Thoughts on Science
In early March, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed - a social media platform I use almost exclusively for science communication (and occasional Blues hockey) - when I saw a Tweet from Matt Schuler about Tyson Research Station. They had reduced their use of road salt this winter by using brine.
I was so glad to read about a local organization taking advantage of brine, that I actually clicked on the article and read all about their brining system. That was when I got REALLY excited. You see, the article mentions "a Brining Workshop organized by [Washington University] and the St. Louis Higher Education Sustainability Consortium." I was one of the two speakers at that workshop! This is the first time that I can say for certain that my research and my outreach efforts have resulted in a change in how road salt is used. They report using only a fifth of the amount of salt that they would have used without their in-house brining system. And, not including the things they already had on-hand, it only cost them $100 to put together the system.
I love success stories like this! If you know of any other groups that have started using brine and are having success at cutting their salt use, please comment so we can spread the word!
Anyone who knows me will probably laugh to read this, but I am actually a very shy person. I'd generally prefer to go home and read rather than go to an event where I will have to interact with strangers. But I push myself to be out there, because interacting with people is the only way to develop relationships. So, when I go to a seminar or conference, one of my goals is always to meet at least one new person each day. Last week, I had the opportunity to meet many new people, as well as reconnect with people I do not see very often, at the 11th National Water Monitoring Conference held in Denver. This three-day conference was attended by nearly 1000 professionals who all work to protect and restore water.
I started meeting new people the day before the conference started. I reached out to Miles Corcoran who works for the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center (NGRREC) in Alton, Illinois, to see if he had any plans for dinner - we had met a couple of months earlier at an event at Saint Louis University and he had mentioned he would be attending the conference. Next thing I knew, I was sitting at a great little restaurant called The Greedy Hamster with Miles and one of his co-workers, Ted Kratschmer. It was great to get to know the two of them and to learn more about the work they do at NGRREC. I visited several years ago, but I need to get back out there soon to learn more about this great facility and their work on the Mississippi River.
The next day, my goal was easy to exceed. The conference program included a topic-based networking session where you select an area of interest and meet with whoever else selected that interest. I had the pleasure of meeting several lovely people in that session, but the one that I really connected with was Jason Palmer. He works for the Iowa DNR writing TMDLs for streams that are not supporting the amount of biological diversity that would be expected. He basically picked up where I left off at the Iowa DNR - the work he does now follows the same general format as the case study I worked on with folks from the DNR and EPA. It was great to meet Jason and hear about how the program has advanced since I left!
On day two, I attended a couple of workshops on some new methods to analyze data using a programming language called "R" that I have been using for most of my statistics and graphics for the past few years. One of the presenters for both workshops was Laura DeCicco, an author on several papers I have read recently. The software packages that she demonstrated are excellent advances to water quality analysis, but have limitations that will prevent me from using them at this time. I approached her to see if she had any suggestions for alternative programs or if there was a plan to add the functions I was looking for and she was so helpful! I have several new resources to explore and great ideas on how to move forward.
That evening, there was a gathering of those who are involved in the volunteer monitoring/citizen science movement. We started off with an informal business meeting and then went out for an intimate dinner for 20 at a local brew-pub. I had a chance to catch up with Karen Westin from MoDNR as well as Tony Thorpe and Dan Obrecht of the Lakes of Missouri Volunteer Program. They are all based in central Missouri, so I don't see them often, but we seem to run into each other every year or two.
On the final day of the conference, I had the opportunity to present my research on brining as a best management practice. I was excited to be scheduled to speak in one of the two largest rooms of the meeting space. Unfortunately, I was scheduled for 4:25 on the last day of a conference. While the 30 or so in attendance could have each had a table to themselves in the vast space, that number would have filled some of the smaller rooms quite nicely. The audience was very attentive and seemed very interested in what I had to share. I fielded a handful of questions and, after the session, I had a great conversation with Kristina Hopkins of the USGS. She has been studying how well the use of green infrastructure (rain gardens, detention basins, etc.) can protect aquatic life in areas under development. As with my work, she is exploring how well these practices work on the landscape scale, so it was nice to share a couple of stories.
After several days of interacting with large numbers of people all day long, I began to wander on my own in downtown Denver to find some dinner. I was glad to find a quiet little Mediterranean place to settle down for a tasty meal. It was a lovely change from the busyness and socializing of the rest of the week - I am rather shy after all.