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 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: " 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.