Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Right to Water

The international "right to water" was more or less formalized in the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights back in 2002 when General Comment No. 15 was adopted.  It was a generalized statement at that time, but in the intervening years it has begun to catch on and today certain political and social efforts are beginning to focus on realizing this ideal - at least in some specific contexts and places.  While some celebrate these fledgling efforts as ensuring fair access to basic resources, others question the means and direction of the concept altogether.

I guess I'm in between.  While I likely agree with the underlying ideal that every living soul on earth should have a basic right to enough water to at least sustain its living existence, I'm lost in the many, many periperal issues that also must be addressed.  Does this position include a right to the well or diversion device needed to get the water?  The transmisson system to distribute it?  The treatment plant to purify it?  Who assumes the responsibility to provide and manage these individual rights?  If we are all to have a truely "inalienable right" to domestic water, there should be no monetary cost to us, should there?  If there is, it has to be so inexpensive as to not exclude anyone.  With water that cheap, what's to prevent people from wasting it?  Who decides if I need 25, 50, 75 liters/day or more?

My conclusion:  As right and moral as it may be, this is a very tricky concept with so too many logistics to ever become the rule rather than the exception.  It will take the unquestioning adoption of a completely new, universal mindset, which, by the way, will require virtually every existing mindset to change radically.  Heck, we can do that!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Colorado Water Law - Chapter 3 Review

This has been the best chapter yet.  It is titled "Water Law Basics" and does indeed cover the basics of the riparian doctrine of water law and the prior approriation doctrine - both very important water law-isms in the West.  I particularly liked the tweaks and developments of the water law suggested by the authors based on changes in mining technologies over the formative years of the law.  I was disappointed when I came to the end of the chapter just as the modern times (1960's) were being introduced.  But was relieved to read that they were going to be picked back up in later chapters.

While the chapter notes and references are not exhaustive, they are clearly sufficient  to provide new sources of information to anyone wanting to know more.  Anyway, now that I know that "usufructory" is not dirty word, it's on to chapter 4!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

New Water?

For the past 10 years or so a huge iceberg that split from the Ross ice shelf has been drifting in the sea - more or less toward SW Australia.  This berg is reported to be 87 square miles in size, and looks from the pictures to be about 100 feet high   (this picture is NOT the iceberg we're speaking of).

Anyway, if my calculations are right, this berg contains about 261,106,187,294 (261.1 billion) gallons of fresh water.  Since its drifting northward anyway, I'm thinking Australia should latch onto it, tow it to port, insert a melting device and start producing its water.  At the very least someone could mine the water into tankers in-situ and sail the tankers somewhere. 

I have no idea how fast an 87 square mile chunk of ice that is likely 900 feet thick can be towed - if at all, and no idea how much of it would melt on its way to Australia, but I'm certain some engineer has worked this all out because towing icebergs has been contemplated many times before.  This one, however, seems virtually "shovel-ready" and half way home!  I also have to wonder if anyone owns this berg and its valuable supply of fresh water?  Being a groundwater manager in Kansas, I'm not really up on all these technical issues!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Water Generalizations are Just Wrong

The latest CAST paper is out - called "Water, People, and the Future: Water Availabilty for Agriculture in the United States".   To begin with, this paper only covers water issues in Califormia, Arizona, Florida and the Ogallala (High Plains) Aquifer, yet sports a much broader title.   I would not have titled this paper so.  It seems fairly well researched along the lines of the very limited set water activities it chose to include.  It missed so much more that should have been at least mentioned.  And finally, the overarching conclusions it makes are likely true in some places, but not all - too generalized for my taste.  This just isn't right.

For example, one statement in the Abstract is that "...increasing industrial and residential use will continue to limit the water available to irrigation."  Heck, this then has to be true - even in GMD 4 - for CAST says it's so.  I ask how can this be?  Our population is declining and our non-ag economy is shrinking.  If it weren't for our GMD regulations prohibiting new irrigation development, we'd have MORE water for ag.  Besides, in Kansas all ag water use (all non-domestic use, actually) have very controlled water rights.  If ag chose not to sell, lease or give these rights away, they would never be limited - regardless of what industry and residential use might do.  I guess the report is saying that it WILL happen because ag will always sell the water when the price gets high enough.  Who knows.

As if this were not enough, in the High Plains Aquifer part of the report, one header is:  "Hesitation to Adopt Water Use Regulations".  This section goes on to conclude that when water management discussions in the High Plains turn to the future, it is simply agreed that "something" needs to be done. (period)  I resent the implication that little if anything has been regulated in our portion of the Ogallala.  GMD 4 has shut off all new development in 6 designated areas, and since 1986 has made it practically impossible to get a new water right.  Every non-domestic well in the GMD has been ordered to be metered by the DWR with GMD 4 assistance.  The district successfully pressed for a forfeited water right on the first case of a meter being tampered with.  Our irrigation tailwater control regulation requires by order an immediate and permanent fix on all uncontrolled water, or we visit the local judge.  We remediated (by regulation) over 2,500 abandoned wells in just under 4 years.  And the rest of what they don't know about our operation just makes me want to scratch my head.

Finally, the paper calls for sustainable water management.  I can't argue too much about this.  But I often wonder about the possibility of the state (or even federal government) deciding to move our water elsewhere if we were to manage it sustainably.  Kansas does have a water transfer act that allows the movement of water that is excess to a local area, to another area.  That'd be a kick in the head after making all the sacrifices to get to sustainability. 

Bottom line, I guess the report makes a lot of good points, but it's not "spot on" everywhere and it shouldn't be written as if it were - at least not in my opinion.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Water & US Stamps

The good old US Postal Service over the years has memorialized just about everything "American" - from presidents to volunteerism to you-name-it.  In case you were wondering, they have even from time to time captured "water" on stamps in its various nuances.

While the post office has existed in some form or another since 1775, it has only officially printed stamps since the late 1840's.  Between 1847 and 1990, I have counted 16 stamp issues that speak to water directly.  The first of my list is the 1922 issue on Niagra Falls - a 25 cent stamp, which incidently is valued at well over $15.00 today if it's unused.

 Since 1922 water stamps have included:  the Ohio River Canalization - 1928; Mirror Lake (Mt Ranier) - 1934; Old Faithful - 1934; Crater Lake - 1934; Two Medicine Lake (Mt Rockwell) - 1934; Panama Canal - 1938; Everglades National Park - 1947; St Lawrence Seaway - 1958; Water Conservation - 1960; Great River Road (Mississippi River) - 1966; Arkansas River Navigation - 1968; Anti-Pollution (Save our Water) - 1970 (pictured above); Soil & Water Conservation - 1984; St Lawrence Seaway (again) - 1984; and Preserving Wetlands - 1984.  Sorry, but my reference book only goes through 1990 - there could be more!

What amazes me is that out of all the people displayed on stamps, no water manager has yet been so honored!  BUT...they say there's a first time for everything!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Anyone Watching the Feds Lately?

I have been monitoring the activity of elements of the very broadly cast Water Information Coordination Program (WICP) - originally established in the 1960's. With a simple memorandum in 1991 (Memorandum 92-01) OMB reconstituted this unit and updated its authority. Some of it's new objectives are:

To plan, design, and operate a cost effective national network for water-data collection and analysis that meets the priority water-information needs of the Federal government and, to the extent possible within available resources, the needs of the non-Federal community that are tied to national interests.

To coordinate funding, staffing, and the provision of other resources needed to support interagency water-information activities for ensuring the best use of available resources.

To collaborate, as appropriate, with other groups that are coordinating related categories of information, such as spatial data and meteorological information.

Great, all non-federal entities are to provide their data so that the feds can turn around and provide it back to them and others - only if there are available resources to do so and only if those uses are tied to national interests.  Sounds fair to me.  But wait, the effort gets better.

Within WICP, there has been formed an Advisory Committee on Water Information (ACWI) made up of federal, regional, state, local, industrial, academic and water-related association representatives who are to meet the objectives and requirements of Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Memorandum No. M-92-01 (directing ACWI to establish more effective working relationships and foster collaboration with State and local agencies, Indian Tribes, and the private sector) and to, again, provide advice and consultation toward a cost-effective national network of water-data collection and analysis that meets the priority water-information needs of the Federal Government and, to the extent possible within available resources, the needs of the non-Federal community that are tied to national interests.

ACWI is supposed to have members (not to exceed 35) made up of Federal agencies; Professional water-related associations; State and county water-related associations; Academia, Private industry; Water utility associations; Civil engineering societies; Watershed and land conservation associations; Ecological societies; Lake, coastal and ocean associations; and Environmental and educational groups. 

The actual member organizations of ACWI today are:  National Ocean Service (NOAA); National Weather Service (NOAA); Tennessee Valley Authority; US Army Corps of Engineers; NRCS (USDA); US Forest Service (USDA); Bureau of Land Mgt (DOI); Bureau of Reclamation (DOI); National Park Service (DOI); Office of Surface Mining (DOI); US Fish & Wildlife Service (DOI); USGS Water Resources (DOI); Office of Environmental Information (USEPA); Office of Water (USEPA); Assoc of State Geologists; Assoc of Metropolitan Water Agencies; Assoc of State Drinking Water Administrators; Assoc of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators; Interstate Council on Water Policy; National Assoc of Clean Water Agencies; National Assoc of County Planners; Western States Water Council; American Society of Civil Engineers; Electric Power Research Institute; National Council for Air and Stream Improvement, Inc.; Universities Council on Water Resources; American Water Resources Assoc; American Water Works Assoc; Ecological Society of America; Groundwater Protection Council; League of Women Voters; National Ground Water Assoc; North American Lake Management Society; and the Water Environment Federation.

This list comprises 14 Federal organizations; 8 Regional, state and local organizations; 3 Industry organizations; 1 academic organization; and 8 professional association organizations.  I guess this could work for a "federal first" product.

Within ACWI there are 8 subcommittees - Groundwater; Sustainability; Hydrology; Sedimentation; Monitoring; NAWQA Liason; Spatial Water Data; and Methods.  And within each subcommittee there are one or more work groups - the Groundwater subcommittee for example has 4 work groups.  Whew!

From where I sit, this looks like a massive federal effort to infuse most of the federal agencies into every nook and cranny and aspect of water data, policy and management.  I'd almost be receptive of a water data role for our federal brothers, but I get real nervous when they start talking about sustainable water management as a federal policy.  We'll keep watching.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Building Readerships

Most writers are reasonably adept at conveying an idea, or thought, or even a series of thoughts and ideas that let the reader understand what it is they want to convey. But, it takes a better writer to project his or her personality through a written piece in addition to the ideas. And it's this kind of "plus" writing that I think keeps people reading stuff like Blogs and the myriad of largely anonymous material posted throughout the internet.

Well, I'm not so good at writing beyond getting my idea across, so I started to wonder - how else could a writer like myself become less anonymous, more personable, when not blessed with great skills of emotation? (I just made that word up, BTW)

My answer was "pictures". So as a trial, from time to time I think I'll start posting some personal pics to help any readers I have get to know me a bit better and perhaps stay engaged longer.  I'll still stay on the topics of water, groundwater management and the like, but perhaps with a little less formality.  I don't suppose it could hurt any. 

BTW, I'm the skinny guy on the left.  The other person is Anderson "The Spider" Silva from Brazil, current reigning world champion mixed martial artist.  I was promoting a fight between him and me, but he declined.  Worried I suspect.  Actually, Mr. Silva was an unbelievably cordial person who is an extraordinary ambassador of the sport.  I'm not personally an MMA maniac, but my son-in-law is.  He was putting on a fight venue to which I was invited and this was a photo op I just couldn't pass up.  Pic is dated April 3, 2009, taken in Wichita, KS. in an Old Town sports establishment.

What's this got to do with water?  Nothing, but hopefully my next piece will be just a tad more interesting to you.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Strategic Water Reserve?

I wonder what the opportunities would be to offer our entire GMD as a Strategic Water Reserve for the central US - much along the lines of the strategic oil reserves which are bought, transferred, stored and maintained by the US Government?  In our case, all they'd have to do is buy the water - it's already in place and ready to be called upon for selective uses.  And the pumping plants already exist - thousands of them in fact.  The pipelines of use would need to be built, but pipelines are relatively inexpensive, and any piping of water to the East or South would be downhill.  With internal generators, sending the water where it's needed could possibly even generate power.

In our groundwater district we annually recharge approximately 150,000 acrefeet of water a year.  With the current saturated thickness (bank account storage) our portion of the Ogallala Aquifer could easily sustain annual withdrawls of 300,000 acrefeet for an estimated 75-100 years.  The current supply could easily supply 600,000 - 700,000 acrefeet per year for shorter periods of time - perhaps up to 5 years duration.  An added bonus would be the relatively slow, but steady annual recharge that would be coming into the system each year as all the irrigation demand is taken off-line. 

One possible use of this strategic water reserve might be for critical energy production in the future.  Our area sits conveniently near the junction of three national energy sectors - any one of which could be a recipient.  There are likely many other potential uses of this quantity of good quality groundwater.

On the downside, the local economy based to some extent on irrigated agriculture would undergo changes.  The land could still be farmed, but under dry land production only.  The amount of water used by all the municipalities, industry and private water users is only 2% of the total annual pumpage by irrigation, so there would be ample amounts of water remaining for these uses - even if reasonable growth projections were included.

I don't know but I'm guessing the local receptiveness to such an off-the-wall idea would not be enthusiastic.  Maybe the price paid for the water and other concessions from the federal government might make a difference.  Anyway, someone has to think up ideas that could actually result in a far better use the resource - for everyone.  Go ahead, let me hear your reactions.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Book Review - Chapter 2 (Jones and Cech)

The second chapter of "Colorado Water Law for Non-Lawyers" is about early water use and development in the state.  Of course it begins in ancient times and concludes in the mid 1950's as the major development projects are listed pretty much in chronological order.  The water development focus is very much on surface water projects with side bars on the major players in these projects - primarily in the 1850 - 1905 time frame.  The mention of these projects are largely superficial with not a lot of detail on the politics, local governmental players, financing or organizational structures.  I assume this is by design in that an exhaustive section on these issues for every major project listed is likely not warranted.  I would have enjoyed a little more detail, though.  The groundwater development is mentioned only briefly, but again, I wonder how better it could have been covered without bogging down the book.  I hope that groundwater is included in more detail later in the book.  My largest, real criticism, is that a map should have been included as the surface water projects were being reeled off.  Not being familiar with Colorado, I was geographically challenged in this chapter.  Of course, I could have gotten up and found a copy of a Colorado Atlas I suppose.  Overall, this was a short and sweet chapter that covered the very basics of major water developments in the state.  I enjoyed the description of ditch construction with oxen teams (borrowed from Dorothy Gardner in her book "Snow-Water") and am looking forward to Chapter 3.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Irrigation and Markets

Many have been discussing the benefits of the market place in allocating water.  The claim is the effectiveness of the market place in ensuring water reaching its highest economic use while also ensuring that the end uses pay the full cost of supplying and replacing the water - sustainability.  Conservation and efficient use are also rewarded with a market solution.  If these are your goals, I think the market pundits have it right.

However, one thing to keep in mind is that irrigated agriculture (probably not even the very highest value specialty crops) will be able to compete with most other water uses - particularly municipal and industrial.  With a market driven paradigm, irrigated agriculture will all but eventually disappear and this water moved to higher economic uses.  While this might be viewed a good thing by some, it will have consequences to our food supply and its quality.  The dry land production of all crops, from vegetables to field corn and wheat, diminishes in quality and quantity without irrigation.  To maintain current production, 1 to 3 acres of new, dry land cropping will have to come into production for evey converted irrigated acre - depending on where the conversions occur.  Of course, some areas only irrigate and cannot sustain dry land cropping at all.

I just can't see how agriculture is going to compete in a pure water market without some assistance.  Of course, said assistance (subsidies) are seriously frowned upon by the pure market supporters.  With subsidies, food costs remain low.  Without them, food costs will rise - dramtically.  Once again, I don't know the answers, but a pure market seems like a choice with serious downsides.  I wonder if a water market can be instituted for all other uses but for ag?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

GMD4 Newsletter Reaches 30 Years

GMD 4 celebrates 30 years of producing its newsletter "The Water Table", which incidentally was the first water-related newsletter in the state of Kansas.  I recall as a brand new groundwater manager suggesting to the district directors that we initiate a newsletter on a quarterly basis to keep the membership and state players informed and to solicit the ideas and comments of those we were intending to regulate.  Their response was positive so long as the funding for the first year came from non-district funds - as our budget had already been set and did not include such funds.  I beat the bushes and came up with the $1,200 it would take to put out 4 editions.  And the rest is history.

Today the newsletter is 6 editions per year and looks quite a bit different, but the basic content and goals have changed little.  The budget for last years newsletter was approximately $7,800 - an expenditure the board has unwaveringly supported.  I have written every edition, but have had guest articles from time to time dealing with specific issues.  (I have to always chuckle about the "missing edition" - one I completely forgot about and missed completely (although to this day I'm not sure anyone noticed))  As the various editions are reviewed, it strikes me that they represent a fairly detailed history of groundwater activity in Kansas - at least from 1978 to present.  Of this I am most proud - although I admit it never crossed my mind at the start.

The last 30 or so editions are maintained on our website http://www.gmd4.org/ should anyone be interested.  We send out about 4,800 copies each edition with copies going to many states and even one reader receiving his copy in London.  Maybe all this writing is one reason that my blogging is not as prolific as others in the water sector who manage to turn out prodigious amounts of material - you know who you are!  As always, if there are suggestions out there for improving our product, I'm always open and listening.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How Can This Be?

Denver Water is seeking to more than double the size of Gross Reservoir in the mountains of southern Boulder County - expanding it from the current 41,811 acre-feet of surface water to 113,811 acre-feet. The reason for the expansion is given by Denver as: "..to hold enough additional water for 45,000 households annually and serve as protection against water shortages during droughts.."

How can you supply more water to 45,000 households AND at the same time protect against future drought shortages? This is just another example of trying to make something look way better than it really is - or like something it isn't.

I can see where the new storage will protect against droughts until the 45,000 new homes are built and start using water, but where is the drought protection then? To claim both benefits forever is just plain cheap. My guess? This is Denver wanting more water supply to continue growth, but wanting everyone to feel good about it. Economics once again rules water decisions.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Colorado Water Law for Non-Lawyers

Well, I promised a book review and I always deliver.  The book "Colorado Water Law for Non-Lawyers" was written by P. Andrew Jones and Tom Cech.  Mr. Jones is an attorney for the law firm of Lind, Lawrence and Ottenhoff, LLC and Mr. Cech is the Executive Director for the Central Colorado Water Conservancy District.  Both have long and storied careers in water - both ground and surface.  Since I'm still reading the book, I'll take the review chapter by chapter, so stay tuned.

Chapter 1:  Colorado Climate, Geology and Hydrology.  This chapter is very well written at a moderate level of detail - telling the reader far more than they likely already know, but not bogging them down trying to tell everything the authors know.  It covers the geology and climate in such a way that the hydrology - both ground and surface water - all of a sudden makes perfect sense.  They sort of start at the top with the central mountain region and trace everything downstream (East and West) precisely as a melting snowflake would see things.  I didn't know that Colorado had more 14'ers (14,000 ft+ peaks) than all other states combined - 53 of them.  The maps and figures provided are very well done and very on-point.  I especially liked the maps showing each of the 5 major river basins draining the state - the South Platte, Arkansas, Colorado, Rio Grande and White/Yampa.  The sidebars are also very interesting, but there being 13 of them, they tended to interfere with my reading continuity - maybe that's just me, though.  Finally, there is no shortage of numbers thrown at you - from precipitation to elevations to distances to discharges - whew!  I'm glad this is casual reading for me and there'll be no test given.  All-in-all a very enjoyable and fact filled first chapter!  More to come.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Micro-Irrigation Blitz Coming?

I've been following a micro-irrigation list serve (discussion group) for maybe 3 years now.  It has been personally organized and run by a person in academia and has been focused soley on the technology and science of micro irrigation - promoting all the positives as well as seeking solutions for all the not so positives.  A ton of fair, honest and unfettered discussion has been had since I've joined.  But alas, due to personal reasons the group inventor is stepping down and after few offers to take over the discussion group, he is allowing Toro Micro, a commercial company that develops and sells SDI equipment, to assume the helm. 

And was I ever surprised at the very first "new regime" post.  Tom, representing an engineering and design company promoting, selling and installing smart irrigation systems for business and agriculture (SDI elements included) says (paraphrasing):  "let me be among the first to begin a new thread".   He goes on:
This year, I have attended a few conferences (Park City, UT, and Las Vegas), as well as attended NRCS State Technical Advisory Committee meetings. A couple of presentations were shaded with tones of non-denial that agriculture holds the most potential for really dramatic water and energy optimizations and risk/uncertainty reductions, affecting the nation as a whole.  I would like to report that bold and unified action plans are being developed to boldly transition irrigated agriculture in the West to precision irrigation/fertigation.

But what good is all our enlightened chats if the majority of producers ONLY wish to irrigate and fertilize like their pappy did back in the 1950’s, no rank belittlement intended? Do we need a T. Roosevelt to get irrigation districts, and their stockholders, and the Fed., as well as serious, national agribusiness contributions to rally and unite, towards wide-scale, pressurized network infrastructure and on-farm sensor-based, adaptive management automation….across virtually all of the 17 western states?
Who can't see where this group is headed?  Those who feel that new irrigation technology needs to hold up a minute until government can place appropriate controls on the conversions to ensure no increases of consumptive water use will need to catch their collective breaths - or start monitoring this discussion and demanding some collaboration.

Converting all irrigation water use to higher application efficiencies and then addressing the water supply problem is a huge mistake.  All the capitalization makes subsequent management more difficult than it already is.  The capped water supply issues need to be addressed first, then the conversions.  Yes, the order of implementation does make a difference.  Oh well, just another day in the water management business.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

God Forbid California Should Look Elsewhere for Direction

Sometimes I just don't get it.  An inordinately large amount of the water news over the past several months has been on the California situation.  A lot of the criticism has been over the lack of water monitoring and measurement (metering) especially groundwater by agriculture - the group that uses most of the state's water.  It's like no one else in the world has any water problems quite as large, or complex and pressing, or, has any solutions that California would remotely be interested in.

For the Californians in the audience, I'd like to offer that Kansas has been monitoring water use since the mid 1970s, took significant strides to improve that monitoring in the late 1980s, and began metering all non-domestic wells in selected areas in the late 1990s.  Today, Kansas has some of the best (most complete and accurate) water use reporting - especially for irrigation and municipal water use - in the country.  Review some of these reports at your leisure KWO Water Use Reports and assess for yourself how useful this data might be for yourself.  And the data itself is also available to the public on a website maintained by the Kansas Geological Survey - WIMAS.  This data on water rights and reported water use is uploaded every day from the Division of Water Resources.  And finally, KGS also maintains the obervation well network on about 1,700 water level measurements taken each year in Kansas (KS Water Level Data).  And Kansas likely is not the only western state that has been monitoring its water resources and use.

Having been through most of Kansas' program development, I'll admit that it was not always that easy and wasn't particularly popular with the water users, but now that it's been done, most everyone recognizes the benefits and appreciates the fairness of it all.  The most common comment I get now is:  "Why didn't we do this 25 years ago?"  I guess it's none of my business what California chooses to do or not do, so I'll just sit back and watch as they continue to argue over what probably is the most important thing they could possibly do with regard to their water resource and its allocation, management and conservation.  Should eventually keep the water lawyers very busy, though.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Just Thinking Out Loud...

Just thinking out of the box here, but I've been interested in the Nestle bottled water flap happening across the country of late.  Seems that Nestle has been seeking water sources for its bottled water at various places in the US, and have been vehemently opposed just about everywhere - Newport, WI; Mecosta County, MI; McCloud, CA; Shapleigh, MA; and Salida, CO to name just the most recent skirmishes.  While I'm not remembering all the water quantities Nestle has been bargaining for in all the locations mentioned, in Salida, CO that figure is from 200 to 300 acre feet (AF) a year - according to the newspaper account I read.

Here in our part of the world (NW Kansas) 300 AF is the proverbial drop in the bucket.  Not only that, but if done right, such an endeavor could actually improve the groundwater situation in the area - provided Nestle was willing to buy, say, 500 AF of existing consumptive water use and convert it to the 300 AF of use they need.  The exchange would actually reduce the local draw on the aquifer to the mutual benefit of all.  Think of the positive PR this kind of transaction would produce.  Moreover, with the water rights as they exist now, Nestle would be dealing with individual water right owners - not local governments which, in the cases mentioned above, have apparently been too subject to politics and pressure.

Most of the other arguments made by the opposition don't seem to apply here either.  Our consumptive water now is largely being exported in the grains we grow by irrigation anyway.  There are no rivers, lakes or wetlands which can be affected by the water use that have not already been affected by the current water use and would be expected to actually improve with the net reduction of water use proposed.  The environmental impacts of the plant itself can and should be dealt with appropriately for our local comfort.  One of the solutions to our current water problems is to reduce consumptive water use while increasing the economic return on the lower usage.  This arrangement seems worth exploring, at least.

On the other hand, the efficacy of bottled water itself is a tough one.  The full resource footprint of the plastic bottles does not go away, and the morality of supporting a company that continues to "sell" people on the benefits of bottled water over regular tap water is, well, embarrassing. 

I don't know what's right, but there would seem to be some distinct advantages to Nestle to look here.  No, this is not an invitation - I'm just thinking out loud.  I'd welcome any reactions to these thoughts - or setting me straight if need be.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

GMDA - Association of Groundwater Management Districts

If you're interested in groundwater I might suggest you visit the Groundwater Management Districts Association - a non-profit organization established to provide groundwater developers, users, owners and other individuals and organizations concerned with the management, development, conservation and protection of groundwater, the opportunity to exchange ideas, develop or influence programs for the development, utilization, conservation, protection and management and control of groundwater; and in furtherance thereof the Association shall endeavor:

a) To be informed of and exchange ideas on current trends and problems as they affect groundwater, including those which have, or may have, technical, legal, administrative and economic implications.

b) To review and analyze methods and techniques employed by members and their associates in conducting studies and research on management of groundwater and in designing and obtaining solutions to problems associated therewith.

c) To review, analyze, propose and influence legislation and policy as they affect groundwater.

d) To evaluate activities and plans of governmental bodies and other organizations and associations as they relate to groundwater and to take appropriate action.

e) To develop and propose joint or coordinated plans of action to meet national, interstate and/or regional groundwater problems and needs, including affiliations or memberships in other similar organizations or associations.

f) To assess and encourage, as appropriate, the conjunctive use and management of both surface water and groundwater supplies with due consideration for the unique and limiting properties of each resource.

g) To foster the general public's knowledge and appreciation for the economic advantages of private enterprise and development of groundwater.

h) To promote orderly and equitable development, conservation and management of groundwater through local government.

GMDA also maintains a historical web site for the association that is more about the past, but it has a lot of interesting material as well.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Cool, Cool Summer

I have lived in Colby for some 33 years now - not as long as many of the "old timers" - but long enough to have experienced some pretty strange weather. As I write this post it's snowing here. Yep, it's October 8, a full 9 days ahead of the long term, average, first frost date for the area.

I guess the real novelty of this summer's weather pattern is not this early snow as much as it's the abnormally cool summer we've had. I believe that there have been only four days this summer reaching triple digits. One day in mid September had a daytime high of only 58 degrees - very unusual. And rain well above average as I noted in an earlier post.

I'm guessing El Nino is the culprit, or at least partly responsible. With Kansas weather you never really know. Even in strong El Nino years Kansas always seems to be just between regions that the NWS characterizes as "moderate chance for cooler temps" or "slight chance for less rainfall", etc. We almost always get "an equal chance of cooler or warmer temps". Drives me crazy.

Oh well, I guess there's no need to complain. I admit that I enjoyed the cooler, wetter summer this year very much. Its the next 7 months of snow that I'll not be happy about.
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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Some Essential Elements of Water Conservation

Where funds are limited to do a set amount of work, it seems that priority setting should be an elemental and valuable undertaking.  In the case of water conservation, examples of priority setting perhaps may be:  1) anywhere a federal, state or local regulation or policy or court order exists to conserve water, lessen use, slow depletion, or however else a mandated or policy goal may be worded, that area should be prioritized over all other areas where no such goal, order or policy roadmap exists; 2) any area that is completely closed to new appropriation or development of water should be prioritized over all other areas that have no such restriction on new water development;  3) any area that is proposing a permanent reduction of water use should be prioritized over any area contemplating temporary reductions (unless there is a resultant price reduction for the temporary reductions which yield a proportional or less cost); and 4) those efforts reducing real, actual water use should be prioritized over efforts reducing unused (paper) water rights or phantom water use.

Summing up, conservation program funds should go first to anyone proposing, as a court ordered mandate or a state or local order or policy decision, to permanently reduce real, actual water use in areas formally closed to new water development.  This is where the most conservation will occur.  It's mostly a matter of common sense.  If you're really interested in water conservation, what good does it do to reduce water use where anyone can subsequently develop new uses?  Why reduce phantom water use or water rights - whether you pay for the reduction or not? 

These points should be considered carefully as we all look to next year's offering of the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP) by NRCS.  AWEP is part of the 2008 Farm Bill authorized to assist ag producers in implementing agricultural water activities on agricultural land for the purposes of conserving surface and groundwater.  One of its stated goals is to help producers meet state and local regulations or the interstate compact compliance mandates of the courts relative to water conservation.  A careful look at last year's program, which doled out $57 million dollars for such conservation efforts, doesn't seem to fit much of my common sense priorities.  I'm hoping the 2010 program will do better.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Monarchs On The Move

Just two weeks ago the monarch butterflies were in my part of Kansas on their migration southward - presumably to Mexico.  There were hundreds of them in my backyard each day for about a week enjoying the cool mornings, the many Fall flowers and our watering holes - a pond and two bird baths.  We haven't seen them for the past three or four years, not really knowing if their migration paths had just taken them farther east or west of Colby, or if we were too busy with other things and simply didn't notice.  But we certainly enjoyed them this year.  The photo at right (and many others just as wonderful) were taken by Karrie Pennington who, with her husband Dean (from Mississippi), just happened to be spending the night with us on their way West and North.  The only thing any of this has to do with water is that Dean and I both manage groundwater management districts.  And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that Karrie works for NRCS.  Maybe some day the bald eagles or the whooping cranes will stop over, too.  Go ahead and click on the photo - I kept it full size for your more complete enjoyment.

Ag Water Conservation?

Been reading a lot about water conservation lately where some claim the solution is as simple as controlling price – raise the price and conservation will occur. This seems logical for some situations – most notably for domestic and industrial uses which are supplied by a common water system under a common water right that is controlled by someone else who is responsible for both the delivery system and the new conservation ethic. Easy as pie and quite frankly you meet two goals at once. Not only do you encourage less water use, but you also gain the capital to maintain and eventually replace the delivery system for the common good (as long as you don’t price yourself out of the market).

But my concern is conservation in an irrigated ag setting - a compilation of thousands of individual delivery systems controlled by the thousands of water right owners using the water for individual profit motives and answerable to no one as long as they don’t exceed their water right. The most obvious way to control the price of ag water would be a mandated government severance tax on water (either via traditional means or being couched in terms of a pump tax, water right maintenance fee or whatever). But since the government doesn’t have any system to maintain, the only reason to impose such a severance tax on ag would be to use less water as a means to conserve. This will also reduce production and economic returns.

If “conservation” is defined as either maintaining current production with less inputs, or, increasing production with the same inputs (both increases in efficiency) then the severance tax is wrong because it will do neither. Yes, I know what you’re thinking – just increase the efficiency of the ag water use and conservation (less water use) happens automatically - without a severance tax or any other stimulus. Our experience has been that it costs so much money to increase ag water use efficiency that the producers are obligated to increase production to pay for it, and the exact opposite of water conservation occurs in nearly all cases – they consumptively use more water. I have discussed this issue before here.

Anyway, I’m asking all the water-mavens out there to offer ideas on “conserving” irrigation ag water – using market stimuli or otherwise – that does not also unreasonably impact the local economy. Email me here if you would rather not respond blog-publicly.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

New Kansas Supreme Court Ruling

The Kansas Supreme Court just rendered a ruling on water right abandonments that settled at least one question many people had on this state procedure - who has the burden of proof in determining if due and sufficient cause for non-use has or has not been satisfied - the state or the water right owner?

Case No. 98,750 pitted an irrigation water right owner against the state's division of water resources who had issued an abandonment order on a water right that had been determined by the state to have had no due and sufficient cause for non-use for two periods of time, each exceeding five years, since the water right's issuance in 1970.  In Kansas, the law determines that for any 5-year period of non-use without due cause, a water right shall be determined abandoned and forfeitted.

The water right owner argued that the burden of proof as to whether or not due cause for non-use has occurred should be on the agency, and that the agency regulation in this regard improperly imposes this burden of proof on the water right owner.  They also argued that decisions not to irrigate were based on adequate rainfall, even though crops not normally irrigated were planted.

The Supreme Court ruling upheld the agency action and now more clearly places the burden of proof on the water right owner to demonstrate that due and sufficient cause(s) prevented them from using the water right or made their use of water unnecessary.

Friday, September 18, 2009

UN Resolution on Transboundary Aquifers

I have just read the UN's recently adopted resolution RE: Transboundary Aquifers - underlying two or more states or countries.  If we were to fully comply with this resolution for the Ogallala Aquifer, Kansas would be:  1) granted sovereignty over its portion of the aquifer; 2) obligated to use the aquifer in an equitable and reasonable and sustainable manner that maximizes the long-term benefits; and 3) required to develop a utilization plan factoring in population, social and economic needs, natural aquifer conditions, alternative supplies and the ecosystem -  any of which can be weighted - so long as special regard is given to vital human needs.

Kansas would also be required to:  1) prevent harm to other states in its use of the aquifer or to the discharge zones located in other states; 2) take all steps to eliminate such harm to other states if occuring - in consultation with the affected states(s); 3) cooperate on the basis of sovereign equality with other states to attain equitable aquifer utilization and protection - establishing joint mechanisms for cooperation; and 4)  exchange all relevant data and information - generating such data and information if not already known.

Kansas would be:  1) encouraged to enter into regional agreements with other state(s) for management purposes; 2) obligated to prevent and control pollution that may affect another state; 3) required to monitor our aquifer to accepatble standards (jointly with other states when possible);  and 4) required to develop a management plan - jointly where appropariate.

Whenever Kansas does any activity that may affect another state, it must assess that activity, notify the affected state(s) and when disagreement occurs, consult with or negotiate eqitable solutions.  This is especially vital in cases of emergencies - natural or human induced activities which will immently affect another state(s) - or when vital human needs are affected.  All states would be bound by international law to protect the aquifer in cases of armed conflict. (IMHO not even the Texans would resort to this!) :)

Whew.  It's not clear how in the US the encouraged cooperative agreements between states would be done.  This sounds more like an interstate compact to me, but I guess less formal MOA's between states would not be precluded.  I asked about such an informal agreement with our neighboring GMD in Colorado once early in my career and was told definitively that it would require an interstate compact - only possible with the consent of Congress.

Anyway, lots of good ideas in the resolution, but...  I wonder how closely the agreement between Utah and Nevada on the Snake Valley Aquifer follows this UN roadmap?  

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Coming Soon - Author Guest Blog

P. Andrew Jones and Tom Cech have recently released a new book titled:  Colorado Water Law for Non-Lawyers.  It is a minimalized-technical rendering of a very involved subject.  If you don't believe water law in Colorado is highly legal and technical, you'd be wrong.  I think more water attorneys reside in Colorado than in any other state in the U.S.

For a soon-to-be-coming blog post I have arranged to have author Tom Cech as a guest blogger right here - discussing his book and with a little bit of luck, agreeing to take questions (via comments) and answer them.  Keep your eyes open for this special guest blog!

New Use for Water?

I ran across a description of the newest thing in fly control consisting of a 1 gallon zip lock bag filled partially with water.  Hung over the area you want fly-free, the pundits say that the lens-effect of the water makes flies so nervous they don't hang around.

I was skeptical so I tried it.  I ate 5 meals outside, cooking one of them on the grill just to attract the maximum number of flies possible.   Only 2 flies came into range of my plate, and once shooed, those two never returned.  It was positively pleasant, so I have to conclude that I think it works!  Did nothing for the mosquitoes, ladybugs and other critters, but flies are by far the worst meal-time pest at my house.

Lots more testing needs to be done, though.   It looks a little "tobacco-road-ish" perhaps, but a small price to pay for effective fly-control.  Just thought you'd like to know this little trick if you haven't seen it yet.  BTW, my super-skepical, fly-magnet, wife Linda also noticed an improvement - at least she said she did.  That's proof enough for me!

September 14, 2009 Update:  According to "The Straight Dope":

"Apparently the water bags do drive houseflies away. Not mosquitoes, not no-see-ums, not spiders, not roaches, not yellowjacket wasps, just houseflies. Evidently, houseflies, being highly edible and defenseless, are nervous types, and don't like to sit still when they see something moving nearby, because it could be a predator. The water bag acts a bit like a lens--try it some time--in which the movements of people in the area are reflected. Even if the fly is too far from the action to see it directly, it can see a shifting of light and dark in the water bag, which it interprets as nearby movement, and it will fly away from the bag. The reason it doesn't work on any other insects is that the other insects listed don't have eyesight worth a plugged nickel."

Friday, September 11, 2009

Kansas Geological Survey

The Kansas Geological Survey is a wealth of data and information about water in Kansas.  Of particular note is the Geohydrogeology Section found under the first link on their webpage called simply "Water".

Need information about bedrock depths, or saturated thickness, or water levels?  These pages have it.  Need information about the Ogallala?  The KGS has an entire atlas dedicated to the High Plains Aquifer - with maps, graphs and links galore.  I find myself referring questions I get to these pages many times.  This site is also my starting point for most research I do regarding groundwater.

KGS also interfaces with the Division of Water Resources Water Rights Information System (WRIS) and offers the Water Information Management and Analysis System (WIMAS).  This daily updated data base contains all the public information on every water right in Kansas. 

Most of the KGS offerings are utilitarian as well - providing searching, sorting, mapping, statistical and analytical capabilities.  These pages are well worth the time to get familiar with if you need Kansas water or water rights data.

Part 2: Vested Water Rights

What is a “Vested Water Right”? On June 28, 1945 the Kansas Water Appropriation Act became effective. It made the state of Kansas an “Appropriation” state rather than a “Riparian” state as far as basic water doctrine goes. After enactment, all water rights in Kansas (groundwater or surface water) were considered in a priority system by date of application. The first new (post June 28, 1945) water right applied for got appropriation right # 1.

It was all the existing (pre June 28, 1945) water uses needing to be considered by the new appropriation system that became the “Vested Water Rights”. In essence, all vested water rights in Kansas represent uses that were ongoing (or specifically under development) on June 28, 1945. All vested water rights are “senior” to (pre-date) all appropriation rights, but they all have the same priority date among themselves. In other words, there is no seniority system for vested water rights in Kansas.

The legislature closed the filing process for claiming vested water rights on July 1, 1980. Now, only domestic water rights remain un-quantified (not accounted for).

The last Vested Water Right tidbit is: KSA 82a-703 says: Nothing contained in this act shall impair the vested water right of any person except for nonuse. Vested rights seem pretty secure.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Something "Good" to Say

Lest we be accused of continually harping, I'm going to "accentuate the positive" now - Kansas' cooperative ethic toward dealing with issues, problems and solutions. 

Our state by design has an abundance of local governments, boards, authorities, commissions, etc.  There are in fact just over 3,880 such units in the state involved in every aspect of activity from planning to management to government.  Just in water resources there are groundwater management districts, rural water districts, public wholesale water supply districts, water assurance districts, watershed districts and several others.  It's safe to say that Kansas has always been quick to support local involvement.  Some say to a fault.

But in water, the many working local entities seem to get along pretty well with the state agencies.  Within the last several years we (GMD 4) has been able to borrow state personnel on two occassions.  Brownie Wilson with the Kansas Geological Survey was loaned to us for 2 days to install, organize and teach us ArcView GIS - a really important application for our local GMD.  Last month, the division of water resources loaned us Andy Lyon, a modeler on staff, for another 2-day stint to install and teach us how to use the Modflow model we have been developing together along with the Kansas Water office and the federal Bureau of Reclamation.  DWR has also been really good about assisting us with regulation writing for our local programs.  Can't tell you how good it is that these agencies provide this level of support.

The Kansas Water Office director Tracy Streeter attended one of our Alliance planning sessions and took it upon himself to locate some engineering study funding to assist.  Several on his staff, particularly Susan Stover, have also been very cooperative and supportive.  We don't always see eye-to-eye, but locals and state government rarely do.

Looking back over the last decade or so, I really think the cooperative activities in Kansas have actually outnumbered the contentious ones by a considerable margin.  This is a good thing because working in water is hard enough without having serious philosophical and policy differences to wrangle over too.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Water Politics - Kansas Style

Kansas will never compete with the hardball nature of water politics ala California or Nevada, but we have our moments.  Take for example the issue of authority over special management areas - dubbed IGUCAs (Intensive Groundwater Use Control Areas).  In 1978 the state Legislature amended the groundwater management act to provide new management tools over and above the traditional "administration by priority" when supplies got low.  The actual language says (edited for space):
K.S.A. 82a-1036:  Whenever a GMD recommends the same or whenever a petition signed by not less than three hundred (300) or 5%...of the eligible voters of a GMD, whichever is less, is submitted to the chief engineer, he or she shall initiate...proceedings for the designation of a specifically defined area within such district as an IGUCA. The chief engineer upon his or her own investigation may initiate such proceedings whenever he or she has reason to believe that any...of the following conditions exist in a groundwater use area which is located outside the boundaries of an existing GMD: 
The Legislative debate began with the intent of providing these new management authorities only in the GMDs because the GMDs were asking for them.  Hence the section begins by "Whenever a GMD recommends.."   At the 11th hour, the Legislature amended the bill draft further by adding the last, italicized  sentence - Oh, by the way, outside a GMD the chief engineer can use these tools too, because they are really good tools.  Thus the Legislative intent was:  The chief engineer can initiate an IGUCA within a GMD only upon a recommendation by the GMD, and he or she is free to do so outside a GMD based upon his or her own  study.  The law was read and interpreted by everyone in this manner for the next 24 years. 

In 2002 the attorney general was asked if the chief engineer could initiate an IGUCA within a GMD if the district did not, or would not, request one?  The AG, to everyone's surprise, opined that the chief engineer could indeed do so.  Based on this opinion the chief engineer is now promulgating new regulations to implement this newly conferred authority***.  A few Legislators understand that the AG does not make or change policy or law in the State, but so far this body has not been unable to clarify their 1978 intent - leaving many to ponder their motives.

(*** Clarification - September 11, 2009:   The chief engineer began promulgating 3 separate regulations on IGUCAs following the AG's opinion and other public discussions.  One of these prescribed a procedure for DWR's initiation of an IGUCA within a GMD when not requested by a GMD.  All 3 regulations were heard in public hearing, but the single regulation concerning IGUCAs initiated by the chief engineer inside a GMD when not requested is being withheld and will not be promulgated at this time.)       

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The extremes of weather in Kansas

If Aguanomics can post a picture of a pretty lake in droughty California, I can post a picture of a desert in rain-filled NW Kansas!  This radical rainfall difference being experienced between parts of California and SE Texas and NW Kansas is indicative of the extreme variability of precipitation in the Western US.  But if the truth be known, it is actually more the norm - at least for NW Kansas. 

In 2002 Thomas County received an average of just 12.69 inches of annual rainfall.  One of the stations had a low of 9.72 inches for the entire year.  This year, we are to date at a County average of 27.49 inches - with 4 months yet to go.  In case you don't know, the long-term average is 18 inches for Colby - which is rarely ever received.  Feast or famine is our rainfall lot it seems.  All we can do is enjoy it while it lasts, because the drier times are somewhere out there.

All the extra rain does have it's disadvantages.  I just took my schnauzer to the vet for a swollen hind foot today.  Seems the cheatgrass is particularly bad this year with all the moisture, and she had some of it worked into her foot and it managed to get infected.  $63.00 this darned rain cost me.  I actually have no cheatgrass in my yard, but without having to water much at all this summer, I have been taking the dog for walks with all my spare time!   Actually, I'm loving every minute of it!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

My Morning Blogging

I follow 10 blogs almost daily. Nine are water blogs and 1 is my nephew.

Today I comment on this almost daily ritual - in alphabetical order: 1) Aguanomics: This morning David Zetland (economist blogging on water issues) focuses on the recent $77 million water purchase by the Mojave Water Agency from an ag user. Zetland Blog link He contends the market will allocate water more efficiently than government or politics. This is a good blog - he's close to right most of the time, but even when not he's likewise entertaining. 2) Circle of Blue - WaterNews: Dr. Peter Gleick (Pacific Institute) was discussing the spin groups put on water stats by using a denominator that makes their numbers look the best. Good read. 3) Groundwater Blog: From the Nebraska-based Groundwater Foundation. They did not post today. 4)jfleck at inkstain: by John Fleck from Albuquerque, NM - a science writer and weather guy. He writes this morning:
Here’s a nice way of thinking about aridity: If all the water that flows in each river during an average year were spread evenly over the area drained by the river, the depths would be: Delaware 20.9 in.; Columbia 13.1 in.; Mississippi 6.7 in.; Colorado 1.15 in. Source: Water and Choice in the Colorado Basin, National Research Council, 1968.
5) living in actively moving waters: a blog by Chris Corbin, a water markets guru from Missoula, MT. Did not post today. 6) Long, Awkward Prose: my nephew's blog - not water related. 7) The Water Law: is by Alex Basilevsky - a water lawyer from Philadelphia. He doesn't post real often, but when he does, very thought-provoking. I particularly liked his August 3 piece on the "Harmon Doctrine". 8) Waterblogged: written by Jared Simpson, this blog tends to be a bit more on the sarcastic side of commentary - entertaining, tho. 9) Watering the Desert: is a Tuscon, Arizona blog by Chris Brooks - hydrologist, geologist and attorney. He's taken on a few extra jobs of late so blogs less often. He has a desert SW perspective that warrants attention (besides, he's my blog's only follower to date). And finally, 10) WaterWired: a very busy blog by Michael Campana from Oregon. Very well "tuned in" with water issues globally. Today's post was a book review of "The Heart of Dryness", by James Workman.

I find cruising these blogs a really interesting way to get my day started. I'm sure I'll find more...

Monday, August 31, 2009

Geography & Politics of Solutions

Why is it that so many seek federal solutions to problems the state and locals can't seem to fix?

S. 787 is supported by many arguing that their states are ineffective in safeguarding surface water quality. Rather than jack up their state and local water quality management institutions and roll up their collective sleeves - they choose to support federal regulatory expansion over every bit of surface water in their state. What if the feds can't solve the problem, or worse yet, work at solving it in ways the supporters object to? The regulated stakeholders are toast.

The working draft of the Sustainable Watershed Planning Act is another example. Let's give POTUS and EPA the authority and funding to achieve sustainability in our top ten poster-watersheds. The public in these areas better hope they do it the way the locals think it should be done, or they're maybe going to wish they stayed more involved.

Deferring these solutions to the federal government simply insures that someone is eventually going to have to "fight city hall" or try to "turn the battleship on a dime". The regulated stakeholders will almost invariably be better off directly involving themselves in the problems and solutions. The federal role should be restricted to technical and funding support - ONLY when asked by the state and local folks working on the problem. This is especially true in water issues.

The harder these problems and solutions are, the more complex they are, and the less you want the federal government fixing them. There, I've said it.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Water Rights Conservation Program

Somewhere around the late-1970's as the water supplies became fully developed, Kansas consciously began the transition of its water law interpretation from "development" oriented, to a "water management" orientation. The laws weren't actually changing much, but their interpretations were - and I think rightfully so.

One of the knottier issues in this change was the "use it or lose it" mindset. Under development mode, those not using the water needed to give way to others who wanted to use it so that maximum economic benefit could be achieved right up to the moment of fully appropriating all the water supplies. By the process of forfeiting non-used water rights for maximum economic gain, non-used water rights were disadvantaged - some say penalized.

However, in the new, management phase of water, non-use needed to be rewarded rather than disadvantged - especially in areas that were over-appropriated and no one else could be given the water to use if it was forfeited. The common perception was that owners were using the water simply to keep their water rights intact. If this were true, where is the conservation ethic in this system? This is where the Kansas Water Rights Conservation Program (WRCP) came into existence.

WRCP allowed water rights in over-appropriated areas to be set aside for 5 to 10 years for conservation, and to re-enroll for another 5 to 10 years afterwards. Each of these years was then considered "due and sufficient cause" for non-use (enrolled in a government program for conservation) so the water right could not be forfeited for non-use. This allowed water right owners the choice of not using their water while retaining ownership - but only in over-appropriated areas. Today, there are 977 water rights in this program statewide, not using 260,000 acrefeet of appropriated water.

Due to budget cuts, the state is poised to end WRCP, which by the way is not a statutorily mandated effort, but was crafted in this new, management-oriented interpretation period by regulation. I don't know how many of the people enrolled will start using their water again as they come out of their current contracts, but I suspect most will rather than face abandoning and forfeiting these property rights. This decision simply appears to me to be "penny wise and pound foolish" as the colonials would say, and certain to make water management a bit harder as we move on from here.

I think the state may also be concerned about keeping all the WRCP water rights "on the books" for the next few decades as this will pose other water management problems for a later time. But these later problems I think will be less-knotty then than the problems related to eliminating WRCP are going to be now.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Federal Water Interests

Seems our federal government is getting much more active in water these days. Last year two bills were introduced to work on the process of developing a national water policy. S. 2728 and H.R. 135 both propose the creation of a new group called the "Twenty-first Century Water Commission" - a group of federally appointed folks who are to study and develop recommendations for a comprehensive water strategy for future water needs. Similar in scope and nature, S. 2728 calls for a 9-member commission appointed by the President, Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader. They are provided $9 million and are given 3-years to make their recommendations.

H.R. 135 is an 11-member group appointed by the President, the Speaker of the House, the Senate Majority Leader, the Minority Leader of the House and the Minority Leader of the Senate who are to be provided $12 million and be given 5 years to work their magic. While there is much borrowed language between these bills, H.R. 135 has far more detail as to what is to be studied. In both cases, there is much that the states and local water folks should be concerned about.

And just making its way into the process this year is the current working draft of a new bill (not numbered as of yet) called the "Sustainable Watershed Planning Act". This calls for a new federal agency - the Office of Sustainable Watershed Management (OSWM) to do much the same stuff - only with far more layers of boards and commissions, and a lot more money - $30 million/yr for the OSWM, and $250 million/yr for this group to entice their partners (states, locals, tribes, stakeholders and other interested entities) to see their vision. The Director of OSWM is slated to become the new and singular, federal water czar. There is even more to be concerned about in this draft bill.

There is the expected obligatory language that the planning groups (3, nested layers) are to consider state & local management activities, and are to be respectful of state water laws and state water jurisdictional responsibilities, but it never says these are exclusive to the states as they virtually are now. It even mentions that personal water rights cannot be affected - from transboundary aquifers only. This bill draft actually looks eerliy familiar to the earlier (failed) Western Water Policy Review Commission (WWPRC) effort of 1997. It also has a long way to go in my opinion.

On the positive side, if the federal OSWM and its nested boards could be trusted to share your state's water visions, there will be a lot of money available to implement many worthwhile programs - for the 10 pilot basins selected by the Director. This selection process probably won't be political at all, so it's a no-brainer that we should all jump on board and support this bill. Oh, and in his or her spare time, the Director is also charged with crafting a national water policy overarching everything. If you are interested in water, you should have a look.

One last point. As H.R. 135 was being debated, some wanted to revisit the work of a similar effort back in the late 1960's - that of the National Water Commission (NWC). The following is from that report:

While many support better coordination of federal water activities and a clearer national “vision” for water management, Congress has not enacted overarching water policy legislation since the 1965 Water Resources Planning Act. Instead, water policy has largely evolved through executive and judicial actions, in many cases in response to piecemeal legislation. Congress continually modifies federal water projects through amendments to existing projects and programs through Water Resources Development Acts (WRDAs), Reclamation acts, water quality legislation, and appropriations decisions. Incremental and ad hoc evolution of water policy, however, is not surprising. Water management is complicated by past decisions and investments affecting a wide range of stakeholders pursuing different goals. Specifically, federal and state laws and regulations, local ordinances, tribal treaties, contractual obligations, and economies dependent on existing water use patterns and infrastructure all affect water management. Attempts to untangle such complexities involve many constituencies with differing interests, and success is difficult to achieve. Expectations for a commission to achieve change in a complex system resistant to transformation may be unreasonable; instead, the influence of a commission may lie in how its recommendations combine with other drivers to support policy evolution.

I have to ask what has changed since 1973 and 1997 that makes me feel comfortable that a new, Twenty-first Century (federal) Water Commission has got the right handle on the complexities of water?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Part 1: Public Interest

In considering the approval or denial of a new water right application, K.S.A. 82a-711 says if a proposed use neither impairs an existing right nor prejudicially and unreasonably affects the public interest, the chief engineer shall approve it so long as it is made in good faith, in proper form and proposes a beneficial use. The only exception is an application for fresh water where other waters are economically and technologically feasible.

The act goes on to say that in determining if the public interest will be affected, the chief engineer shall consider established minimum desirable stream flows, safe yield and recharge rates, the priority of all existing claims to use water, the amount of each existing claim to use water, and all other matters pertaining to such question.

The act finally says that impairment shall include the unreasonable raising or lowering of the static water level, the unreasonable increase or decrease of stream flow, or the unreasonable deterioration of water quality beyond a reasonable economic limit.

An interesting issue regarding impairment is that K.S.A. 82a-711 defines it in terms of the unreasonable raising or lowering of the static water table. While it almost sounds like impairment cannot actually occur during the pumping season (non static conditions) this is not likely the case, as K.S.A. 82a-706b says that no person can prevent any waters of the state from moving to a person having a prior right to the use of the water. This more clearly covers all supply problems – in the pumping season and otherwise.

In reality the local GMD 4 regulation prohibiting new appropriations, adopted by the chief engineer for our district alone, is actually defining the local public interest in regard to new water rights for GMD 4. It is also not hard to see how important public interest is in Kansas water law, and how flexible it can be when “all other matters pertaining to such question” are lawfully defined as part of the public interest.

Sunday, August 23, 2009


There was a recent conclusion by Michael Campana ( AKA Aquadoc) that a federal watermaster should have been appointed in the long-standing Georgia, Florida, Alabama dispute on the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River system. (This picture is my kind of watermaster!). Anyway, normally an appointed watermaster would only administer the final settlement agreement adopted either by mutual agreement of the parties, or the courts. Mr. Campana, however, suggested in this case the watermaster should be appointed early - to help mediate the settlement agreement, then continue on to administer it. On its face, this sounds reasonable enough.

But, some states that have gone through a watermaster situation (Texas and New Mexico on the Rio Grande River) have found out first hand the incredible influence wielded by this person - in essence a lightning rod. And being a federal appointee, this makes the prospect even more problematic for a died-in-the-wool supporter of "states rights" in all things water. And to have such an influence in the settlement development phase prior to the administration phase could be double trouble. I don't think this is as good an idea as it may sound on the surface. If Georgia, Florida and Alabama want to retain the maximum state control over their water resources and uses, the last thing they want is a federal watermaster appointed - for any involvement in this dispute.

To be fair, Mr. Campana recognized my concerns. He wrote: "This step might be viewed as some as an unwarranted Federal intrusion..", and "...is a drastic step, but a watermaster is needed to “persuade’ Alabama, Florida, and Georgia to resolve their differences..". I have to ask: How does appointing a federal watermaster "persuade" these states to solve their differences? It's the proverbial federal foot in the door to influence the process. The threat of placing a watermaster should motivate these states sufficiently - assuming they're not all asleep at the switch. And if after this step they cannot solve their differences? They deserve a federal watermaster and the rest of the US can watch and learn what needs to be avoided - again. I'm going to completley ignore Mr. Campana's recommendation for who his watermaster should be. Talk about lightning rods.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Water's Uniqueness

Scientists currently speak of 66 unique, anomalous traits that water has - including varying density qualities, a large capacity to store heat and a higher surface tension than other liquids. It is a really remarkable substance when you get down on the molecular level.

I would propose a 67th anomalous trait - the ability to stress out everyone and everything that uses it - especially when there is too much or too little of it, it's in the wrong place, comes to us in the wrong form (snow, hail, etc.), gets dirty, is too hot or too cold, has the wrong critters in it, someone wants your share, or others want to tell you how to best use it.

It's managing this stress that makes man's desire to manage water so intense at times. Many claim the next wars will likely be initiated over water - not the normal political/cultural/religious differences we have or any other natural resources such as oil & natural gas, precious metals or gems, etc. It's hard to say if this will be borne out, as others argue for an equal probabilty that water differences will lead to cooperative solutions because it is so universally fundamental and unique. My guess is..., I'd better not say.

Anyway, I have a feeling we're not done discovering the true uniqness of water yet, or the creativity man will apply to manage it - for themselves or for you.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Modflow Modeling in NW Kansas

Our GMD just started using a Modflow groundwater model developed by Steve Larson of S.S. Papadopolos, Inc. Actually, it is a converted version of the Republican River Compact model co-developed by the states of Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska under order of the US Supreme Court as part of the compact settlement stipulation. We have run about 6 different scenarios - 1 representing continued pumping as in the past (status quo) and 5 scenarios of reduced irrigation pumpage in our 6 designated high priority areas (HPAs). One of these runs was no irrigation pumpage at all in the 6 HPAs.

The status quo was, well, status quo. The water table declines continued downward over the next 60 years on an very consistent trend as we've seen in the past 40 years. The various percentage reductions (90%, 70%, 50%, 20%) showed virtually proportional trends for each run. It was the zero pumpage run that showed some interesting results.

For this run (100% reduction of irrigation water pumpage) the water levels in all 6 HPA's drifted upward (negative decline) for about 20 years, then started a much slower decline trend for the last 40 years - to finish 60 years out at slightly below the model starting levels. The model is likely telling us that halted pumpage immediately benefits the specific region that does it (for about 20 years) as the long term pumping cone fills back in. Eventually, the pumpage outside the HPA (which continued the entire time in excess of safe yield) begins to affect the HPA causing it to begin to decline again, but at a much slower rate.

The model confirms the common notion that the very slow rate of groundwater movement will find all benefits of an area's reduced pumpage accruing to that specific area for about 2 decades. Our next step is to couple an economic model to tell us the economic impacts of reducing any pumpage rate by any specific method. We feel that if there are 4 ways to reduce pumpage by 30%, for example, the economic impacts are likely to vary between the methods. It'll be fun and games for a while in GMD 4.