Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Messages, Asks and Leave-behinds: Geosciences Congressional Visits Day 2016

By Natalie Nelson

For the past 9 years, a collective of professional societies representing earth and space sciences, or “geosciences,” has invited scientists to travel to our nation’s capital and participate in Geosciences Congressional Visits Day (Geo-CVD). Geo-CVD aims to connect scientists with policymakers on the Hill in order to increase legislators’ awareness and appreciation of geoscience and science research. You might be wondering, what exactly falls under the umbrella of geoscience? Answer: anything related to the dynamics of earth and space! This includes, but is not limited to, the disciplines of geology, meteorology, climatology, oceanography, and – most relevant to this crowd – hydrology and water resources. As a PhD student and researcher studying Hydrologic Sciences through UF’s Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department, I’m also a geoscientist.

This year, I applied to partake in Geo-CVD through the American Geophysical Union, and was ultimately invited to participate! In addition to being involved with all of the science policy goodness, I “took over” the AGU Instagram account as a #guestgrammer to give its followers a glimpse into Geo-CVD happenings. Some of those posts are included below, but you can also check them out directly @americangeophysicalunion.

Day 1: Communicating with Congress Workshop
Geo-CVD includes two parts: a half-day workshop to inform participating scientists of current legislation and the ways of the Hill, followed by a full day of meetings with congressional offices. At this workshop, we learned that each meeting on the Hill includes a message, asks, and leave-behinds. The message describes the driving motivation for the visit. Asks are specific actionable requests of policymakers, such as creation or co-sponsorship of legislation to address a particular need. Finally, leave-behinds include flyers and informational materials that can be left with the office for future reference.
At AGU Headquarters (top), scientists learned about the way in which meetings with congressional offices are structured. Below, a picture of part of one of the leave-behinds we gave to Florida legislators.

For Geo-CVD, we were armed with a message, asks, and leave-behinds (including one leave-behind I made on Florida’s Water Resources: Pertinent Issues and References). Our message was that strong and sustained federal investments in geoscience will support resilient communities, strengthen our global and economic competitiveness, enhance national security, and sustain a highly skilled workforce. Our ask was for congress to support strong federal investments in geoscience research and education, and we also asked that members of the House join the newly-formed House Earth and Space Science Caucus, and members of the Senate sign as co-sponsors on the Earth Science Week Resolution.    

Day 2: To the Hill!
We split into geographically-specific teams and made our way to Capitol Hill. Team Florida turned out to be a one-woman show (me!). With the company of Brittany Webster, Public Affairs Specialist, and George Marino, Public Affairs Intern, of AGU, I made my way to the offices of Florida Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Florida Representatives Alcee Hastings, Ted Yoho, and David Jolly. We mostly met with legislative aides focusing on environment and energy policy, and met with Representatives Ted Yoho and David Jolly directly.

A photo posted by American Geophysical Union (@americangeophysicalunion) on

While going from office to office, I quickly realized how important it is for scientists to visit with the men and women in charge of appropriating and authorizing federal funding for science research, and creating policies that are (hopefully) informed by our objective and non-partisan science. The need for engaging both sides of the aisle on science issues is great, and there are no better stewards for science than scientists themselves! You don’t have to go to DC to advocate for science - a simple phone call carries more weight than you would probably expect. One Legislative Assistant (from a non-Florida office) shared with us that his office receives almost no calls from constituents concerned about issues related to science and funding for scientific research, and that this problem was not unique. Let’s change this!

If you’re interested in sharing your science with policymakers on the Hill, AGU hosts three Congressional Visits Days (CVD) per year – Climate Science CVD (Februrary) AGU CVD (April), and Geo-CVD (September). Apply!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Collaboration and Expansion: A Q & A with South District Water RSA Lisa Krimsky

This month all of UF/IFAS’ regional specialized agents (RSA) for water gathered in Gainesville to meet with each other and an assortment of state specialists. Water RSAs are a recent advent in IFAS that many of us water pros are excited to see in action. Unlike a typical extension agent, an RSA is assigned a state region in which to exercise his/her insight and expertise.

A Gainesville Gathering (courtesy: Michael Dukes)
Regional Assets
In Florida, water quality and quantity are major concerns. Having five RSAs in the mix across the state is an asset. “I see the RSAs as a tremendous opportunity in connecting IFAS resources with water issues that cross political boundaries and water users,” said IFAS water specialist Dr. Kati Migliaccio. “Water issues are not typically one well or one stream, they are watershed size or aquifer size.”

IFAS water RSAs work within and overlapping the water management districts 
Banner Year
2016 has been a noteworthy year for water quality in South Florida. Fish kills and algal blooms, symptoms of long term management issues, made national headlines during spring and summer. Water experts and policymakers have a significant role to play in the region’s future. Newly minted South District RSA Lisa Krimsky talked to IrriGator about South Florida’s water challenges and the regional agent concept.

South District Water RSA Lisa Krimsky earlier this year in Miami-Dade

What are you most excited about working on in this new position?

Since I started this position in July, I’ve been spending my time getting to know the whole South District region and understanding both the broad overarching issues and the unique local problems that impact South Florida’s water resources. I have met with local stakeholders, attended numerous meetings and visited with county Extension offices to learn about the great water programming efforts that Extension agents are currently doing. There is a lot of enthusiasm and support for this position, and I am most excited about continuing to work with and facilitate partnerships with each of these entities so that we can meet the challenges and have a greater impact in our existing efforts.

A recent article mentioned your interest in the Indian River Lagoon, can you talk about what the situation is there and what role you hope to play?

Fish kill in Indian River Lagoon (courtesy: WMFE)
The Indian River Lagoon (IRL) is a large and complex system that spans the length of 5 counties and recent algal bloom events have led to national attention. The northern part of the lagoon has been experiencing patchy blooms of Pyrodinium algae or “brown tides”. These high concentrations of algae plus summer’s high water temperatures have led to declining levels of dissolved oxygen which have resulted in localized fish kills. The southern part of the lagoon has also been experiencing algal blooms, although the type and cause are different from that in the northern IRL. Blue-green, Mycrocystis algae bloomed in the St. Lucie Estuary earlier this summer. This event is the result from high-nutrient, freshwater discharges from Lake Okeechobee as well as localized runoff from local watersheds. Immediately, one of the roles I hope to play is to help fill in the gaps in communication between scientists, resource managers and citizenry. I want to assist in understanding the causes, impacts, and current research and monitoring efforts surrounding these blooms which will hopefully lead to support and implementation of nutrient reduction (stormwater and wastewater) and restoration efforts.

Stuart, FL: algae in full bloom (courtesy: AP)
A year from today what would you characterize as a good start for the RSA position in South Florida? 

A year from now I simply hope to have a good grasp on all the complexities surrounding water resource issues in South Florida! Kidding aside, I think a successful first year for me would be to increase our collaborations with local partners and work together to expand successful localized projects on a larger scale so that they can be applied throughout the greater region rather than stay siloed within county-boundaries.

As a platform focusing on water quality and quantity, IrriGator will be doing our best to follow and feature the work of all the water RSAs in the months/years to come. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Saving Water with Manatee County’s Mobile Irrigation Lab

On one of my many field adventures this summer I was able coordinate an impromptu visit with some of the team that comprises UF/IFAS Manatee County’s Mobile Irrigation Lab (MIL). I was working near their next residential irrigation evaluation, and they were kind enough to let me stop by to shoot video and pepper them with questions.

Your mobile irrigation lab's mobile irrigation lab
Rebate and cost-share programs that encourage outdoor water conservation are widespread in Florida. Many programs promote the use of smart irrigation technology (soil moisture sensors and weather-based irrigation controllers), rain sensors, or replacing irrigated turf with non-irrigated Florida-Friendly Landscaping.

L to R: irrigation rebate program examples from Miami-Dade County and Orange County 
The idea is to improve overall system efficiency (often among especially extravagant water users) and save water.

Kind of a Big Deal
Manatee County Utilities Department funds such a program as well, and lore has it that it’s the best in the state – offering sizable incentives for practical system upgrades, and cementing the save water ethic with mandatory educational classes for participants.

So I had to see it for myself and the MIL, who evaluate the irrigation systems and make the rebate-worthy recommendations, were just the people to talk to.

Screen the video below. Learn more about Manatee County’s rebate programs here.