Boulder County Commissioners approve two stream improvement projects

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From the Longmont Times-Call (John Fryar):

Commissioners Ben Pearlman and Will Toor approved an application by the county’s Parks and Open Space Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to rechannel and restore riparian and wetland habitat along a stretch of Lower Boulder Creek that runs through county-owned land between 109th and 115th streets northwest of Erie.

Pearlman and Toor also approved the city of Boulder’s application to improve in-stream habitat for native and non-native fish and restore riparian areas on a stretch of South Boulder Creek, a project that includes city-owned Open Space and Mountain Parks properties that extend into unincorporated Boulder County south of U.S. Highway 36 and west of Cherryvale Road.

The county’s project, which still must get final Corps of Engineers approval, would excavate a new, meandering stream channel about 6,400 feet long on the south side of the existing stream channel in which Lower Boulder Creek flows northeast.

Lower Boulder Creek’s existing straight channel through the area was created during past gravel mining operations and earthen levees were built along parts of its banks. That, the county staff reported to commissioners, disconnected the stream channel from its historic floodplain and created “a degraded and impoverished stream environment.”

After the new channel is excavated, Lower Boulder Creek’s current straight channel would be plugged and its path converted to a groundwater-fed wetland.

More restoration coverage here.

Happy (belated) 40th Birthday to the Silverthorne/Dillon Joint Sewer Authority

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From the Summit Daily News:

July 6 marked the 40th anniversary of the agreement that created the Silverthorne/Dillon Joint Sewer Authority. On that date in 1971, Silverthorne and Dillon entered into a joint venture to construct and mutually use the Blue River Wastewater Treatment Plant and sewer interceptor system. Soon after, Dillon Valley and Buffalo Mountain signed agreements to participate in the JSA, and in 1980 Mesa Cortina signed a similar agreement.

More wastewater coverage here.

Farthest, largest water mass in universe found, says study involving Caltech, CU-Boulder

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Here’s the release from the University of Colorado (Jim Scott):

An international team of astronomers led by the California Institute of Technology and involving the University of Colorado Boulder has discovered the largest and farthest reservoir of water ever detected in the universe.

The distant quasar is one of the most powerful known objects in the universe and has an energy output of 1,000 trillion suns — about 65,000 times that of the Milky Way galaxy. The quasar’s power comes from matter spiraling into the central supermassive black hole, estimated at some 20 billion times the mass of our sun, said study leader Matt Bradford of Caltech and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Because the quasar — essentially a voraciously feeding black hole — is so far away, its light has taken 12 billion light years to arrive at Earth. Since one light year equals about 6 trillion miles, the observations reveal a time when the universe was very young, perhaps only 1.6 billion years old. Astronomers believe the universe was formed by the Big Bang roughly 13.6 billion years ago.

The water measured in the quasar is in the form of vapor and is the largest mass of water ever found, according to the researchers. The amount of water estimated to be in the quasar is at least 100,000 times the mass of the sun, equivalent to 34 billion times the mass of the Earth.

In an astronomical context, water is a trace gas, but it indicates gas that is unusually warm and dense, said Bradford. “In this case, the water measurement shows that the gas is under the influence of the growing black hole, bathed in both infrared and X-ray radiation,” he said.

“These findings are very exciting,” said CU-Boulder Associate Professor Jason Glenn, a study co-author. “We not only detected water in the farthest reaches of the universe, but enough to fill Earth’s oceans more than 100 trillion times.”

The water measurement, together with measurements of other molecules in the vapor source, suggests there is enough gas present for the black hole to grow to about six times its already massive size, said Bradford. Whether it will grow to this size is not clear, however, as some of the gas may end up forming stars instead, or be ejected from the quasar host galaxy in an outflow.

In the Milky Way, the mass of gaseous water is at least 4,000 times smaller than that in the quasar, in part because most of the water in our own galaxy is frozen into ice. While the water vapor in the Milky Way is found only in a limited number of regions, a few light years in size or smaller, the water in the distant quasar appears to be distributed over hundreds of light years, said the researchers.

The discovery was made with a spectrograph called Z-Spec operating in the millimeter wavelengths — found between the infrared and microwave wavelengths — at the Caltech Submillimeter Observatory, a 10-meter telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea, on the big island of Hawaii. Z-Spec’s detectors are cooled to within 0.06 degrees Celsius of absolute zero in order to obtain the exquisite sensitivity required for these measurements.

“Breakthroughs are coming fast in millimeter and submillimeter technology, enabling us to study ancient galaxies caught in the act of forming stars and supermassive black holes,” said CU-Boulder’s Glenn, who is a co-principal investigator on the Z-Spec instrument development and a fellow at CU-Boulder’s Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy. “The excellent sensitivity of Z-Spec and similar technology will allow astronomers to continue to make important and surprising findings related to distant celestial objects in the early universe, with implications for how our own Milky Way galaxy formed.”

Confirmation for this important discovery came from images obtained by the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-Wave Astronomy, or CARMA, a sensitive array of radio dishes located in the Inyo Mountains of Southern California. The distant quasar under study is named APM 08279+5255.

The discovery highlights the utility of the millimeter and submillimeter band for astronomy, which has developed rapidly in the last two to three decades. To achieve the potential of this relatively new spectral range, astronomers, including the study authors, are now designing CCAT, a 25-meter telescope for the high Chilean Atacama desert. With CCAT astronomers will discover some of the earliest galaxies in the universe, and will be able to study their gas content via measurements of water as well as other important gas species, Glenn said.

In addition to Caltech, JPL and CU-Boulder, the Z-Spec collaboration includes the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science in Japan, the Observatories of the Carnegie Institute of Science and the University of Pennsylvania. Funding for Z-Spec was provided by the National Science Foundation, NASA, the Research Corporation and partner institutions.

The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory is operated under a contract from the National Science Foundation. CARMA was built and is operated by a consortium of universities with funding from a combination of state and private sources, as well as the National Science Foundation and its University Radio Observatory program.

So far there are no reports that the scientists have been contacted by any party wanting to pipe the water to Colorado’s Front Range.

The National Science Foundation has allocated $18.5 million to create an engineering research center to help solve urban supply problems

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Here’s the release from the National Science Foundation (Cecile J. Gonzalez):

The National Science Foundation (NSF) announces an award to Stanford University and its partners to establish a new NSF Engineering Research Center (ERC). The ERC will develop interdisciplinary research and education programs that address the intersection of people, water, and the environment, and that provide the foundation for new industries through innovation. NSF will invest $18.5 million in the Center over the next five years.

The NSF ERC for Re-inventing America’s Urban Water Infrastructure aims to create water systems that will require far fewer resources while continuing to meet the needs of urban users and improving the quality of aquatic ecosystems. With new knowledge and technological advances, the ERC will design new strategies for more sustainable solutions to urban water challenges.

The Center will focus its research on distributed water treatment systems, integrated natural water systems, and tools that incorporate economic, environmental, and social factors into decisions about water. The new possibilities for water/wastewater treatment and distribution will allow communities to increase the efficiency of water systems and usage, while protecting natural water resources.

The NSF ERC will be based at Stanford University, in partnership with the Colorado School of Mines, New Mexico State University, and the University of California, Berkeley. Researchers at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, and the University of New South Wales in Australia will contribute additional expertise and international perspectives.

The involvement of 22 industry partners — including multinational corporations, utilities, and start-up firms — will spur innovation and provide university students with first-hand experience in entrepreneurship. The ERC will also collaborate with complementary research centers and organizations specializing in technology transfer to stimulate innovation based on its research.

Since 1985, the ERC program has fostered broad-based research and education collaborations to focus on creating technological breakthroughs for new products and services and on preparing U.S. engineering graduates to successfully participate in the global economy. The centers launched this summer, as part of the third generation of NSF ERCs, place increased emphasis on innovation and entrepreneurship, partnerships with small research firms, and international collaboration and cultural exchange.

“The Gen-3 ERCs are designed to speed the process of transitioning knowledge into innovation and to provide young engineers with experience in research and entrepreneurship, strengthening their role as innovation leaders in the global economy,” said Lynn Preston, the leader of the ERC Program. “Because they build on the rich understanding we gained from two previous generations of ERCs, we expect these new centers to make even more significant impacts on the competitiveness of U.S. industry.”

More coverage from 9News.com (Nelson Garcia):

The National Science Foundation is funding a five-year, $18.5 million grant to create an Engineering Research Center through Stanford, University of California – Berkeley, New Mexico State, and CSM. Each school will collaborate on projects to address the future of urban water issues.

“Our current urban water infrastructure was developed in the 1940s,” [Dr. John McCray, director of Environmental Science Engineering Division at CSM] said. “Our purpose here is to essentially reinvent America’s Urban Water Infrastructure. Or, at least conduct research in education that will help us get there in the future.”

The projects won’t necessarily focus on the quality of water, but rather on the process of producing useable water.

“It’s more about in the long run, are we doing this in a sustainable manner?” McCray said. “Are we doing it in an energy efficient manner? Can we continue to do things now the way we’ve done in the past.”

Dr. Tzahi Cath is overseeing a project on campus to decentralize waste water treatment. Currently, he has a portable filtering unit cleaning 7,000 gallons a day of wastewater produced by student housing. He says the result is water good enough to drink.

“Here you can treat water on site, reuse it on site. You save a lot of energy. You save a lot of infrastructure of pipelines,” Cath said. “This is a system that you can bring on a truck, put it in any small neighborhood, connect to power, connect to the sewer system and it’s a plug and play.”

Here’s the release from the Colorado School of Mines (David Tauchen/Karen Gilbert):

America’s cities face a looming water crisis, driven by climate change, growing population and a crumbling infrastructure. Recognizing the critical importance of this issue, the National Science Foundation has selected a partnership of four U.S. universities to form an Engineering Research Center (ERC) that addresses this challenge by developing new, sustainable ways to manage urban water. The initial grant is $18.5 million spread over five years with additional millions to come in the subsequent five-year period following in-progress reviews.

Engineering Research Centers are interdisciplinary hubs established at U.S. universities where researchers work in close partnership with industry to pursue strategic advances in complex engineered systems and technologies. The Urban Water ERC is led by Stanford University and includes researchers trained in fields including environmental engineering, earth sciences, hydrology, ecology, urban studies, economics and law at Stanford, University of California-Berkeley, Colorado School of Mines, and New Mexico State University.

Concerted effort, grand scale
“Urban water represents a monumental challenge for the United States and it deserves concerted research and thinking on the grandest scale,” said project leader Richard Luthy, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford. “We’re clearing the slate. Nothing is being taken for granted. We’ll be developing new strategies for replacing crumbling infrastructure, new technologies for water management and treatment, new ways to recover energy and water, and more – much of it yet to be determined.”

One example is better integration of natural systems as part of urban water infrastructure to improve water quality and storage while simultaneously enhancing habitats and the urban landscape.

The partnership of these specific universities is as symbolic as it is pragmatic. The Urban Water Center is based in the American West where the effects of shifting water resources will be felt most acutely, but also where much of the leading thinking on water challenges is taking place.

“These four universities form a powerful collaboration,” Luthy added. “Each has its particular strengths, and each is working on problems related to how we use and reuse water, and how we design and manage our urban water resources in the face of some daunting outlooks.”

Here’s how Colorado School of Mines fits into the partnership:

– Mines will provide its expertise in water reclamation and reuse, subsurface modeling and contaminant attenuation. Mines also has unique water reclamation testbeds on campus that will be used in research.

– Mines faculty will serve as the research director and education director for the ERC.
Over the next five years, Mines will receive $5 million with the State providing $400,000 per year through the Colorado Higher Education Competitive Research Authority (CHECRA).

– The CHECRA provided critical matching funds that allowed Mines to participate in this prestigious partnership and brought a large federal grant to the state.

“Our various test platforms in California, Colorado and New Mexico allow us to try new ideas at realistic scale and in close collaboration with industry and practitioner partners,” said Jörg Drewes, a professor at Colorado School of Mines and director of research for the center. “This allows us to demonstrate new approaches and move promising innovations from university labs towards commercial reality.”

“At this level of collaboration we can achieve much more than any one individual campus could alone,” said Professor Nirmala Khandan, a co-investigator on the project and leader of the center’s work at New Mexico State University.

Industry-academia collaboration
To the mix of leading universities, the Urban Water Engineering Research Center will add the support of a number of industrial partners that will extend the reach of the ERC’s programs and provide a critical real-world aspect to the center’s work.

“The Engineering Research Center’s multi-disciplinary approach can transform the way we manage our urban water systems in the 21st century for the betterment of both cities and the environment,” said Mike Kavanaugh, a principal with Geosyntec Consultants whose company provides specialized services in storm-water management, water-quality modeling and geotechnical services to municipal clients in the United States.

“We look forward to having an active role in the ERC’s research to help put innovations into practice,” added Megan Plumlee, a scientist with the Advanced Technologies Group at Kennedy/Jenks Consultants, a company that has completed more than $1 billion in recycled-water planning and design work over the past decade.

Multi-faceted approach
The research of the Urban Water ERC will follow a three-pronged approach that combines fundamental investigations and applied research in engineered systems, natural systems and urban water management.

“Working with partners in industry will transform the center’s groundbreaking research into practical and sustainable solutions,” said Luthy. “Achieving technical innovation and new ways of doing business requires the ERC team to tackle the full range of economic, policy and social factors at play in water resources decision-making and management.”

An additional mission of the Urban Water ERC is to inspire future engineers through extensive education programs at all of the participating institutions. According to Professor Luthy, this will yield a pipeline of well-prepared students of diverse backgrounds who are ready and eager to pursue water-related degrees at the undergraduate and graduate level. The goal, ultimately, is a new cohort of leaders who will transform America’s water infrastructure. This effort also includes important outreach programs aimed at students of all ages, from kindergarteners through adults and with special outreach to under-represented children in Native American, Latino, Pacific Islander and African American communities.

“I, for one, am confident we can meet our water challenges,” said Luthy. “And the establishment of this Engineering Research Center is a great first step to solving the biggest problems.”