Monthly Archives: March 2015

Are you a lawn lemming?

Do you fertilize your lawn? Pull weeds? Water?

More importantly — do you know why you do these things?

The Washington Post recently ran an article highlighting the role of social pressure in people’s decisions about fertilizing their lawns. One of the studies they highlighted was just published by some of my urban-ecology sociology colleagues at the University of Minnesota (Nick Martini and Kristen Nelson): Continue reading


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Compost conjectures

creative commons license, by Sarah Gilbert

How much food waste do Minnesotans compost at home? This is one of those questions where we really don’t know the answer. Backyard composting is a purely private affair, one that doesn’t pass through any sort of permitting or reporting process. So what’s an ecologist to do? I often find myself in a position like this, where nobody has measured the thing I want to know — but I can piece together enough information to make a decent estimate. It’s a fascinating process, so let’s pull back the curtain and take a look…

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Don’t panic!

We were up on Mount Rainier last weekend, doing some snowshoeing up at Paradise and hiking a bit lower down. There is a lot less snow than usual, both a thinner snowpack and a higher snowline. And around here, snow = drinking water…. So back home today I took a look into the SNOTEL data and it’s pretty bleak:

SNOTEL snowpack mapWow, the central Cascades have only nine percent as much snow as “normal” for this time of year. Last winter, when drought seemed to be on everyone’s radar, a wet February brought conditions back up to normal. But we’ve had a warmer winter, and that hasn’t happened this year. So why is nobody panicking?

The WA Department of Ecology’s current drought watch is a bit confusing. They’ve requested drought-emergency funds be set aside, the forecasts predict a warm and dry spring that will exacerbate the problem, and yet they say “Ecology and [the Water Supply Availability Committee] at this time are not anticipating widespread water shortages in Washington in 2015.”

Farmers will know more in the next couple of weeks as determinations are made regarding irrigation uses. Here in the city, though, we’re actually in really good shape. There’s been a decent amount of precipitation this winter — just mostly as rain, not snow — and Seattle’s main municipal reservoirs are filling nicely (I haven’t found quantitative data yet). Unlike some parts of the West where the snowpack itself is the primary reservoir storing water, Seattle has dam-and-lake reservoirs so we’re not directly dependent on snowpack.

So the bottom line is: Don’t panic! Yes, we have very little snow — but plenty of drinking water.

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