Monday, March 2, 2015

I'll Take A Whiskey Ginger...Hold The Straw

     This weekend was the ultimate test to see if waste-free was sustainable for all different walks and ways of life. Is waste free living for the stay-at-home wife and mother who pinterests all day and has time to make her own mascara? or can young, mobile, and let's not forget poor, individuals do it too without wallowing in misery and self defeat? my answer is.....YES! but you must plan ahead. However, planning can be fun and it doesn't have to take long either.
     This weekend, my best friend, Brooke, and I attended Winter Wondergrass Festival in Avon, Colorado. It is a three day outdoor festival which we decided to car camp February. The weather has been unusually warm, but of course it decided to finally snow the one weekend I didn't want it to. Bringing my waste free lifestyle on the road didn't prove as hard as I thought, but it did add to my waste jar at a faster rate than previous. I began preparing for my trip the day before. As my beans were soaking, I roasted up some sweet potato to take with me. The next morning I got up extra early, cooked beans, quinoa, and tons of vegetables to last the entire weekend. The one thing I forgot was a kitchen towel or cloth napkin because I ended up just wiping my hands on my clothes. we car camped in style and enjoyed many meals in the back of Brooke's subaru.
                                        (Car Eatin'! The bag of chips are Brooke's, I swear!)

        I invested in an awesome set of bamboo utensils that come in a heavy duty cloth container with a carabiner so I can attach it to my backpack and never lose it. The thing i struggled with the most was to resist the temptation of the the little things. I'm a sucker for sweets and Brooke brought along a bag of ginger chews. It's easy at home to not give in because I just don't buy them, but there there were just taunting me. I ended up having one and keeping the wrapper in my pocket to put in my jar for later. I figured it was a little gift I could accept from a friend and accept the small consequence.
      The festival itself did a really good job of trying to make less waste. Every ticket holder got an awesome stainless steel mug and discounted drinks when used all weekend. It was at the late night shows that I had to remember to say "No Straw!" or "No Lime!" I received some pretty weird looks, but they obliged. I did have to put my wristbands from the festival and the late night shows into my jar, but there was no way i could have avoided it if I wanted to attend.
       The weekend was amazing and fast-paced and because I planned one day ahead, being waste-free flowed right in where I rarely had to think about it. It was an awesome test to see if waste-free can be mobile.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Routine and a Tribute to Ignaz Semmelweis

Last weekend I made another trip down to Bear Creek. This time, Rich walked me through his usual routine (performed every 2-4 days in the winter) and I recorded everything as we went. First we went to the lower well and had to change the six filters that the water runs through right after in is pumped from the ground. The water runs through three ultra-fine filters followed by three fine filters. This process took about 20 minutes as we had to shut off the pump, close the valves, drain some of the water from the filter casings, change each filter individually (and carefully), and turn the pump back on (also very carefully). It is important to easy the valve open after the pump is turned back on so that you do not get a "knocking" effect from the water rushing back in and compressing the air that is in the system. This can damage the pipes greatly and cause huge problems in the system. The filters are changed after a certain amount of water is pumped through them to maintain a specific turbidity level which is monitored by a computer in the pump house. If the turbidity or chlorine meter exceeds a certain threshold, this is considered a violation and must be reported to the state water board.

Next we recorded these levels as well as the total water that had been pumped and then went up to the upper well. At the upper well, we had to record the same data as well as take a sample to test the chlorine level using a colorimeter to test the actual chlorine level and refill the SeaQuest tank. Then we went back down to the lower well to test the chlorine level there now that the water had been running through the new filters for a sufficient amount of time. Finally before we left we took a water sample to drop of at the Sangre De Cristo Lab in Alamosa to verify that the water was safe for distribution. When taking the sample, we had to be extremely careful not to get a contaminated sample. If the sample was contaminated by some outside source before the time it got tested, the water in the system would be contaminated which could lead to fines as well as other complications. There is more finesse to the regular duties of a water operator than one might imagine!

As an interesting side note, when we were driving down to Bear Creek, Rich told me an interesting story about a man named Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis. In the mid 1800s perpetual fever that often resulted in death was common in hospitals, in fact it almost seemed as if more people were getting sick from hospitals than were being healed. Semmelweis accidentally stumbled upon chlorine solution as a cleaning agent for doctors and their tools. It turned out that for some reason, the use of a chlorinated lime solution reduced the sickness and infections that were the result of medical procedures greatly. He had discovered chlorine as the ultimate disinfectant but he could not make this connection between the reduced mortality and the use of chlorine. He eventually published a book on his findings. But alas, Semmelwies' findings contradicted the prominent scientific and medical opinions of the time and pointed to the doctors as the culprits (when unknowingly, they were) and he was declared insane.  He was committed to an insane asylum and died at the age of 47 after being beaten by the guards. After his death the significance of his findings was realized and continues to save millions of lives around the world to this day and even held to distribute safe drinkable water. Thanks Ignaz!

An engraved portrait of Semmelweis: a mustachioed, balding man in formal attire, pictured from the chest up.

Ignaz Philipp Semmelwies (1860)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Entering the Water World

I am a few weeks into my internship now and finally getting to the blogging aspect. It's been a busy semester already! I am interning with the Bear Creek Land Owners Association for whom my dad, Richard Basinger, is the water operator and will be my internship supervisor. The area is about three hours South and slightly East of Gunnison in the beautiful Conejos Canyon down near the Colorado New Mexico Border. As an environmental studies student with a water emphasis I have always been fascinated with all aspects of water. Whether it is the ecological, political, physical, distributional, or recreational aspect I can never learn enough!. During my internship, I plan to travel down to Bear Creek about once every two weeks and learn all the necessary skills required of a water operator. Also, in the time that I am not down in the canyon, I will be updating system operating procedures, evaluating necessary upcoming changes to the system to address recommendations by the Colorado Department of Public Health, and studying for the class D water operator certification exam.

I made the trip down for the first time about two weeks ago. It was quite the exciting drive down as I drove through some of the thickest fog I've ever been in and almost hit an elk. But I made it safely and it is always a beautiful drive down to the area. When I made it down, Rich explained to me what exactly he does (or more like what exactly I will be doing) and gave me a general overview of the water system. It is a community public water system. The operator is required to have a Class C water treatment certification as well as a Class D distribution certification (a sewage treatment cert. is not required because the cabins that are served have individual septic systems). The system currently serves 87 households and distributes approximately 2 million gallons of finished water per year. There are two wells. The first well is located right by the Conejos River and is designated as a ground water under direct influence of surface water sight. This well pumps around 35-60 gal/minute. The other is a groundwater well which is up the hill a ways from the lower well. This well is drilled straight into the bedrock but was not drilled in a very good place and only pumps 1 gal/minute. Water from both wells is pumped into two 5,000 gallon storage tanks which distribute the water to the households using gravity. Two insure that the water is safe to drink two chemicals are added to it as soon as it comes out of the well. Sodium Chloride (a liquid) is added as a disinfectant and a solution called SeaQuest (NaBSHEPZBO85 also a liquid) which is used for pipe corrosion control.

Well, That is a basic overview of what I will be doing throughout the course of the semester. I am looking forward to developing the skills I will need for my upcoming career in the water field and thanks to Rich Basinger, Jeff Sellen, WSCU, and the Bear Creek Land Owners Association for this opportunity!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Composting Fingernails, Homemade Toothpaste, and Other Fun New Things...

Well, I made it through week one, can I get a hallelujah! After 8 days of having to consciously think about waste before every decision, I have found some semblance of a routine that works for me. Bea Johnson, waste-free goddess and blogger at zero waste home(here), and her family of four have managed to end up with only a quart of waste every year. Let me repeat myself; ONE. QUART. EVERY. YEAR. It's incredible and it's also taken her years of trial and error to perfect. As I realize there is no truly 'zero waste' of any sort in any system, I've decided to strive for a quart of trash per month. It is more reasonable and de-stresses the pressure of analyzing every piece of food or product that comes my way. I have gone from this ugly waste full trash can
to this! A beautiful, simple, small mason jar. If I could only figure out what to do with receipts!

My very first piece of trash happened on the very first day at 7 in the morning. Really off to a great start, huh? I woke up feeling nervous and excited and began to boil water for tea. I happily reached into my tea canister and pulled out a tea bag in an individually wrapper bag. The instant I heard the rip as I tore away the packaging, I realized my mistake! I guiltily drank the tea and placed the bag into my new trash jar. Luckily, I saved the tea bag and was able to put it into my new compost bucket! The food has been by far the challenging aspect. Since I'm so mobile, I have to prepare to bring jars full of snacks and food to tide me over until I return home for dinner. I've even become quite the suzy homemaker, with little far. I presoaked dried black beans overnight, which never fully got soft even after 8 hours of cooking! How did I mess up beans?! I also tried to make homemade all bulk ingredient Corn Tortillas. I'm too embarrassed to post pictures of those, but trust me it wasn't pretty. I will say my food has stretched so much farther and I have spent significantly less on groceries. It also looks very pretty:
You can really see your food for what it is. It isn't hidden behind shiny packaging like the picture below. 

The bathroom has also gone under the knife so to speak. I now wash my hair with shampoo out of a jar (No conditioner, eek!!) and use my own concoction of baking soda and coconut oil to brush my teeth. It really doesn't taste too bad at all! Q-tips are a thing of the past and my fingernails now go in the compost instead of down the drain. It's been highly entertaining trying to explain my project to other which leads to some great stores. Next blog post, I'l begin to discuss how my waste-free life works away from the home, because after all, zero waste begins outside the house!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

I No Longer Own a Trash Can

      I no longer own a trashcan... and I'm slightly terrified. The convenience of throwing something away, hauling it to the curb once a week, and never seeing it again is over. Many articles about waste-free living along with getting tired of cleaning bits and pieces of trash from my car and house has inspired me to begin a waste-free experiment for the next month. And no, I didn't choose February because it's the shortest month (as my boyfriend pointed out to me), but because I have spent January researching and preparing my life for this dramatic lifestyle switch. Inspired by Bea Johnson, who wrote "Zero Waste Home", which has been my holy bible this last month, I've decided to reduce my waste as much as possible, so much that a trashcan will become obsolete.
        In order for this experiment to work I had to set some guidelines and defined what waste truly meant to me. For the sake of my sanity, I decided to define waste in terms of landfill waste. As much as I wish I didn't have to drive and burn gasoline, my decision to live in paradise and commute to Gunnison for school has its consequences. Landfill waste is much more easier to measure and keep track of. Instead of throwing things away, I now have to find alternatives to things I have taken for granted. I have also decided to include plastic-free in my terms of waste, because plastic truly is swallowing up the planet. Being waste-free might seem simple at first, because I could just stick to stuff that can be recycled. But to me that seemed like cheating. Recycling still takes enormous amount of energy and it forgoes the number rule of my experiment: REFUSE. Reduce, reuse, and recycle just got two new cousins: Refuse and Rot. Refuse should always come first. I have to ask myself every time I'm about to do something; do I really need this? Sure I can recycle the cans of beans and sodas, but is that really reducing my consumption? I have to refuse the things that are cluttering up my life. Refuse is the first R that make the next four easier and more manageable.
        I know I said I'm doing this project for the month of February, but February will be my trial run. It will be the month where i learn what works and what doesn't and what I can do to tweak it for later months. Anyone can be waste free for a month if they want to be miserable as well. I want this experiment to be sustainable and fun. Stay tuned for more pictures and my next blog on the two most wasteful areas of the home; the kitchen and the bathroom.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Second Week with CPW

     September 30th:  Today the goal was to electroshock Henson Creek, a tributary to the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River.  We were going to shock a section of the creek that was about one mile upstream of Lake City.  The idea was to get a general population sample and species composition of the creek, as well as compare the numbers of stocked to wild fish.  We made the journey to the site and continued to get everything set up, once again the individual electrodes, shocking truck, holding well, live well and all the tools to process the trout.  We got everything set up and began to shock the section.  Due to the high river flow from rain the previous days, we once again got shut out.  With higher flows the electrodes voltage had to be increases.  More water makes it difficult to locate the fish, and then once they do receive a shock the high flows take them downstream very quickly. We quickly realized the flows were much to high and once again got shut down.  I have fished this creek for many years, so I was excited to see the fish it had to offer.  So we packed everything up and checked out a couple of other potential shock sites for the next season.
    October 2nd:  Today was the first day of the Kokanee Salmon spawn at the Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery.  Blue Mesa holds a landlocked/freshwater species of Kokanee Salmon.  Every fall the fish travel all the way up the Gunnison River and then take a left on the East River where they have a five mile or so journey to the hatchery.  The fish are diverted into holding ponds that are connected to fish runways.  Once the fish are in the runways, they are blocked off from downstream.   Then stations are set up to extract the eggs from the females and the milt from the males.  Some of the fish are not quite ready to spawn, so they are released back into the runways and assessed again in a few days.  Once a female is determined ready to spawn, her eggs are squeezed out into a bowl.  Then a male that is determined ready goes through the same process to extract the milt.  Eggs and milt are mixed, given some fresh water, and then sit for about a minute or so.  This minute or so allows the fertilization to occur.  Then the broken or bad eggs are removed from that individual batch, and poured into a main egg holding bucket.  On this particular day we precess upwards of 500 salmon.  About once a week, 100 salmon are taken as samples once they are spawned out.  These were taken back to Gunnion were the Otolith Bones were extracted.  To my understanding, the otolith bone is an inner ear bone in many fish species.  Once they were extracted we placed the bones in individual packets with the fish's sex, weight and length.  These are sent into a lab where the age of the fish can be determined through growth rings, as well as weight, of the otolith bones. A lot more salmon to go!      

First week as intern with CPW

         September 23rd was my first day as an intern for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife.  I am working with the head aquatics biologist of the Gunnison office, with the main focus of fisheries management in the Gunnison watershed and surrounding areas.  The fall season is a busy time for the aquatics department, as this is the time of year the rivers are low enough to take population samples and the lakes have began to cool down enough for productive fishing.  I will be working with CPW every tuesday and thursday until I fulfill the required hours for my internship.   There are three main areas I will be working as an intern for CPW; trout population samples on specific streams and rivers in the basin, Kokanne Salmon spawning during their annual run up the Gunnison river, and Lake Trout removal out of Blue Mesa Reservoir.   During the first week, Sept. 23rd and 25th, the main focus was electrofishing.  The tuesday I worked we made our way down to Montrose to meet up with some of the biologist and temporary workers for the Montrose CPW office.  Our goal was to electrofish the lower Gunnison River around the city of Delta.  This was going to be an interesting place to sample mainly because of its location.  It is an area that is sort of between the pristine trout fishing waters of the Black Canyon, and the lower more desert oriented river of the lower Gunnison before the confluence with the Colorado River.  This leads to a wide range of fish species occupying the river, everything from brown and rainbow trout to multiple sucker species and endangered species of the Colorado River Basin.  The main focus was going to be on the sucker population, as many species have crossbreed with others.  The idea was to get a general impression of the species composition, especially the multiple kinds of crossbred sucker fish.  There was also a goal to see if introduced species further down the river had made it up to where we were going to be sampling.  Unfortunately everything did not go as planned.  The objective was to launch two rafts that were to float two miles down the river and set up the fish processing location below a diversion dam.  This is an area where a live well would be set up, then fish would be brought to us and we would identify, measure, weigh and tag certain species.   A jet boat launched at the take out of the section, and was supposed to travel up the river to where we had the station.  Unfortunately the water was off color and lower than expected, leading to the jet boat being unable to make it all the way up to us. The plan was for the jet boat to shock certain stretches, and then bring the fish back up to us at the station to take records of them.  Too bad things didn't go as planned, as I was looking forward to seeing the process and the species of fish that would have been shocked.
          September 25th came around and we headed up to Pitkin where we electroshocked quartz creek.  We shocked two different sites, one above the Pitkin State Fish Hatchery and one below it.  We had four people each with there own electrode, one guy maintaining the power source to the truck, as well as two back up netters, one who was dragging a live well. We walked up the stream all four in a line and shocked all the trout habitat we saw.  Each fish was transferred  into the live well and then placed in a large holding net.  A second pass was done at each site, to net all the fish we missed on the first.  Then all the fish were identified, measured and weighed.  30 one year old brown trout were sampled at each site, meaning the heads were cut off to send into a lab.  The whole purpose of this was to asses if the hatchery was having any impact on whirling disease within Quartz Creek.  I was truly amazed at the amount of fish a small section of stream holds.