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.

Posted by Picasa

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.