Hey Culligan Man!

Years ago, there was a study of Fort Collins city tap water comparing it to bottled water. Fort Collins water won hands down, even though a certain amount of Giardia, a protozoan parasite that affects the GI system, is allowed in the water. If you are used to a small amount of Giardia, nothing happens. It’s like when we used to walk our dogs through the vet hospital at CSU for a ‘street dose’ of germs to become immune to them.

The water in my Texas town is pretty nasty tasting. I’ve been buying cases of bottled water. I don’t really like bottled water. I used to buy it for the bottles to fill with FC water after my cat, Fletcher (1987-2000,) was caught drinking out of my glass. Ish. Frank does this also.

I just got a reverse osmosis system for drinking and cooking water, as well as for ice cubes. It is delicious. I also got a Culligan (R) system for water softening. The water is pretty hard here. Now, I use less soap for washing clothes and dishes. My whites won’t turn yellow, as if I’d notice.

I went to college with one of the Culligan daughters, but I don’t think she’d remember.

The best thing about the reverse osmosis system is that the cats don’t have to drink water with so many minerals in it. Also, I fell like I am going green without so many water bottles around. I’ll save what I have left for my trip to Tucson later this month to see my ponies and ride. Talk about chugging water!

I still remember one summer during my childhood in suburban Chicago when you turned on the tap and foamy water came out. Nasty. It wasn’t even in 1967 when all the alewives (a type of fish) washed up on the beaches, turning the beaches into a rotting, stinking pile of sand. I think, though, that the worst drinking water I’ve ever tasted was in New Orleans. West Texas doesn’t even come close.

Do wind turbines suck the lungs out of bats?

My new Kindle 2 from Amazon arrived Friday, and I am thoroughly delighted with it. I have been reading constantly since then. Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father: a Story of Race and Inheritance” is a can’t put downer, and I look forward to David McCullough’s “Truman.” I so enjoyed his “John Adams.”

On my Kindle, I have a trial subscription to the Chicago Tribune, the newspaper I read every day growing up in the ‘burbs. There was a piece March 1 by Gerry Smith about a mystery alarming wildlife experts. It seems that large numbers of bats are being found dead at wind farms with no visible signs of injury. Researchers think that the wind turbines cause the bats’ lungs to explode. Whoa.

Researchers at the University of Calgary reported that 90% of bats felled near one wind farm showed signs of barotrauma, or fatal internal hemorrhaging, of the lungs that occurred because of drops in air pressure near the spinning blades. This condition affects bats more than birds because bird lungs are more rigid, have one-way flow through the air sacs, and can withstand sudden changes in air pressure, according to the study published in the journal, Current Biology.

The delicate balance of life poses the question of how to go “green” without unintended environmental consequences.

Another related issue Smith brought up in his article is that coastlines and mountaintops, some of the best sources of wind, also happen to be in the path of migratory birds.

The bat deaths are causing a stir among wildlife advocates, and a partnership called the Bats and Wind Energy Cooperative, BWEC, is seeking ways to balance wind energy and protecting bat populations while meeting the nation’s demand for renewable energy.

Of course, there is always some organization to make light of a potentially serious issue. A 2007 study by the National Academy of Sciences concluded far more birds and bats have been killed in collisions with vehicles and buildings than with turbines. Consider the recent US Air “Miracle on the Hudson.”

Wildlife experts say that bats have low reproductive rates, so even small numbers of fatalities affect their population counts. The concern over bats is fairly recent. Wildlife biologists have been focused on protecting birds from spinning turbines. Bat deaths went largely unnoticed.

In 2003, an estimated 1400-4000 bat carcasses were found at a West Virginia wind farm, as well as farms in Pennsylvania and Tennessee.

This raised a chorus of voices calling for the protection of bats at wind farms. The American Society of Mammalogists called for wind farms to avoid “bat hibernation, breeding, and maternity colonies.”

Wind farms are increasing dramatically. Mandates are coming regarding percentages of electricity to be generated by renewable resources. In Illinois, this is to be 25% by 2025.

To offset the scenario of barotrauma to bat lungs, night-vision cameras found bats have also been killed by collisions with turbine blades. Several theories explain why bats would fly close to turbines. They may confuse turbines with large, dead trees that bats use to roost. Turbines may attract insects, which attract hungry bats.

The issue is not building wind farms because they harm bats, or bats will die if wind farms continue to be developed, risking extinction of a very important part of our ecosystem. It’s finding a balance, and the problem can be solved.

Article by Gerry Smith, gfsmith@tribune.com with additional information provided by Dr. Mary


Prairie dogs get a bad rap

As rural areas become increasingly populated, these charming rodents become victims of urban sprawl. A letter to the editor in the local paper today is titled, “Prairie dogs not good for the environment.” I beg to differ.

The black-tailed prairie dog, Cynomys ludovicianus, is a ubiquitous rodent belonging to the squirrel family. They are common in our area, and an essential part of our ecosystem.

Prairie dogs have a complex habitat and strict social structure, living in “towns” of families that can span hundreds of acres. Tunnel systems channel rainwater to prevent erosion and runoff, and can enhance the soil by digging it up to reverse compaction caused by cattle grazing. The tunnels also provide homes to many species of animals such as Burrowing Owls and snakes. Prairie dogs have an elite social hierarchy, and designated individuals help to protect and defend the town.

I love prairie dogs. I delight in watching their antics. I have taken students on field trips to the Cathy Fromme Prairie to observe them. I watch them as I ride my horse while being mindful of where the holes are on the trail.

It seems that when development is desired, city officials think nothing of decimating a prairie dog town. One area near the foothills was wiped out with poison a couple of years ago. Guess what! The grass is back and the dogs are back. What city officials neglect to consider when wiping out a prairie dog town is that their predators, Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles and other raptors, go away to find food elsewhere. Seldom do I ride my horse in local open spaces and state parks and not see eagles. In fact, one mountain park trail that we frequent is closed because golden eagles are nesting. There is a prairie dog town right there, a sort of fast food joint for the birds.

The letter in the paper today says that prairie dogs eat all the grass causing wind to blow dirt around. So what! This is nature. The author went on to say the wind-blown dirt could have caused a traffic accident. How about the driver slowing down if there are risky driving conditions?

If the prairie dogs eat too much and destroy their habitat, they will either die off or go elsewhere. The habitat will regrow. Let them be. Enjoy them for what they are, a vital part of the ecosystem, and food for wildlife.