Blue Orchard Bees: A Natural Solution to the Decline of Honeybee

by Bob Heath

With the noted decline in success of rearing honeybees, many growers and home gardeners have begun to worry about the reliability of counting on honeybees alone for pollination of their crops and gardens.  Besides the problems with maintaining hives of honeybees because of loss of habitat, pests and increased use of harmful pesticides, there are several other reasons to look beyond honeybees for adequate pollination of fruits and flowers.  Honeybees are good, but not great, pollinators of many flowers.  Their time per flower is longer than some bees, and there are bees that carry more pollen per visit than honeybees. Honeybees avoid pollinating members of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), which includes tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and potatoes. Honeybees avoid dim habitats (such as the edge of forests), become disoriented in greenhouses, and take the day off if it rains. Finally, honeybees aren’t fully active until May, although many flowering crops bloom from late March through April. For these reasons, many people are looking for native bee species for crop pollination. Bees that are gentle and easily handled are at the top of the list. Among the best of these native bees for use in Northeast Ohio is the blue orchard bee (Osmia lignaria).

The blue orchard bee (BOB, for short) is a member of the family of mason bees, so named because they lay their eggs in small chambers walled off with mud, just as a mason lays bricks separated by cement.  No queen bees here. As with most bee species, these are solitary bees that build individual nests rather than an organized social-colony hive headed by a queen.  BOB overwinters in a cocoon, emerging when temperatures reach above 55 degrees Fahrenheit for several consecutive days. The males emerge first, followed in a couple days by the females. The first thing the female BOB does is mate with one or two males. After mating, she spends several days sucking up nectar until her ovaries mature, then she gets down to business of building a nest. She will seek out a nesting site that is a tube-shaped cavity around six inches long and just the right diameter of 5/16 inch. When selecting a nest, the female BOB flies back and forth in front of the hole to make sure she can remember exactly where it is located. She also wants to be sure the correct type of mud–a silt-clay mixture moist enough to be balled up–is in the vicinity to pack into the nest.

Blue Orchid Bee

She begins building the nest by carrying some mud in her mandibles and packing it at the back of the nest. Then she forages for pollen and nectar in nearby flowers, generally within 100 yards of the nest. BOBs prefer Rosaceae–flowers of the rose family, such as apples, pears, almonds and blackberries. The female BOB can visit as many as 75 flowers in one trip to provision the nest with a mix of pollen and nectar; it takes about 25 trips to provision one compartment in the nest. She flies from dawn until dusk, even if it’s windy or drizzly. When the compartment in the nest is sufficiently provisioned, she lays a fertilized egg and then closes the compartment with a dollop of mud. Next, she collects pollen and nectar for the next compartment, lays an egg and closes it off. She builds the nest from the back to the front but, as she approaches the front of the nest, she lays unfertilized eggs. Fertilized eggs become females, while unfertilized eggs become males; the sex ratio in BOBs is two females to three males. When the nest is complete, she walls it off with a dollop of mud, then begins the process all over again, seeking a new nesting site and so on. Inside the nest the eggs hatch. Each larva goes through three molts, then pupates and overwinters in the cocoon, hatching only when the weather turns from cold to cool the following spring.

Think about all the flowers the female BOB visits to complete one compartment of the nest: 75 flowers per trip x 25 trips per compartment = more than 1,800 flower visits, and there are about eight compartments per nest. And each female BOB builds several nests during her lifetime, which is only four to eight weeks long. Wow!! BOBs visit more flowers per minute than honeybees, and they collect more pollen per visit than honeybees, making them highly efficient, valuable pollinators. They are so valuable that a cottage industry has sprung up, selling mason bee “hotels,” which provide the right length and diameter for BOB nests. But wait, there’s more! You also can buy BOB cocoons and mason bee mud. Mud, cocoons and “hotels” can then be placed in an orchard or a flower garden. It has been noted that by encouraging BOBs into an orchard, crop yields can be noticeably improved. The blue mason bee is active early in the season, from late March through early June.


Wilson, J.S., & Carril, O.M. (2016). The Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North American Bees. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-16077-1

Wikipedia. Retrieved from

EPA and Environmental Watch

Summarized by Lorraine McCarty

The acting Environmental Protection Agency administrator and the Trump administration in general continue to support fossil-fuel use and deregulation at the risk of the health and wellness of the people and the planet. Here are some of the actions they have taken:

  • Rollback of Mercury Regulations. The EPA and the Trump administration have ordered a rollback of mercury regulations from coal plants. Those regulations have cut mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants by 85% in the last decade. Environmentalists have described the regulatory rollback as snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Mercury causes brain damage, learning disabilities, and other health defects in children and enters the food chain through fish and other items people eat. The Obama administration projected that mercury restrictions would prevent 130,000 asthma attacks and 11,000 premature deaths in the United States. The rule change for mercury emissions is in the comment period.
  • Gutting of the Clean Water Act. The EPA and the Trump administration are attempting to gut the Clean Water Act by exempting ephemeral streams and wetlands that have no aboveground connection to larger bodies of water–a move that would leave half or the nation’s wetlands subject to pollution and destruction. Ohio has already lost 90% of its wetlands, and the gutting of the Clean Water Act would harm another 50% of what is left. These intermittent streams, however, are important to the health of the environment. They filter out pollutants, and the water flows to larger tributaries that provide drinking water to millions of people. Environmentalists say the administration’s move favors developers and fails to heed basic science that shows how these streams and wetlands prevent flooding by absorbing significant amounts of rainwater and snowmelt that otherwise would reach larger streams and basic scientific evidence that the streams and wetlands provide habitat for wildlife and protection from predators. Nationwide, flooding causes $8 billion in damage every year to property and crops. Agriculture already is largely exempted from the Clean Water Act (which adds to the problem of algal blooms in Lake Erie). Industrial rights groups and rural landowners, however, want to weaken the law further.
  • Carbon-Capture Rollbacks. The EPA has proposed rolling back a regulation to require cutting-edge carbon-capture techniques for new coal plants to remove what the agency calls “excessive burdens” on the energy industry.
  • Propping Up the Coal Industry. The Trump administration incorrectly blamed the coal industry’s problems on overregulation aimed at decreasing carbon and mercury emissions and finding ways to deal with coal-ash disposal issues. The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s annual energy outlook, however, forecasts a 21% decline in coal production over the next 20 years–an even steeper decline than expected two years ago when there was more regulation of the industry. Technology developments that have led to the shale gas revolution are providing a much cheaper alternative to coal, and renewables have made faster than expected technological advances–leaving coal in the dust.
  • Fixation on Natural Gas. The U.S. Gas Infrastructure Exports Initiative has as its mission to drive sales of American natural gas by pumping dollars into pipelines and gas-producing facilities overseas. The organization is a coalition of companies, trade groups, law firms, a nonprofit think tank, and at least five federal agencies. Launched a year ago, the organization continues to market liquified natural gas (LNG) as a “clean” energy source that is clearly in U.S. economic interests. The organization has funded 13 gas projects in more than 20 countries and generated more than $1.5 billion in exports. The U.S. Trade and Development Agency (which describes itself as “an independent agency of the United States government, established in 1961 to advance economic development and U.S. commercial interests in developing and middle income countries) is considering action to fund some of the 40 international gas-related facility proposals it has received this year as part of its effort to help countries in emerging markets develop the infrastructure necessary to be long-term recipients of U.S. LNG exports. The United States has a handful of export terminals now, and plans call for a dozen more. Environmentalists’ support for LNG as a “clean” transitional alternative to coal and diesel has eroded because methane leaks at oil and gas sites are 60% over estimates and because LNG still emits a significant amount of carbon dioxide. Environmentalists say it is time to look beyond natural gas to renewables.
  • Limits on States’ Ability to Block Interstate Pipelines. And last but not least for this month, the Trump administration is considering taking steps to limit the ability of states to block interstate pipelines. This action is aimed mainly at Northeastern and Midwestern states. New York successfully blocked an interstate pipeline by denying a water-quality permit. Pipeline advocates say that states have abused their authority under the Clean Water Act to block pipelines and that even if Trump tires to use an executive order to get what he wants, real change may require legislation to alter the statute itself.

In more hopeful news, the states of California, New Mexico, New York and Washington have joined     conservationists and tribes to sue coal companies in an attempt to revive former President Barack Obama’s moratorium on new lease sales for federal lands that hold billions of tons of coal. The moratorium was issued because coal is a source of pollution that puts the climate and public health at risk. U.S. District Judge Brian Morris is expected to issue a ruling in the coming months. The National Mining Association argues that the moratorium was a voluntary step and that the Trump administration has the right to end it. Environmentalists want to resume a sweeping review of the moratorium’s environmental effects.

Also, earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the EPA’s delay in implementing the Chemical Disaster Rule was unlawful. This ruling will expedite key protections to safeguard the public and first responders from chemical disasters.

Sources: Record-Courier, December 30, 2018; Akron Beacon Journal, December 7, 2018, December 13, 2018, December 21, 2018, January 22, 2019, January 26, 2019, January 31, 1019; EarthJustice, October 30, 2018.

In Memoriam: Helen Gregory

by Jane Preston Rose and Ann Ward

When Helen moved from environmentally forward-thinking Boulder, Colorado, to Kent, she saw no evidence of such consciousness in her new hometown. That dismay turned to delight when she came across Ruth Meade, Walt and Nancy Adams, Joan Sturtevant, and Joyce Keller standing by a truck in Acme Plaza. They were collecting newspapers as part of Kent Environmental Council’s nascent recycling efforts. She enthusiastically connected with the group, helping their efforts to clear the Cuyahoga River banks and supporting the recycling program.

The recycling effort flourished, and a recycling center was built off Lake Street in Kent, staffed by volunteers. Helen’s first foray into fundraising began when money was needed to support the fledgling recycling center. Recognizing that a recycling center might not be of great interest to many potential donors, Helen conceived and led a fund-raising effort to raise money for a Kent beautification program that also would provide some funds to support the recycling center. That effort successfully raised funds to help beautify entrances to Kent. The eight-year Haymakers Parkway landscaping project along the State Route 59 bypass netted contributions totaling $70,000 from the community. Helen enlisted the support of her husband, Stanford, to build an attractive Kent sign at the north entrance to the city on Mantua Street. That carved wood sign grounded in cement continues to welcome people to the city.

Helen Gregory (seated) on the Portage Hike and Bike Trail

A talented writer, Helen launched a column for KEC in the Record-Courier titled “Eco-Focus,” which was published regularly for four years. Her columns covered a wide range of subjects with intriguing titles such as: 

  • Waste not with compost ‘magic’
  • Try alternatives to junking junk mail
  • Thinking ‘green’ good idea for gifts
  • ‘Green’ office means reducing waste stream
  • It’s time to learn to love your leaves

Helen served as chair of KEC in the early 1990s and was member of the Portage Park District Foundation Board. She also was engaged in other leadership and service efforts in the community. In 2018, Helen received the Environmental Conservation Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Portage Park District.

Helen was a relentlessly positive person, and we will sorely miss her energy and encouragement.

Yes, Virginia, Climate Change Is Real

by Lorraine McCarty

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), on her first day as speaker of the House of Representatives, said that “[Climate change is] the existential threat of our time. The entire Congress must work to put an end to the inaction and denial of science that threaten the planet and the future.” She then proceeded to create the Climate Crisis Committee to help lead the nation to take decisive action on climate change. While the committee has no subpoena power and cannot write bills, acknowledgement from a legislative leader that the climate is in crisis and the announcement that the house will studying the issue are two huge steps. According to Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), chair of the new panel, “The Democratic caucus is unified under the belief we have to take bold action on the climate crisis.” She sees the committee’s job as taking general concepts of the Green New Deal (a separate effort) and turning them into a real policy framework and legislative language and eventually law. The name of the committee is significant, as it will help to remind people about what is at stake when the committee reports its findings.

We need to contrast Pelosi’s initiative with action of President Donald Trump’s nominee for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, who did not read the landmark  federal report on climate change published in late 2018 that the EPA helped put together. Wheeler does not believe the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon emissions in any significant capacity and proudly supports dismantling the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. To read the Environmental Defense Fund’s case against confirming Wheeler as the permanent EPA administrator, click here.   

Climate Reality Check: After several years of little growth, global emissions of carbon pollution were up in 2018. In the United States, the Global Carbon Project estimates that from 2017 to 2018, carbon pollution rose by 2.7%. Fossil fuels still account for 81% of energy use worldwide. The use of coal–the biggest carbon emitter–is rising. Even though countries are using more renewable fuels in an attempt to reduce carbon output, emissions from cars and planes are increasing steadily. If you want to know more about why carbon emissions are referred to as greenhouse gasses, click here for a great summary by the Climate Reality Project. 

Increased carbon emissions mean warmer temperatures, but local cold snaps are not proof that climate change is a hoax. Weather is like a mood and is fleeting. Climate is like a personality and more long-lasting and spans continents, hemispheres and the planet. The recent climate report from the EPA points out that “over    climate timescales of multiple decades, however, global temperatures continue to steadily increase.” The reports cites numerous studies that show that 90% of the current warming is caused by humans, with no credible alternative explanation supported by observational evidence.

The report also warns that “warming charged extremes have become more frequent, intense, widespread or of long duration.” Think of California’s catastrophic wildfires and heavy rains followed by mudslides and massive hurricanes, just to name just two examples. The report says that damaging weather in the United States cost nearly $400 billion from 2015 to the fall of 2018. Global warming is changing how and where people live and presents growing challenges to health, quality of life, the economy and national systems that support the population. Increased air pollution will cause more heart and lung problems. Diseases from insects and tropical   infections will increase. Deaths from heatwaves and nastier allergies will increase. The flooding of sewage system can cause the spread of gastrointestinal disease, and droughts in some regions can cause food shortages. The ice caps in both the Arctic and Antarctica are melting much faster than expected (including ice the size of Idaho that was lost during two weeks in February of 2018 in the Arctic). Two ice basins in the Antarctic are threatened and, if both collapse, sea levels could rise by 92 feet, submerging communities around the world. Rising seas and severe storm surges will lower property values and force people to relocate. And the list goes on….

According to a recent AP poll, disasters influence 75% of the public’s thinking on climate change. Their observations of natural disasters and the weather around them have more impact than stories or statements from leaders. The public increasingly believes that climate change is real and is caused by human activity or an equal mix of human activity and natural causes. Only 1 in 10 attribute climate change to natural causes only. Cities, states and businesses are moving forward and developing plans to cut carbon emissions rather than rely on the federal government to take action. Fortunately, businesses are starting to account for estimated climate change risks in their financial disclosures. Businesses also are starting to take climate risks more seriously, although companies concerned with short-term challenges may not be accurately reporting long-term risks to their investors–sometimes issuing estimates 100 times smaller than the most conservative scientific estimate.

Climate scientists from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predict that a climate catastrophe just 12 years away, with many ill effects already       evident. One can only hope that the 2018 U.S. Climate Report not only will make it more difficult to ease regulations but also will spur limits on emissions and more investment in research to develop clean energy technology. The world came together on limiting the chemicals that were creating the ozone hole in the atmosphere, and the hole is disappearing. The world must do the same when it comes to halting climate change. That action cannot come too soon. We have been warned, and we need to act. Now.

Sources: Akron Beacon Journal, November 24, 2018, December 6, 2018, December 12, 2018, December 13, 2018, January 23, 2019; Record-Courier, November 24, 2018, February 10, 2019; 314Action, January 9, 2019; Time, October 22, 2018; Climate Hawks Vote, January 4, 2019; The Week, January 11, 2019.

EPA and Environmental Watch

This has been a banner year for seeing the effects of climate change–storms that contain much greater rainfall than if human-induced global warming were not occurring; triple-digit temperatures in California that produced the worst wildfires in the state’s history; statistics that show an increased number of deaths from floods, fires, heat and asthma–all while the Trump administration is tries to pull out of the Clean Power Plan and lessen regulations for the benefit of companies in various industries. Thankfully, the courts are holding some of this back.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continues to promote fossil fuels and the companies that produce them while assaulting the climate and public health with proposals to weaken the requirements for monitoring and repairing methane leaks from gas and oil wells and setting no limits on power-sector carbon pollution. Methane is 86% more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat over the short run, and methane leaks also emit other volatile organic compounds, including benzene, a well-known carcinogen–creating risks to the climate and to people’s health. (The EPA is accepting comments on the Trump administration’s proposal until October 31, 2018.)

The EPA also has told the outside scientists who advise the agency on the health impacts of soot that their service is no longer required and told individuals being interviewed for a new panel to evaluate ground-level ozone that the panel will not be formed. In addition, the EPA is trying to weaken the rules for radiation exposure despite past guidance that says any exposure to harmful radiation is a cancer risk. The EPA is “turning to scientific outliers who argue that a bit of radiation damage is actually good for you–like a little bit of sunlight.” So much for scientific input.

Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke is trying to roll back the protection of public lands and allow uranium mining there while limiting the ability of native communities to protest and exposing such communities to the risk of health hazards such as cancer and kidney damage.

At the same time, Congress is seeking to weaken the Endangered Species Act by turning over to state and local governments many of the powers now held by federal scientists. Republican Party supporters say the change will make the act work better and eliminate obstacles to economic progress. Wildlife advocates call the proposal the wildlife extinctions package.

Meanwhile, the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals is ordering a ban on the deadly pesticide chlorpyrifos, saying that the EPA left the chemical on the market despite extensive scientific evidence that even tiny levels of exposure can harm babies’ brains. One of the judges on the panel dissented from the majority ruling, so the EPA could appeal the court’s decision.

And so the battle goes on–the economy versus the environment, people and animals.

Sources: Akron Beacon Journal, August 9, 2018; Record-Courier, September 27, 2018; Friends of the Earth, September 18, 2018; Physicians for Social Responsibility, September 25, 2018.

–Lorraine McCarty

The Perils of Plastic

Twenty-two million pounds of plastic go into the Great Lakes every year. The Great Lakes is the largest freshwater system in the world, but it has been used as a dumping ground. The oceans also are filled with plastic, with 80% of it coming from the land. Plastics break down into small microplastics, which we eat when we consume fish and drink beverages. Lake Erie contains more microplastics than any other of the Great Lakes and more than any other body of water on earth, according to Sherri A. Mason, Ph.D., professor of chemistry and chair of the Department of Geology and Environmental Science at the State University of New York at Fredonia, who spoke at the Cleveland City Club on August 14.

Plastics were created at the turn of the last century, but manufacturing of such products ramped up after World War II. Disposable items became all the rage. The use of disposable items increased over the years and, by 2015, 300 million tons of plastic had been produced. Unlike glass and metal, plastic is moldable, light and durable; however, this durability is a big problem now.

So where does plastic go? A 2012 study found that 8 billion tons of plastic have ended up in the oceans; a 2004 study found that 80% of ocean plastic is coming from the land. Photo-degradation causes plastic to break into smaller and smaller pieces, resulting in microplastics. These tiny particles, which are less than the width of a hair, accumulate in the water. Lake Erie has 230,000 particles/km. Tributaries have an even higher abundance of microplastics.

Even more distressing is how much plastic people are ingesting (see the table below). For example, a survey of bottled-water consumption worldwide found that 93% of the bottles contained plastic contamination and that the contamination from microplastics was anywhere from double to 16 times greater than with tap water! No brands were found to be plastic-free. 

No studies have been conducted on how the consumption of microplastics affects human health; however, it is known that certain plastics are tied to cancer, obesity in children under 6 months of age, increased sperm counts, for example. The best course of action is to err on the side of caution. A United Nations working group rates plastics as the No. 2 worldwide problem, just below climate change.

The real problem, however, is people. People need to stop the flow of plastics into the environment by changing their behavior. Start here: 

  • Reject single-use plastics. Carry your own bamboo utensils for eating on the go.
  • Use a refillable metal water bottle rather than disposable bottles and cups for holding beverages.
  • Bring reusable bags to stores. Advocate for consumer fees on plastic bags provided at stores and that the fees increase over time as a way to encourage the use of reusable bags.
  • Carry your own metal straw if you want to use a straw. Advocate that straws should not be given out with every single drink at restaurants.
  • Decrease the way plastics come into people’s lives. Skipping the straw, the plastic bag and the plastic bottle is important because these three items comprise 65% of the plastic people use. Other ways to curb the use of plastics include the use of crushable toothpaste tablets and carrying your own containers to stores and restaurants.

Efforts aimed at advocating for a ban on microbeads were successful, with the ban going into effect on July 1, 2018. Antilittering campaigns face an uphill battle because so much corporate money is behind bottled water, and cities cannot compete with these businesses.

The development of an infrastructure to collect, market, buy and reuse plastics is a problem that society, as a whole, needs to address.

Granted, plastics are recycled today, but postconsumer plastic often is a combination of so many different kinds of plastics that it is easier to use new material to make plastic items. At the same time, the global market price for recyclables has dropped considerably. Many people are working on making plastics more biodegradable using different processes.

In the end, Mason encouraged the audience to not underestimate the influence of individuals.

Look for more information on plastics in our next newsletter.

–Lorraine McCarty

Yes, Yes . . . but Can You TRUST the Water?

by Bob Heath

The other day I had a strong lesson in “environmental white privilege.” I was invited to participate in a water roundtable discussion sponsored by The Nature Conservancy, the Alliance for the Great Lakes and the Ohio Environmental Council. The event was promoted as a discussion among a wide variety of stakeholders regarding their “views on water” in general and on Lake Erie in particular. The stakeholders at the table ranged from a former head of the Lake Erie Commission to wastewater treatment professionals to artists to local residents. I was there because of I am a science writer, my research interests include water quality in Lake Erie, I had been part of the Great Lakes Compact Advisory Panel, and I had participated in the development of management strategies for Lake Erie as part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board. Each of us was asked to speak only from our experience and not launch into hearsay or hypotheticals.

Did I mention that some of the stakeholders were local residents? You know, those folks who depend on Lake Erie as their sole source of drinking water. Those folks were just there asking for nothing more than reliable drinking water–“just folks” similar to those in Flint, Michigan, who also depended on the Great Lakes as their sole source of drinking water. Did I mention that this meeting was held in a community resource center at East 142nd Street and Kinsman Road in Cleveland, a “mixed neighborhood” ranging from dark-skinned African-Americans to light-skinned African Americans. It’s the kind of ‘hood that white folks usually find a way to avoid.

The moderator of the discussion started with innocuous questions such as, “What is your relationship to water?” and “What is the most important issue regarding water–personal or professional?” The questioning soon took on a sharper edge, with questions such as, “What threats to water pose the most risk to you–commercial or industrial or residential or whatever?” The answers were fairly much what one might expect: people need water to live, people want to swim and fish in the water, people depend on water availability for both personal and economic reasons, hazardous

algal blooms put toxins in the water, and so on. For me, the most telling remark was from one of the local residents. He said, “We here don’t trust the water because of Flint.” I heard him saying that just like the folks in Flint, the local residents in Glenville (on the east side of Cleveland) believed that they, too, could be neglected or lied to regarding the quality of their water and that no one in a management position would care to make it a priority to address local water-quality issues as an urgent matter. Their only recourse, they believed, would be to buy bottled water to drink. Do the math. An average person drinks a gallon of water each day; a pint of water costs a dollar–a gallon costs eight dollars. Per day. Each day.

Did I mention that this was a dinner meeting? But dinner never arrived. Although the caterer had taken the event organizer’s money, the caterer forgot the meeting date. An attempt to order pizza from a local pizzeria was only partially successful. The pizzeria took the group’s order and their money but would not deliver the pizzas “because the driver didn’t feel safe delivering to that address.” The event organizer apologized to the group for lack of food by saying, “That’s the way it is in this neighborhood all the time.”

As the water roundtable concluded, I became aware of yet another dimension of water: trust. When I drafted drinking-water management plans in the past, I believed that all I had to address was abundance of high-quality water. Then I realized that high-

quality water can be abundant–but only at certain times of the year (e.g., only during the “wet season” in equatorial Africa). That realization helped me to become aware of the need for sustainable quantities of water. Later I realized that it could be possible to have high-quality water in sustainable quantities but that accessibility through insufficient infrastructure could be a problem. Now, at the water roundtable, I began to realize that it is possible to have abundant high-quality water in a sustainable and reliable supply that has sufficient infrastructure to deliver the resource throughout a large metropolitan area, but its safety for drinking may be suspect for lack of trust among the people on the receiving end. People need to be able to trust the quality of their water every time they turn on the tap. Even if the tap is in a neighborhood unable to have pizza delivered. It’s federal law.

I left the meeting with an array of impressions and feelings. As I got into my car, I turned on the radio to listen to NPR, pressed the button for the air conditioning system and then turned onto Kinsman Road toward home. The pizza driver would feel safe delivering to my place. I don’t distrust the drinking-water quality of the tap water, and I have never felt the need to buy bottled water for the safety for my health. Did I mention that I’m white?

GRACE from Above Keeping an Eye on Groundwater Below

by Bob Heath

Most people in the world, including everyone in the city of Kent, depend on groundwater as their source for drinking water–and for good reasons: ground water is 100 times more abundant than surfacewater, its abundance is less variable than surface water, and ground water in general does not have many of the problems that constantly plague surface water. For example, surface water is susceptible to pollution from airborne contaminants (such as mercury from coal-fired power plants) and contaminants in stormwater runoff (such as nitrogen and phosphorus from agricultural activities and the associated toxins from hazardous algal blooms). Surface water also is more susceptible to the vicissitudes of weather patterns such as the three-year drought in Georgia that nearly drained Atlanta’s major drinking water reservoir.

Groundwater aquifers have one major threat: drying up–either from water being withdrawn faster than the aquifer can be replenished by natural process (typically because of population increases that lead to increased demand for water) or from an aquifer replenishment rate that is too slow (typically because too much pervious surface has been lost to roadways and urban landscapes). Another potential major threat to groundwater sources is changes in weather patterns as a result of global climate change. The danger here is a slower groundwater recharge rate. Because most people in the world depend on groundwater as their sole source of water for drinking and for commercial activities, if aquifers shrink to the point of being unable to support the people who depends on them, major populations shifts may occur. If you think that immigration is a problem as people seek a better life, think about what will happen as people immigrate to stay alive. This potential exodus is why the U.S. military views loss of water resilience as a major threat to international security.

Never has it been more important to monitor the size of global groundwater aquifers as global populations increase and aquifers potentially decrease. The problem is that groundwater is out of sight and not as easy to monitor as surface water is. But help is on the horizon and passing overhead every 90 minutes. GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) is not just another satellite; rather, it’s two satellites in exactly the same orbit but spaced about 137 miles apart at an altitude of 300 miles. A balance between the momentum of the satellites and gravitational pull exerted on them by the Earth keeps the two satellites from colliding with each other. For example, as one satellite passes over a region of higher gravity, such as a mountain range, it is pulled into a lower orbit, increasing the distance between the two satellites, which is measured precisely by microwaves that are constantly beamed from each satellite to the other. Satellite GPS instruments record the exact coordinates of the satellites. In this way a “gravity map” of the entire Earth is determined.

GRACE satellite observations from 2002 to 2017 have shown that while the mass of mountains does not change over time, the mass of water does change. The simple explanation is that water moves, but mountains do not. In other words, water moves and therefore its mass at any given point is a sum of the parts that can move (water) and the parts that do not move (the mountains). As a region on Earth become wetter, the mass of that region increases; conversely, as that region becomes drier, the mass of the region decreases. After comparing the gravity maps from several passes of the GRACE satellites over several years, NASA scientists were able to determine which regions are becoming wetter and which regions are getting drier. The original GRACE satellites stopped working in 2017; however, a set of replacements–the GRACE-Follow On satellites, or GRACE-FO, for
short–was launched in May 2018.

GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellites

Analysis of the gravity maps during the 15-year life of the original GRACE satellites led NASA scientists to detect trends in water-distribution changes. The scientists summarized their findings by saying, “The wet places are getting wetter and the dry places are getting drier.” The wet places are the high latitudes (i.e., polar regions) and the tropics (i.e., regions near the equator). The temperate regions (the middle latitudes, which span between the tropics and the polar regions) are getting drier. The scientists note in their report that “within the dry areas we see multiple spots resulting from groundwater depletion.”

But why? These changes were examined for causes ranging from changes in rainfall patterns to cyclical changes in weather patterns to changes in human activities and demography. The scientists found that

one of the consistent causes of groundwater depletion is agricultural activity and that the effect is visible in such diverse places as Saudi Arabia, western Australia and the Central Valley of California. In California, for example, farmers in the Central Valley, an area often referred to as the “fruit basket of the United States,” were forced to rely more and more on groundwater during a three-year snowfall drought in the northern part of the state diminished the supply of surface water typically used to irrigate crops. Whether these trends are the result of climate change or the result of cyclical weather patterns remains unknown. The data-collection period was not long enough to answer that question. Thanks to GRACE-FO, that question will be addressed. Stay tuned.

Want more information? Go to for a fact sheet and go to for a NASA video.

What Is Repair Cafe?

Repair Cafe is an international movement to save money and resources by gathering local volunteer experts to repair items normally

found around the house. The items remain useful but a minor problem. The movement is popular in Europe. Locally, Rich Patterson is trying to establish a repair café in Portage County. He has talked about it at KEC’s Friday breakfasts. If you are interested in learning more or helping with this effort, contact Patterson at 330-245-6277 or

Lake Erie Data at Your Fingertips–Instantly!

by Bob Heath

Are you heading out to Lake Erie to fish or swim, and want to know the condition of the lake right now? Better than “an app for that,” you can text your request and instantly receive a message from the data buoy itself. How cool is that?!

Ok, so here’s how it works. Sixteen solar-powered buoys are deployed on Lake Erie–from the far eastern stations off of Dunkirk, New York, to the westernmost buoy off of Monroe, Michigan. Each buoy contains at least two multiparameter data sondes (devices for testing physical conditions) that monitor water-quality variables such as water temperature, conductivity, dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll as well as external variables such as air temperature, air pressure, wave height, wind speed and wind direction. Each buoy reports the conditions at the surface and at the bottom of the lake. In deeper waters, the buoys collect data at two-meter intervals from the surface of the lake to the bottom of the lake to anticipate the development and extent of “dead zones” in the bottom waters. Some buoys even have a camera onboard that takes real-time images that can be accessed online. These data are stored onboard in a data-logger and are downloaded at half-hour intervals to a central server at LimnoTech, a private environmental consulting firm in Ann Arbor, Michigan. To access the current data, text a buoy identification number to the server in Ann Arbor and, within seconds, the server texts you a message with the available information.

The buoy identification numbers for some buoys closest to Cleveland and the westernmost and easternmost buoys on Lake Erie are given below:

Solar-Powered Buoy

For a comprehensive view of all the locations, go to

As an example, I texted the server 734-418-7299, and then entered the number for the Cleveland intake crib, 45176. I received a text reply within seconds, notifying me that at “4:30 p.m. EDT the wind was coming from the northwest at 7.8 knots, with an air temperature of 74.8 F, water temperature of 75.7 F in waves of 1.0 feet.” In short, it was a great day on Lake Erie to go boating and fishing.

But wait-there’s more! More buoys, that is. A network of buoys spans the Great Lakes: 13 in Lake Superior, 21 in Lake Michigan, 9 in Lake Huron, 16 in Lake Erie and 9 in Lake Ontario. Another buoy is located in Lake Champlain near Burlington, Vermont, just south of Montreal, Ontario, Canada. The buoys cost about $50,000 each to deploy and are supported by both public agencies (e.g., NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, Environment Canada, and Ontario Ministry of the Environment), academic institutions (including State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, University of Minnesota, University of Toledo, Bowling Green State University, and Ohio State University) and as private companies (such as LimnoTech and LEEDCo [Lake Erie Energy Development Corporation]). The deployment of this network of buoys costs more than $3.5 million in equipment alone. Given the expense of monthly maintenance on each buoy, it is clear that more is at stake than the convenience of weekend boaters.

The buoy network provides the infrastructure needed to develop a “smart lake.” A smart lake is similar to a “smart city.” In a smart city, the workings of the municipality are controlled like an integrated system. Think of traffic flow being controlled to optimize the efficient flow rate of trucks and cars on a citywide basis. Or think of the electrical grid in a city being monitored and managed as a system for optimal stability and availability of energy for workers and residents. For a smart lake, think of managing the efficient flow of ship traffic through the Great Lakes system. Or think about monitoring and managing water quality for the 14 million people who depend on Lake Erie for their drinking water. While not yet a smart city, Cleveland could have a smart lake one day. The Cleveland Water Alliance (a consortium of academic, commercial, governmental, and nongovernmental organization stakeholders) is spearheading an effort to make Lake Erie a smart lake through innovative water technologies.

For more information about network of buoys, which is part of the Great Lakes Observing System, click here. To watch a video about the buoys  produced by Rock the Lake, click here.