Monday, June 29, 2009

Reducing Water Use

Our GMD is largely irrigation use - 97% plus. It then follows that if water use is to be reduced, working on a 10% reduction in the remaining 2% of usage is probably not the best approach. As such, we focus on the irrigation uses.

Traditional wisdom says "let's get more efficient with our irrigation use - we'll pump 20% less water." But, unfortunately this is not always going to be the case. Converting to higher efficieny irrigation can actually INCREASE water used by crops for production - even when less water is pumped and applied. Without a good understanding of what consumptive use was happening under the old irrigation systems, and specific constraints on irrigated acres and cropping patterns and irrigation management under the new systems, the conversions are not likely to save as much water as you calculate - if they'll save any water at all. They are, however, usually good for the producers' bottom lines.

Next usually comes: "Let's just regulate a 25% reduction in all water use." That'd work, but all water rights are different. 25% from the full water right is different than 25% from the partial right. And do you want to take this reduction from municipal, industrial, domestic and recreation rights as well? What about priority? Does the most senior right concede the same 25% as the most junior right? In Kansas where a water right is a property right to the use of the state's water, are there "takings" issues to be considered in a mandated reduction?

Usually someone gets around to the appropriation doctrine itself and calls for a 25% reduction based solely on priority. What happens if the most senior water rights to be protected are in the poorest part of the aquifer?

The market system usually gets air time, too. Water banking, water right auctions, transfers to higher economic uses, etc. But these can have significant impacts on the social fabric of the region because fundamental uses of water can change so much.

One thing is for sure - reducing water use by design is always about deciding if the water or the economy is more important, and then picking your poison. There is no way to change a deleterious trend without changing something about the system that caused the trend you want to change. This is why it's so hard to do.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Regional Water Planning - Really or Rhetoric

Just read where a prominent engineering firm will be working with 3 Georgia regional water planning councils to do future water planning. The article says: "the plans will improve the quality of life for citizens by providing a proactive, sustainable strategy for water resource management with the growing state’s long-term needs at the forefront." (The operative words have been made bold so you don't miss them.)

Water resource assessments and population projections up to 40 years into the future will be used to develop realistic estimates of future water use. The firm says: “Our team is experienced in water... and... will gain consensus around a program of actions that best balances the regions’ needs within available water resources as the state of Georgia plans for sustainable future water supplies.”

A few facts: 1) These councils are strictly advisory; 2) They are entirely appointed by the Governor, Lt Governor and the legislative Speaker of the House; 3) The engineering firm for this particular region was selected by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division; 4) These 3 planning regions are in SW Georgia where Ag use (irrigation) dwarfs all other uses; and 5) These regions are already over developed (water-wise) as evidenced by the water right auctions held during the last drought.

My predictions: 1) Sustainability with the state's long-term needs at the forefront likely does not portend well for Ag users in these regions under this arrangement; 2) Some of these regional planning councils will eventually implode citing their "yes-man" expectations as the reason; and 3) You gotta love the generic rhetoric, but eventually the planners will see what it really means.

I wish them the best and I hope I'm wrong on all 3 predictions, but I'm pretty sure "sustainable water resources" is a lot easier to think and say than it is to do - especially when water use reductions are going to be required to reach it.

Opening Salvo...

For my maiden entry, I'm thinking a bit of background.

GMD4 was formed only following a 1976 public election of landowners and water users within the district. Being a "special purpose district" not everyone (all registered voters) got to vote. When the dust settled, 1,040 votes were cast and 668 were in favor of organizing and locally assessing ourselves for the right to: "determine our own destiny with respect to the use of the groundwater insofar as it does not conflict with the basic laws and policies of the state of Kansas."

The entire shebang is operated under the Kansas Groundwater Management District Act (K.S.A. 82a-1026 et. seq) which is a piece of enabling legislation - allowing locals to form a district but not requiring anything. This act is the heart and soul of the GMDs in Kansas. It basically sets out how a district is to be formed, and if formed, what it can do and what it must do. One thing each GMD must do it produce a management program before doing anything along the lines of active management. The plan must be approved by the state engineer and the GMD members and must be reviewed annually. The GMD 4 plan is the second requisite document for GMD understanding.

GMD 4 operates under an elected board of directors who are responsible for all district activities. One-third of the board is up for election each year at an annual meeting of the members. This is by far the best chance you have to effect any agenda you feel appropriate for our GMD. I am continually amazed at how many people have an issue with the GMD but refuse to contact a board member or consider running for the board to address it. More on this comment in a later post because it's one of my hot buttons.

From here (future posts) I'll try to cover what we're doing. And then we can begin chatting about what we should be doing. Beyond this preliminary outline who knows where we'll go. Later.