to our usual starting point, and so off we went to the fire station. Glenn, Ed, a few others, and I ended up at a woods fire until about 9:30pm, an unexpected but not entirely unwelcome evening with our compatriots.

During the mid afternoon installation, I did take a little foray, and spied this nice Acrea Tiger Moth, Estigmene acrea, clinging to a grass.

At first I thought this might be a Great Leopard Moth, Hypercombe scribonia, but the spotting, leg striping, and abdominal coloration are distinctive for what is also known as Salt Marsh Tiger Moth. This one is probably nearing the end of her short adult life. Thingfish23 has some very nice photos at the above Bugguide link.
The Featured Creature website has quite a good page on Acrea Tiger Moths. Acreas are generally considered to be crop and garden pests, going after an astonishing range of plant species over many families. The Lepidopteran Host Plants Database lists nine plant species in almost as many families, but this is probably only the tip of the iceberg given the much wider list in the previous link.

It's geographical range is as broad as its host plant range: all of North America, except northernmost Canada.

The Kat Sematary is a congregating place for Marbled Orb Weavers, Araneus marmoreus, taking advantage of a couple of elderberry trees to spin their webs. I've already posted on this in early September, but such a fine and familiar predator deserves another hello.

This photo (and all today's are linked to larger images) is a bit unbalanced in lighting so that the abdomen looks like it's lit up by a lightbulb, but I think it brings out the eyes nicely without being too distracting.

The actual abdominal coloration under less exposure looks like this. This one was a second individual a few feet away from the first. My activities had disturbed her and she had ascended to the end of an elderberry twig.

What a bunch of legs and spinnerets! Lateral and ventral views:

Friday: 5 October 2007

Portraits of a Dry Creek  -  @ 06:57:22
For about a week now the inflorescences of Microstegium have been increasingly visible. They emerge as spears from the tip of the plant. I plan on just another day or two of finishing up the creek area and then doing a bit of light spraying in a dozen or so areas. And then that will be it.

Yesterday it rained heavily in Athens for a time, but we just got a light misting out here, the Wolfskin equivalent of a downpour. We had a 70% opportunity for rain, and blew it. Today it's a 50% chance of no rain, and then more no rain for the foreseeable future.

You never know, though. And here we have all these dry creeks and I could have squandered the opportunity to visualize them in extremum. So here's a few more photos, linked to larger versions in a new window.

In this upper part of SBS Creek, there are some handsome rock outcrops. They have, in the past, framed a modest rush of water (left). You might never guess you were looking downstream of a previously permanently running creek here (right).

The sand banks deposited in early March during the flood included lots of Microstegium seeds, washed down from upstream areas not on our property. I pulled 400 plants from these two little areas this year. Over the length of the creek itself, I'm running about twice the number of plants pulled as last year. Given that most areas had a 5-20 fold reduction in number, this represents 10-40 times the number of plants that came from the flood.

Tuesday: 2 October 2007

The Month of September  -  @ 05:44:49
Here's the monthly summary of the climate of the month of September, here in Athens and US-wide. Our September was hot and very dry. How was yours?

The drought continues in a scattered way in many parts of the country, particularly in the east and southeast. Here's a summary, at least for our area:

For Athens, September continued the hotter than normal weather, 4.6 deg higher than average for September. We didn't break any records but came close on three days, with temperatures in the 90s on a dozen days this month.

From the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, this is a plot of mean temperature anomalies for the US. That's the difference in the average temperature for this September above or below the average for September over many years, plotted in colors. The anomalies are in Fahrenheit.

Most of the country was warmer than normal, with most of the east experiening 2-4 deg warmer weather. The Pacific Northwest was 2-4 degF cooler than normal for September, as it was for August too.

From the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, this is a plot of mean precipitation anomalies for the US:

Rainfall was abundant in scattered areas, but much of the country received half or less the expected rain for September. Despite the cool temperatures, the Pacific northwest was drier than normal (although I was informed last night by a student that his cross-country distance running competition in Portland OR this past weekend was miserably cold and wet).

For Athens:

Here is my plot of high temperatures for the month of September in Athens. As usual, the black dots are for the 15 years 1990-2005 (black dots), 2007 (green line), and 2006 (red line).

There were 15 days in September at least one standard deviation above the 17-year average for that day. We used to consider that astonishing, since there are normally only 3.8 days significantly above average in September, but after August nothing is surprising. There were, however, six much cooler nights when the lows were at least one standard deviation before the average low.

Here is the plot for our monthly accumulation of rain here in Athens for the month of September. The red line is the average over the last 18 years of September, and the river of peach defines the standard deviation range. Blue areas would mean significantly above-average if there were any, but that's a laugh. Mustard areas are significantly below. Athens claimed 0.53 inches of rain but out here we only got 0.4 inches, compared to the normal 4 inches of rain. September, with its occasional tropical disturbances, is highly variable, but we aren't getting any rain from tropical depressions so far.

Of course, the rainfall accumulation for the full year is important, so here it is. We are now almost two standard deviations below normal for the year. And we're entering our dry season. As of the end of September there are only two years in the past 88 that show just a slightly less accumulation of rain for the year: 1925 and 1981. And neither of those years was preceded by another year of drought as we have been 2006-2007. This is clearly an exceptional, 100-year drought.

NOAA's weekly ENSO update: This is the third month of La Niña conditions in the Pacific, although NOAA still hasn't declared an outright La Niña. They do expect a weak to moderate event for the next several months, and that means a warmer and drier winter in the southeast. Go to the La Niña Extreme Event Risk figure to see what it might mean for you.

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