Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wait Just a Minute...

The Nebraska Natural Resource Districts (NRDs) in the Republican River Basin are just finishing up their development of required Integrated Management Plans (IMP's).  IMPs were required in the Republican Basin to ensure state compliance with the Republican River Compact and it's subsequent settlement agreement.  The Upper and Middle Republican NRDs have already completed their plans. It was just announced that the Lower Republican NRD sent their initial working draft in this morning. The press report can be seen here:   Kearney Hub Article

Within this press report it says:

That includes a proposal to reduce the current LRNRD groundwater irrigation allocation for all wells from 9 inches to 7.20 inches per acre in steps over five years for a total of 20 percent.

Clements said he knows the idea will concern irrigators, but it will be manageable given average irrigation water use since allocations were implemented in 2005. The range has been a high average of 7.6 inches in 2006 to a low of 5.18 inches in 2009.
Let me get this straight, the NRD is going to reduce the allocation - stepped down over 5 years - to the average (or just above the average?) of what has been getting used since 2005 and this represents a 20% reduction?

The good news is that annual carry over of unused water has been eliminated.  This should help, of course, but as long as the average historical use will still be available and usable, and actually more than this average can be used in the 4, intervening step-down years, I'm struggling to understand how this is a reduction of water use to meet Compact compliance?  Guess I'd better get a copy of the full IMP and take a look at it.  The full version (and a summary) is posted at:  http://www.lrnrd.org/.  As usual, this may simply be a problem with the reporting and not the report at all.  I'll try and follow up on this in a bit.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Not Sure on This One..

In my Twitter stream a few days back came the following tweet from a normally level-headed, thoughtful, very locally-involved person who farms and ranches:

Day spent with water issues. I am sick and tired of the over reach of government.
My immediate take was he's expressing his displeasure over some Federal involvement in his state's water issues - like EPA perhaps.  But as I contemplated this tweet over the passing days, I became more and more miffed, for you see, I'm beginning to think that maybe his angst was aimed at his local governance, which of course, would be me (actually the board of directors I work for) if he were in NW Kansas.  Of course in Twitter you don't get the chance to attach much detail to your thought-quips, so I can't really say if he was consternated over a particular issue, or a particular level of government, or what exactly spurnned the remark.  But it still concerns me a bit, for if he's expressing this line of thinking, what are the less involved, less level-headed folks thinking?

GMD 4 is a local, political subdivision of the State of Kansas.  We were formed, only after public election, to assume the responsibilities of groundwater management, within the Legislative framework spelled out in our enabling legislation, and only after specific and measureable problems arose.  That direction requires us to address groundwater issues of quantity and quality, and more importantly, allows us to do so from the decidedly local perspective of the people closest to those issues.  It does not retain the locals' ability to continue making the problem(s) worse.

With all due respect to this tweeter, it appears to us that had he and his local water users appropriately addressed the water issues on their own, there would have been no need for any government to take any action - and certainly not over reach.  And unfortunately, this logic applies all the way through government.  If our water users had the foresight and will to stop development when they should have, GMD 4 would not have been needed.  If GMD 4 takes care of these issues, there would be no need for the state of Kansas to step in.  And if Kansas gets with the program, the Federal government will have no business here.

And maybe this is exactly what he was intending to say - Twitter expressed tweet or not..

Friday, December 3, 2010

Changing Use of Water - Irrigation to Oil & Gas

A recent issue on-going in the West is that of irrigators selling their water to oil companies instead of irrigating with it - at least for a year or two. The articles are coming out of Wyoming of late and cite pretty salubrious dollar returns by doing so.  In one case a Wyoming groundwater user figured he could get paid $41,000.00 for the 11.5 acrefeet of water it would take to drill one Niobrara gas well - if he could get $.42 per barrel for the water.  The article cites 500,000 gallons of water needed for the regular drilling, and 4.5 million gallons needed for the radial drilling and fracking.  This is nothing new in Kansas as we've had oil and gas activity in the state for a very long time.  Of course, our activity has been the more conventional drilling (no radial wells yet in our neck of Kansas) which uses less than 500,000 gallons per well. 

The point I'd like to make is that Kansas water rights are for a specific purpose - for example irrigation - so there almost always needs to be some work done on the water rights before anyone can legally start selling it for any non-irrigation use.  This is done by an application to the state to change the use made of water - from whatever it is currently - to industrial use (supplying water for oil and gas drilling operations).  This process insures that the consumptive differences in these uses are accounted for in the converted quantity of water under the right, and, makes sure that the existing water right doesn't get fully used for both purposes.  These points weren't covered in the Wyoming articles, so I don't know if they exist there or not.  I should think they do.

Moreover, in Kansas the drilling companies can easily enough get their own water right (a temporary permit) for the relatively small amounts of water they need, so having to rely on existing wells and water rights is not required, but remains an option. In NW Kansas, several irrigation water right owners have converted a portion of their irrigation rights to industrial use and are prepared to market and sell oil and gas drilling water legally. If they decide later this is not what they want to do, the now industrial portion of their former water right can be changed back to irrigation use or any other use for that matter - with another change application.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Would it Work?

I think there are several ways to define or achieve "sustainable" groundwater use here in NW Kansas.  You have to pick your poison, though, because they all entail using less water than we are today.  One intriguing approach involves the possibility of irrigating virtually every acre of the district to a lesser degree, rather than the 15% of the district we now irrigate fully.

The idea is based on limiting irrigations to match the long-term annual recharge rates - to assure an average dryland production rate every year, for whatever crop is grown.  In theory, we should achieve long term sustainability if we can do so.  For example, if it rains an average of 18 inches per year in Thomas County, and this precipitation regime produces a long term average dryland production of 60 bushels per acre of corn, how would we fair if every acre in the County was irrigated every year for the 60-bushel corn production level?  When it rains 18 inches or more, no irrigation would be required or allowed.  When it rains less, every acre could be irrigated only for the 60 bushel production target.

Another way to say this would be irrigation only as a supplement to average dryland production rates - be it wheat, corn, sorghum, beans or whatever.  I wonder how a 60 bushel per acre corn production history on every crop acre, forever, would compare socially and economically to the 225 bushel per acre production levels we're now achieving on 12% of the acres - while the declining groundwater table continues to promise us an eventual end to this practice?  I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that the long term economic outlook is positive, but I'm not sure how the current economy would respond.  Cratering our current economic base to achieve any long term sustainable goal is always going to be problematic.

I'm sure there are a few things that would need to be factored in - like the very limited non-irrigation water use we have here (less than 2.5% of the total); the fact that crop production is not linear in it's regard to water use; the fact that annual rainfall is not known until after the crop year; and a few other things, but, these could be compensated for by either reducing the irrigated acres, or the crop production targets to some degree.

Such an approach would absolutely guarantee that the highest percentage possible of average annual precip would go toward crop production. Natural recharge would essentially cease, but with vitually no groundwater use coming out, the water table should stabilize over the long term (it'd still fluctuate a little bit in response to mid-term drought or wet cycles).  With no surface water issues to be held accountable for, this situation could actually become an economic and hydrologic advantage.

I'd be interested in anyone's thoughts on these ideas.  GMD 4 is NOT promoting this concept, but it'd be nice to know if it could ever be an option or not.

Monday, November 22, 2010

NMR Tried out on Kansas Index Wells

A $200,000.00 piece of logging equipment was tried out here in NW Kansas on the Thomas County index well several weeks ago before being shipped back to the manufacturer and on to Australia.  According to Jim Butler of the Kansas Geological Survey (KGS) the group was able to look at several of the Western Kansas Index wells.  In a prepared statement, KGS wrote:

“This tool is a miniaturized version of the NMR [Nuclear Magnetic Resonance] tools used in the petroleum industry. It is designed to provide data on water-filled porosity and the percent of that water that will readily drain from the pores (specific yield). We are going to use the tool to get a better feel for water storage both in the saturated and unsaturated intervals at the Thomas County site. We can also use the information to get estimates of permeability within the saturated zone. The tool was developed as part of a DoE research project we are participating in with a small NMR company from Seattle, Stanford, and [a Salina-based company]. Although this will be our first application of the tool to the High Plains aquifer, we have been testing it here in the Kansas River alluvium and we are excited about its potential to provide estimates of water in storage and what portion of that is readily available - also, I think information about water storage in the vadose zone could help improve insights into how much water is moving through that zone.”

Early results seem to confirm the original resistivity log on the well, and indicate that the vadose zone (above the water table) is fairly dry, but surprisingly, quite variable as to its capacity to hold water as recharge events eventually translate downward.  This seemed to be stark confirmation of our dry conditions of late.  I had to leave before seeing the results of the logging on the saturated zone, but will see these data soon.  I'm just hoping these zones are really porous AND fully saturated!  

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Water as an Economic Good

There are many out there that claim the solution to our water scarcity is an economic one - simply price water appropriately and society will collectively begin using it sustainably.  In pricing the water, suggestions have been to price it in terms of its replacement and delivery costs - not only its delivery costs.  Seems to make sense at some levels, but...

It's never clear whether these proponents are suggesting one price for all water, or, variable pricing for different water uses, or who would set the prices, by what convention.  I can't see how a single price can possibly work for all the various usages, so I hope this is not their goal.  And if every use type has it's own pricing, how is that any different than what we have today - other than the fact that everyone's water will get more expensive under such a plan - a lot more expensive. 

In our part of the world (a groundwater management district where 97% of the total regional water use is for irrigation) pricing irrigation water to cover replacement costs would be so prohibitive that all irrigation would cease immediately.  Moreover, all the costs of delivery have been and will be individually paid for by the appropriators.  There is no single unit responsible for water delivery.  And just pricing water appropriately for domestic and municipal use would be so fruitless here that it's actually a bit scary.   Could it be that the proponents of "appropriate water pricing" are actually aware of this and the whole idea is actually a euphemism for "let's eliminate irrigation"? 

I can see some cases where more appropriate water pricing could be effective in reducing water use, but even in these cases, the reduced water use would still exceed sustainable supplies, so the economic solution would be no long term solution at all - just a bandaid.  I have to ask what the appropriate pricing of water needs to be to reach sustainable water use?

Some have suggested an all-in auction as a way of deriving the appropriate pricing and setting the appropriate goal.  Great idea if you have the money to play and the water value is not excessively high and everyone has to play.  I submit that agriculture will rarely have the money to play and will thus lose water-standing significantly - if it decides to play at all.  In Kansas water rights are personal property rights to the use of the water.  As such, I don't see how they can be forced to participate in the auction.  If this is the case, how can an auction be run when and if 97% of the universe is not enrolled?  

If anyone can show me how appropriate pricing will work on a large scale, over all the water uses, to achieve a sustainable water use level in a fair manner (everyone participating from an equal vantage point) I'll be happy to champion their cause.  And maybe they're all right and I just don't get it!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Abandoned Wells - A Few of Our Experiences

Most activities by locals and state governments regarding the handling of abandoned water wells is to offer a cost-share incentive program.  Some are fairly well funded, most are not.  While this makes most people feel good, it is probably the most inefficient and wasteful way to address the problem yet devised by well-meaning activists (pun intended).

We start with the likely premise that abandoned wells are probably illegal by state and/or local law. So why should we be using taxpayers money to help correct an illegal situation?  Even if they're not illegal, which they are in Kansas, we have found the following to be true:

1)  What a land-owner deems an abandoned well and what any responsible cost-share program would deem one to be are very, very different;
2)  Most landowners aren't even aware of the fact that an abandoned well exists on their property even if they did agree on the definition;
3)  Too many landowners don't feel obliged to put any money into a useless object - regardless of the potential liability.

These findings all point to the need for a comprehensive survey by qualified persons if serious about remediating the problem.  Otherwise it's like fixing a few holes in your roof while leaving many more unaddressed.  You also need a process to keep new wells from getting abandoned.  We work with the well drillers and for every redrill, we account for the former well.  A process to follow through is important also. Can't tell you how many reminders were necessary in our program - even to those who initially agreed to plug the well.

I've not seen a single, voluntary cost-share plugging program in Kansas or surrounding states that has lasted long enough to come even remotely close to mitigating their abandoned well problem. And even if they do last, they get wells plugged at such a slow rate that it's likely abandoned wells are being added faster than they are being remediated.  If this is true, then whatever money they spent (or are spending) doing a partial job was (is) totally wasted.  Our board felt that the taxpayers were more likey to give them grief for not efficiently spending their dollars on an important water program than they would for implementing a tough, efficient, regulatory program that was going to work. 

We created a regulatory program that inventoried virtually every tract of land in the district and remediated just over 2200 abandoned wells in 3.5 years.  We did so such that our definition of abandoned well was used, the well drillers became part of the program for maintenance, and at a total administrative cost (taxpayers money) of about $32.00 per well - considerably less expensive than the cost-share efforts on-going at the same time in Kansas. No program or approach is perfect, but I'll hold our effort up against any in the country for efficiency and results. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

More From the Everyday Cookbook

OK, so no one has asked for more cookbook lore, but I'm going to give you more anyway.  Recall that the following tidbits come from the 1892 "The Snow White Cook Book".  This time around will be Cures:

1)  TO RESTORE FROM STROKE OF LIGHTENING.  Shower with cold water for two hours; if the patient does not show signs of life, put salt in the water, and continue to shower an hour longer.

2)  WARM WATER.  Warm water is preferable to cold water as a drink to persons who are subject to dyspeptic and bilious complaints, and it may be taken more freely than cold water, and consequently answers better as a diluent for carrying off bile, and removing obstructions in the urinary secretion, in cases of stone and gravel.

3)  BITES OF DOGS.  The only safe remedy in case of a bite from a dog suspected of madness, is to burn out the wound thoroughly with red-hot iron, or with lunar caustic, for fully eight seconds, so as to destroy the entire surface of the wound. Do this as soon as possible, for no time is to be lost. Of course it is expected that the parts touched with the caustic will turn black.

4)  LEANNESS.  Is caused generally by the lack of power in the digestive organs to digest and assimilate the fat-producing elements of food. First restore digestion, take plenty of sleep, drink all the water the stomach will bear in the morning on rising, take moderate exercise in the open air, eat oatmeal, cracked wheat, Graham mush, baked sweet apples, roasted and boiled beef, cultivate jolly people, and bathe daily.

There you have it.  What'd we learn?  Water is an important element in curing whatever ails you!  First, if someone is struck by lightening, shower in it - cold, mind you.  I don't know, but you may even want to place the victim in the shower with you.  In any event, I'd post instructions next to the shower in case you're the victim and are showing no signs of life. 

Secondly, drink warm water for good health. I'd do this even if you're not sure of your bile-count or if you have stones or gravel anywhere inside you. 

Third, if you're too thin, drink plenty of water first thing in the morning. I'm disappointed the book does not clarify if it should be warm or cold water in this case. But I am thankful for the advice to be around jolly folks and bathe daily.  Hopefully the jolly fellows will do the same. 

And finally, my best advice from this blog entry?  Stay the hell away from dogs!!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kansas State Water Plan Fund

The Kansas state water plan fund is an annual pot of money used exclusively for water projects in the state endorsed by the state water plan.  It is roughly $20 million per year derived from 10 sources: 1) a state general fund transfer; 2) an economic development fund transfer; 3) municipal water fees; 4) industrial water fees; 5) stockwater fees; 6) pesticide registration fees; 7) fertilizer registration fees; 8) pollution fines and penaties; 9) clean drinking water fee fund transfer; and 10) sand royaly receipts. It has been this way virtually since its inception in 1989 with only a few, minor tweaks.

The optimist says that $20 million a year for water projects is pretty good.  The pessimist says that $20 million of 1989 dollars is only $10 million of 2010 dollars, so water resource funding in Kansas is losing ground. I guess I'm neither an optimist nor pessimist (or perhaps more accurately - both) because $20 million 1989 dollars was not enough and it's getting less and less each year.  Kansas has this year a $13.7 billion budget.  ALL natural resources spending combined is but .5% of that budget. I'm sorry, but it's almost embarassing in light of the almost bombastic rhetoric water gets each and every year in this drier than average state. When the funding starts to flow from the verbiage, I'll become an optimist.

OK, let's put up the soapbox and start thinking about other interesting, but more positive, topics.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Beware of Groundwater Depletion Predictions

Topic: Pet peeve (if not number 1, pretty high up there) - Predictions of when we'll run out of groundwater.

Let's start in my own back yard - the Kansas High Plains - Ogallala country. The following was printed on February 4, 1979 in one of the state's leading newspapers:
State water experts predict that irrigation will be nothing but a memory in many large areas of west central Kansas in eight to 10 years. They give northwest Kansas about 15 years..
Well, northwest Kansas is my area, and I'm glad to report that irrigation is still here. And most of it is still in west central Kansas, too.  In other words, the 1979 predictions were not at all accurate.  The question is why?   The short answer is that most predictions take an average trend - like annual decline rate - and project it forward.  In 1979 the average decline rate in western Kansas was approaching 2 feet per year.  With only 40 to 80 feet of saturated thickness remaining in west central and northwest Kansas respectively, and irrigation needing about 30 feet of water to continue, the math at that time seemed close to correct.

But, in real situations, the declines reduce well yields, which in turn reduce water diversions, which in turn reduce the decline rates.  The assumption of a straight-line trend is faulty.  Click on the water level chart above to enlarge it.  This chart involves 50 obsevation wells in one County in NW Kansas - Sheridan.  Graphed are the 4 wells of these 50 which show:  the most saturated thickness in 1965; the least saturated thickness in 1965; the most decline - 1965-2008; and the least decline - 1965-2008.  The heavy black plotting is the average saturated thickness of all 50 wells in each year.

Several things are obvious. First, where there was good water in 1965, the wells were pumped hard and declines resulted. Where there was not good water, there was limited use and a relatively stable saturated thickness. Second, the average decline rate is slowing and in fact all the graph lines are converging toward that average.  Again, the straight line trend assumption if used in this case in 1975 would have been very wrong.

And furthermore, this is just one section of our district. Looking at the same chart for the 19 observation wells in western Grahan County (the next county east of Sheridan) the decline problem is a non-issue.

Water table declines will always be problematic, but they will rarely be as bad as the press and headline grabbers want them to appear.  So, ask the right questions and get the good data before assuming the end of the groundwater world as we know it today.  Groundwater is very temporal and site specific, so generalizations do no one any good.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Global Water Management?

Today is October 15, 2010 and it is ActionBlogDay. The topic this year is “Water”. It’s a super easy subject for me because I’m a groundwater blogger, yet when I think about it, it shouldn’t be a difficult task for anyone since water touches just about every aspect of life on this planet today. Come to think of it, it’s touched every aspect of life on this planet from the very beginning of time. Period.

So what should we be saying about water in this venue? Many very important folks will be weighing in today, so what of merit can I possibly add to the discussion? What answers do I have for us all? I’m sorry, but all I have handy today is the following dose of reality - and hope?

To me, it seems that most people feel managing water is quite easy – figure out how much you have available, then don’t use any more. Instant sustainability, no future problems, bingo. Yet this is rarely the norm. Why is that? First, it’s not that easy to figure out precisely how much water is available in the long run – in either surface water or groundwater systems. Second, it’s been too easy to stretch out and add to your supplies from elsewhere. Third, never anticipated water quality degradation affects what you think your supplies might be in surprising ways – always negative. Fourth, the climate variability that used to just make it difficult to calculate what your supply is, is now changing those supplies directly. Fifth, sustainability is not an individual concept but a collective commitment. Add to these conditions the legal, social and economic influences plied upon the most necessary resource on earth, not-with-standing perhaps air itself, and we wonder why it gets so dicey.

Bottom line is that water has never been easy to manage and never will be. When someone steps up and declares the best times, places, quantities and uses of our global water supply, and everyone else agrees, and we have the political will and economic means to make it happen, then we’ll have our solutions. This seems to me to be the real challenge.

Monday, October 11, 2010

More Water Conservation In Kansas

Well, the interim legislative committee hearings have wrapped up and much of the testimony has not changed from the February presentations.  Kansas Farm Bureau still opposes a new "conservation" use type for a variety of reasons - mostly revolving around the ability of every water right in the state being able to change their right to conservation - for very long periods of time.  The GMDs still want a conservation approach that addresses all 6 of the issues described in our previous (October 1, 2010) post. Kansas Livestock Association wants the former Water Rights Conservation Program (WRCP) back again. The state agencies want the new conservation use type that most everyone else thinks is too novel and far-reaching to jump into just now.

The interim Legislative committee during it's discussion session seemed to lean toward re-instating the old WRCP program - with providing fees or funding for it - while allowing the new conservation use type concept to continue developing. 

As discussed here earlier, the new conservation use type is an interesting approach, with several benefits.  But, it also has a few unknown elements that will be hard to predict beforehand - and thus remain pretty concerning.  The permanent change of the water right is one of these unpredictable elements.  While it'll solve the conservation funding issues rather nicely, and it does appear to address with certainty the process for changing water rights back into recognized uses, it doesn't leave enough certainty as some would like. The fact that the "public interest" is required to be considered in all change applications should have everyone wondering what that public interest will look like in the future. In fact it could become the factor that does not allow the chief engineer to change all (or any) of the water right back into a consumptive use of water when that time comes.  And this may induce enough uncertainty into the process to dissuade some from partaking.

I do believe these issues could be addressed in a well-thought-out statutory amendment designed to implement this new approach to conservation, but I'm less certain about our collective wills to achieve it.  Ah, the ole water politics venue may be alive and well in Kansas, but I'm not for sure. I hope not, because the citizens of the state usually end up on the short end of the results if they are.  Anyway, I for one am willing to consider the concept further.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Water Conservation in Kansas

With the elimination of the Water Rights Conservation Program (WRCP) at the end of 2009 because of fiscal shortfalls, most of us in the state started working on a replacement program that would cover its cost. For those who don't know, WRCP allowed any valid water right owner to enroll a water right for 5 to 10 years for conservation purposes - without fearing loss of the right for non-use. We had about 800 rights in the program when it was eliminated, but more than that had participated over the years.

We looked at a number of options for funding, but for one reason or another none were satisfactory to the state agency running WRCP.  Through this very open discussion, a few other issues were identified which we all agreed to try and fix while we were at it.  In the end, six elements of an acceptable water conservation program were agreed upon:

1) a definite time period a water right could be enrolled;
2) a fee funded program design to address the agency funding issues;
3) the ability to cap the well and store equipment while enrolled;
4) only to be available in over-appropriated areas;
5) full certainty of the water right both entering and exiting the program; and
6) controlling administration calls by those enrolled.

Three proposals were discussed - only one of which included all 6 elements - when out of the blue the Legislature introduces a 4th approach.  There was no shortage of ideas, but when the dust settled, the Legislative, and one portion of the state agency proposal passed.  Unfortunately, these two approaches, together, only addressed two of the six elements and have left most of us scratching our heads. 

Yet, possibly good news.  As I write this, we're preparing to start discussions with an interim Legislative Committee that has agreed to look at all these issues again.  Even if it's only because the state agency is promoting the rest of their proposal that didn't pass last year, this is heartening news - a second chance.  The problem now is the state's approach only addresses one more of the original elements (still leaving 3 unaddressed) and if passed, will be in conflict with parts the two actions just taken.  What a mess.

The five GMDs will be testifying once again (exactly as we did last year) on the need to get in place one conservation approach that addresses all 6 of the issues identified - and we don't really care which one it is. From my seat, it really shouldn't be this hard.  We'll see. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Water Issue of Unbelievable Importance

A little on the lighter side today - cooking.  We inherited a small library when we bought our 1930's house here in Colby. In that library was a copy of The Snow White Cook Book - 1892.  I love old style writing so I ventured in.  Some of what I found: (Please note that a few of my comments have been included - in parentheses)

"Page 20 - SOUPS.  Be careful to proportion the quantity of water to that of the meat. Somewhat less than a quart of water to a pound of meat is a good rule for common soups. Rich soups, intended for company, may have a smaller allowance of water."  (Yeah, and less soup, too, for more people!)

"Potatoes, if boiled in the soup, are thought by some to render it unwholesome, from the opinion that water in which potatoes have been cooked is almost a poison."  (OK, so boil your potatoes in the soup only when unwanted company is coming over, and make sure it's a rich soup, too, just to be sure.)

That's all the water stuff for now, but I also love the section titled:  "Rules For Eating."  Straight from the book:  "1.  Never sit down to table with an anxious or disturbed mind; better a hundred times intermit that meal, for there will then be that much more food in the world for hungrier stomachs than yours; and besides, eating under such circumstances can only, and will always, prolong and aggravate the condition of things."  (I always felt maybe my hasty eating habits were the cause of our groundwater problems!)

"2.  Never sit down to a meal after any intense mental effort, for physical and mental injury are inevitable, and no one has the right to deliberately injure body, mind, or estate."  (I guess I'm pretty safe with this rule.)

"3.  Never go to a full table during bodily exhaustion - designated by some as being worn out, tired to death, used up, over done, and the like. The wisest thing to be done under such circumstances is to take a cracker and a cup of tea, black or green, and no more.  Then in a couple of hours, a full meal may be taken, provided that it does not bring it later than two hours before sundown; if later, then take nothing for that day in addition to the cracker and tea.."  (Yeah, this fits our dinner preparation and eating schedules..)  Rule 3 goes on to say:  "..while it is a fact of no unusual observation among intelligent physicians, that eating heartily and under bodily exhaustion, is not unfrequently the cause of alarming and painful illness, and sometimes sudden death."  (That does it - no more eating for me unless I'm ready to run a marathon!)

The book is full of gems, but that's all for now.  If you want more, let me know and I'll from time to time put up some more of this book's sage advice.  Hope you enjoyed it as much as I do.

Friday, September 24, 2010

So, You Want A New Water Right..

New water rights are pretty hard to get in GMD 4, but not impossible.  It largely depends on where you are wanting one.  New water rights are generally allowed if the long-term safe yield of an area has not yet been exceeded.  We consider that recharge value to be 1/2 inch, and the area of concern to be a 2-mile radius circle (8,042 acres) surrounding the proposed well location.  The half inch recharge over 8,042 acres translates into 335 acre feet of water allowable.

So, if there is less than 335 acre feet of appropriated water rights in the 8,042 acre area surrounding your proposed well location, it can be appropriated to you (up to the 335 acre feet limit) - provided, you're not in one of the permanently closed areas, or, an intensives groundwater use control area. The GMD regulations also do not apply to domestic wells, term and temporary permits or non-Ogallala wells.  

If you're lucky enough to be in a very lightly developed area and water is available for appropriation, you must also meet a variable well spacing requirement a minimum of 1400 feet for appropriations less than 175 acre feet, or 2,000 feet for larger appropriations.  As you may suspect, there are not many areas in the district where these conditions can be met, and in those areas where they can be, there's not a bounty of groundwater to be had, or the land is not generally suited for irrigation.

Most don't realize how restrictive this new-development regulation is, but with a typical quarter section pivot system needing about 200 acrefeet of water per year, it approaches the severity of 2-mile well spacing from any other high capacity well.

These regulations have been in effect since the mid-1980s, so not much new water has been appropriated since then. In reality, we have experienced a net reduction in total water appropriated since then - but not by hugely significant numbers.  And with the current water use reduction programs on-going, we'll be reducing our withdrawals even more over the next 3 years.  Again, we're not halving our water use, but it's clearly peaked and is headed the other way now.

It pains me to read the headlines that the rate of groundwater mining is increasing worldwide, and while it may be doing so on a global scale, I'm happy to report that this is NOT the case in our part of the world.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

2005 GMD4 Testimony on Farm Bill

Five years ago our district suggested U.S. Farm Bill changes that would actually reduce consumptive water use in specified areas at no additional cost to the federal government.  We looked at our proposal as a win-win-win situation - if implemented where, and how, we proposed it.  Following is an excerpt of that testimony:

"In discussions with irrigated producers in NW Kansas the current structure of the farm bill comes up almost every time as a significant factor in their choice of irrigated crops - very predominately corn - a high consumptive water use crop.

Since passage of the current farm bill (2002) Kansas has developed new objectives for the High Plains Aquifer which require reductions in consumptive water use. Additionally, the US Supreme Court has approved a negotiated settlement for the Republican River Compact also involving significant reductions in consumptive water use within the basin. Both are new environmental goals set relative to historical water use which are real and need to be achieved.

We would encourage the new farm program (2008) to offer producers in specially recognized or identified areas (required to achieve lower water use goals) an economically viable alternativeto produce lower consumptive water use crops on the same acres, or, to reduce their irrigated acres.

To be eligible as a recognized or identified area, the region must have as a minimum: 1) a publicly established policy, or, a court order to reduce consumptive water use; 2) regulations in place which prevent significant new water development (non-domestic); and 3) a credible process of water use reportmg.

Possible approaches, in concept, might be:

1) Restructure the farm payments in the specially recognized areas to better encourage lower consumptive water use crops.

2) In specially recognized areas provide, at the discretion of the producer, a "Conservation Option" instead of the standard program, which would encourage lower consumptive water use crops or the transition of irrigated acres.

3) Increase the loan rate per bushel for the appropriate crops if there is a reduction in irrigated acres.

We also believe any changes made must be accomplished in a way that is as "revenue neutral" to the current program as possible.

In closing, there are clearly many ways a new farm bill can be crafted to encourage lower consumptive water use in areas that must achieve new environmental goals involving less consumptive water use.  We pledge to work with USDA and others in the further development of these concepts."

Of course nothing changed, but fundamentally I still don't see why this model won't work.  Ag production is a highly economic endeavor, and unless we focus on the economics that are largely directing our water use patterns, nothing is likely to change those patterns except in very special cases - like areas being placed under a court decree or government directive.  When approached this way, these areas are seriously disadvantaged (economically) without some assistance. The Farm Bill, without any additional cost, could provide that assistance if it wanted to.  Who knows, if there were some economic supports, perhaps others would consider a local decision to reduce consumptive water use more willingly - and perhaps before the courts got involved in water management.  If there are other viewpoints out there, I'd be intrerested in hearing them.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

AWEP Update

The dust is starting to settle and as of today we have 15 AWEP contracts signed to set aside 2,324 irrigated acres for the next 6 years - within 5 of our 6 designated high priority areas.  One of these contracts is requesting a waiver from NRCS headquarters which may or may not be approved, so worst case scenario is 14 contracts involving 2,010 irrigated acres.

We have cooperated with the Kansas Water Transition Assistance Program (WTAP) and the NW Kansas Groundwater Conservation Foundation whose programs will be providing the balance of the funding needed to permanently retire the irrigated acres - for at least a subset of the 14-15 AWEP contracts who are so inclined.  The WTAP application sign-up period will be October 1 - November 15.  This program is a competitive bid process to permanently retire one's water right. With AWEP already providing a majority of the cost necessary to convert irrigated acres to dry land production, our applicants should compete fairly well.  WTAP and the Conservation Foundation programs are also a multi-year efforts, so we should be able to phase these programs together for a bit longer.

The 30 or so unfunded AWEP applications this year will automatically move into next years program (the second year of a 3-year program) which could be an additional $2.666 million made available.  We'll have to wait and see how Congress responds.  We hope next year's WTAP program and the Conservation Foundation will also provide appropriate funding so we can continue the permanent retirements which represent the true conservation we sought from the outset.

As I've always said, the surest way to conserve water is to not pump it.  And not pumping it also makes water management a lot easier!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Classic Political Speech

Judge Noah S. "Soggy" Sweat, Jr. was in the Mississippi State Legislature in 1952 when he was asked his views on whiskey.  I love the flavor and nuance of his carefully measured response, which has nothing to do with groundwater, or any water for that matter, but the structure of which may come in handy someday for the controversial issues we do deal with in water.  Hope you enjoy it as much as I do. 

"My friends,

"I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey.

"If when you say whiskey you mean the devil's brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster, that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, and despair, and shame and helplessness, and hopelessness, then certainly I am against it.


"If when you say whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips, and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman's step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy, and his happiness, and to forget, if only for a little while, life's great tragedies, and heartaches, and sorrows; if you mean that drink, the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars, which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitiful aged and infirm; to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it.

"This is my stand. I will not retreat from it. I will not compromise."

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Texas' Desired Future Conditions?

Back in 1997 the Texas Legislature passed what was felt at the time to be a sweeping new, 50-year, water planning and management law.  It divided the state into 16 multi-County, Regional Water Planning Groups (RWPG) whose responsibility it was to coordinate all the stakeholders and make recommendations to the state on what their region's desired future conditions (DFC) should be 50 years out. The RWPGs had until September 1, 2010 to set DFC's.  According to one account:

"It's done," said Robert Mace, the deputy executive administrator of the Texas Water Development Board, the state's water development planning group, in an interview Monday afternoon. He had just received word that the last of the state's groundwater management areas had adopted 50-year plans...  But for Mace and his agency the groundwater-planning process  is not nearly done.  Over the next six months, they will study the paperwork from the management areas around Texas and confirm that the 50-year goals, called "desired future conditions," are physically possible. The board will then send back information to regional planners about how much water they can draw annually from the aquifers around Texas to meet 50-year goals.  Local officials then may adjust their water-use permitting requirements for cities and farmers based on those amounts.
Hummm. The state is to study the RWPG recommendations and see if they are physically possible. I wish I knew what actual guidance there was in the law regarding the legislative DFC expectations, because this description would support actual DFC ranges all the way from extremely aggressive to absurdly passive - any of which can be physically possible. I don't believe this can be the case, but who'd otherwise know?

The article also says the state will send back information on how much water they can draw annually from the aquifers to meet their 50-year goals.  What if this state-determined amount is less than what is being currently withdrawn?  Those wrting on the law have already interpreted it as not affecting current water rights or contracts, so I don't think this is a possible outcome, but you'd never know it from the writing.  And the bigger question is:  What if this scenario really was the DFC of that group?  Should it be allowed?

And then there is the state website that bullets the steps in preparing the plans.  It includes a specific task to develop a plan containing "..Identified needs with no feasible solutions".  What kind of a plan implies future limits and then allows the planners to identify and account for future needs for which there are no solutions?  Would identifying such needs make the future limitations more severe? or force the state to increase their annual allotments as a solution?  Lots of possibilities as usual.

I shouldn't be so hard on Texas. There are a lot of good products that have come out of this effort. The modeling alone is impressive.  I just think when the hard decisions need to be made for either shutting down new development or restricting existing development to achieve any state goal, they'll be able to justify just about any actions they want to within the framework of this plan - and that might not be a bad thing. It all depends on your point of view.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Colorado Governor-speak

Judson Harmon

At the Summer meeting of the Colorado Water Congress, both Govenor candidates made remarks on the state's water issues.  Democrat candidate John Hickenlooper directed his comments mostly toward water conservation - suggesting that reducing current uses was the best way to extend current supplies.  But it was Republican candidate Dan Maes who took the additional storage position.  He said:  “If it starts in Colorado, it's our water. The question is how do we keep it here,” and “We need to store as much of our water in the state as possible.”

This mind-set harkens back to the old Harmon Doctrine that held water sovereignty for any state or country.  While Attorney General Judson Harmon, in 1895, did opine that waters of the Rio Grande were sovereign to the US, this doctrine was legally questioned as early as 1897, and has never really been held to by the U.S. Government.

As such, most would say that Colorado Governor candidate Maes' remarks are likely more rhetoric than an implementable state policy.  It's also possible that the comments were taken out of context, or not completely covered in the news article this post is based on.  In any event, Alex Basilevski (Environmental Department of Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel in Philadelphia) did a blog on this doctrine earlier in regard to Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue's similar statements.  Link:  Harmon Doctrine.  As always, this will be an interesting issue to follow along on.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Right Answer - Wrong Cause

I ran across a May 13, 1855 letter that brand new Kansan Hiram Hill wrote to his brother back east.  Much of the content was concerning the water quality in the Missouri River they had just steamed up to reach Kansas City - Hiram's final destination being Lawrence, KS.  Just goes to show you, that some things never change.  Water quality and water quantity is always a challenge in Kansas.

Dear Brother

I take my pen to inform you of my Whareabouts and the state of my health I arived here friday Eve about 6 [o’clock] in good health and was very Glad to get on to Land onse more we had a pretty good passage for the State of the River the Water is very Low – it is said to be Lower than Ever before it is very drye in the vicinity We had 4 cases of colera aboard all which proved fatal Two young men of robust health about 12 one 4 [xxx] about So it was frightfull to see what Rapid Work Deth made of its victims from [xxx] Hours Laid them Low in death & Died in their State Rooms opposite to my Room & Down below Deck passengers all there causes wase brot on by imprudence in eating and drinking it is a grate wonder to Me that thare is not more die than does from drinking it is worse than I Ever Knew in any place in my Life – Drinking and Gambling and Swaring is the order of the day on this River Even when these men Wer sick & dying they wer playing cards at two tables but a few feet from Whare they Lay – it is a very common thing for boats to Bury from one to twenty going up this River We have to drink the River Water Which Looks at all times very much as the water from [xxx] Whites Bank, is very high Water I have no Doubt the Water is full of Diseaze from the Low prairie Land Whare there is so much Dead vegatble matter. I have Herd thare Has ben Some Sickness on the Misseupe River one boat going up to St Paul Lost sevrel of hur passengers thare is Diseaze in all this Western World arising from the Richnes of the Soil...
The entire letter can be seen at:  http://www.kansasmemory.org/item/3016.  Be sure to click on the Text version, because the handwritten letter is very difficult to read.

Monday, August 23, 2010

GMDA Enters Lawsuit

The Groundwater Management Districts Association (GMDA) has filed an Amicus brief to enter the on-going lawsuit between the Central Platte NRD and FSA.  The case began in 2007 when the YMD Joint Water Management District in Mississippi requested certain information from FSA via FOIA.  They wanted land ownership records for re-permitting issues and recognized that the FSA records, if provided, would save them considerable time, manpower and money because FSA already had all the data in electronic form.  YMD otherwise would have to do extensive courthouse visits (17 Counties) to amass the data.  YMD informed FSA that they too were a government entity, and agreed to maintain FSA privacy standards.  FSA denied their request.  YMD appealed the decision and sought a formal appeal hearing.  Following this hearing, FSA vacated the original FOIA denial and asked Mississippi FSA to consider the request again - presumably favorably.  However, in the meantime, FSA inserted language in the developing 2008 Farm Bill which strengthened the privacy criteria and closed the door again on YMD's request.

Then the Central Platte NRD requested the same information to undertake a very involved irrigation well and irrigated land registration process.  Unlike YMD, the CPNRD had just spent 2 years and $250,000 canvassing the courthouses and amassing the database they needed, which FSA already had. They also claimed to be a goverment entity and to protect the privacy of the data.  They too, were denied.

In 2009, GMDA passed a Resoultion which was submitted to FSA, which was never even acknowledged. (click here to view) The resolution was adopted unanimously by the association.

Seems a shame that state and local goverment entities cannot access and use federal data that is so easily available.  None of the data requested was sensitive - in terms of payments provided or other financial or operational items - it was all data that is publicly available from various, individual county sources, but not pulled together and organized like the FSA dataset.  So much for a more transparent federal government.

For more information on the suit, contact the Central Platte NRD or the YMD District.  

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Water Anagrams I've Collected

Recently Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute posted on his blog a list of movies that had water themes. I enjoyed the listing very much. For those who like to see collections, it's an interesting and recommended read.

I have been maintaining a listing of water-related items on the GMD 4 webpage as well - including movies and television shows featuring water wells (a bit more focused than Peter's list, but none-the-less related), water quotes, poems, acronyms, and more.  I also collect and create water-related anagrams (an anagram being a new statement by simply rearranging the exact same letters).  Following are some of my favorite water anagrams:

artesian well = arisen all wet

bottled water = bold, wet treat

California water = canal ratifier, ow!  

capillary fringe = a panegyric frill

cellulosic ethanol = coalescent hull oil

chemigation = the magic ion

Clean Water Act = enact law - react

climate change = chemical agent?

Colorado River = cool river road

Contamination = action on it, man!

desalination = it's an ion deal

dewater = water Ed

divination (dowsing) = I nod it vain

drainage basin = I snag rain bead

eutrophications = I trace pooh units

Great Lakes water = reeks a law target

groundwater = our grand wet

groundwaters = God's water urn

groundwater law = lunge toward war

groundwater well = narrow dew gullet

hydraulic fracking = acrid chalking fury

hydrologist = do thy log, sir

hydroseism = my dish rose

infiltration = initial front

Kansas groundwater = ask a dowser an' grunt

Lake Mead water = a wet-keel drama

managed water = men wager data

Ogallala Aquifer = legal lair of aqua

peripheral canal = Help! Can repair LA

point of diversion = devine profit soon

reverse osmosis = o', severs isomers

riparian doctrine = periodic rain rant

Salton Sea = a neat loss

save water now = savor wet anew

static water level = vacillate erst wet

sustainable water = banal, tease-us writ

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea = huge water tale stuns. End had you tense.

watershed = earth's dew; (or) draws thee; (or) deer swath; (or) shared wet

water diversion = wet ions arrived

water management = get armament anew

water markets = wet, tsar maker

water policy = lawyer topic; (or) wiry ole pact; (or) try, wail, cope

water politics = capitols write

water rationing = wager it not rain

water resource = wet our careers

http://www.gmd4.org/Acronyms/acronyms.htm is the link to the GMD 4 webpage for movies, anagrams, acronyms, etc. As Peter asked, if you have others and don't mind sharing, please feel free to send them along. WAB

Friday, July 30, 2010

Fed Program Changes?

I recently asked a host of entities (NRCS, KWO, DWR, SCC, GMDs, etc.) to begin a Kansas dialog on the potential benefits of tweaking EQIP and AWEP so that these 2 programs can be applied toward reducing consumptive water use (conserving water) AND minimizing any economic impacts as the water conservation is happening.

Both programs are now recognizing the much greater water conservation benefits of transitioning irrigated acres to dryland production – thus truly conserving 100% of the historic consumptive water use. To this end, the program developers are to be commended. But both programs have been focusing on complete water right set asides or conversions in order to qualify.

New economic and hydrologic modeling is convincingly showing that reducing the least efficient portion of water use from a number of irrigation systems will have less economic impact on a region than reducing the same amount of water use completely from fewer systems. These two approaches have the same hydrologic results, but different economic impacts.

GMD 4 is wondering if it is time to consider approaching USDA, NRCS and perhaps others in asking that water conservation programs such as EQIP and AWEP take fuller advantage of the modeling results to lower the economic impacts of their water conservation benefits? To do this, these programs will need to allow for partial consumptive water use reductions from a larger number of participants. This means that EQIP and AWEP are going to need changes accordingly. Are these issues important enough to start developing?

GMD 4 welcomes any comments, ideas or suggestions regarding an open dialog on this issue. Perhaps a specific set of AWEP rules should also be discussed as operating AWEP under EQIP rules has brought to light a few glitches – at least what we consider glitches.  Anyone else tracking these issues as well?

Oh, I sent the email request on July 7, and have not heard a word yet from anyone.  I hope they're still mulling it over.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

New Conservation Use Type

Last Legislative session the idea of a new type of Kansas water use - “conservation” – was floated as an alternative to the elimination of the Water Rights Conservation Program (WRCP). It stalled in a Senate committee when the chair did not see enough consensus. Kansas Ag Secretary Svaty has since indicated his continued interest in the idea, and there are indications it may be considered for interim Legislative study.

The essence of the program is that anyone wanting to conserve their water right by not using it would change the right from its current use type (irrigation, M&I etc.) to the new “conservation” beneficial use type created by the Legislature. The change would be permanent until an application is filed again to change it to another use type. As left last year, any water right in the state would be eligible and there would be no time limit a water right could exist as a conservation use water right.

While seemingly simple, this idea has some challenges. Some wanted only areas closed to new appropriations to have this option – believing that participation in non-closed areas could prevent new water right applications from being approved - thus underutilizing the state's water resources. Others felt the future change process from conservation could subject the water right to new (as-of-yet-developed) criteria - in other words, less assurance of what the water right will become when changed to some other use type in the future. Still others objected to the permanent nature of the change and felt there should be a time limit set. 

The Ag department had last session addressed the first of these issues with the promise of a regulation that would basically allow its division of water resources to let term permits for new uses that did not exceed the extent of water existing as conservation rights - and only for as long as the conservation rights existed.  This construct basically crafted a state brokerage in this regard.  While a creative fix, and close to being workable, it was offered very late in the process and never got enough time to gel. 
It is my opinion that the largest issue is that of the fundamental change in the water right when initially changed to a conservation use type. I can't help but think there will be hoops to jump through in changing it back to some other use type, and those hoops will benefit the state more so than the water right holder.  If we discuss this issue again in Kansas, my focus will be on this issue - not so much to be an opponent, but to insure that the process is clearly stated so that the water right owner understands what will have to be done, and what he or she will end up having, when the time comes.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

AWEP - Conservation Log - Day 27

I am amazed yet again at the veritable speed at which this program is coming together.  We have finalized the majority of decision-points related to implementing our conservation proposal of transitioning irrigated acres out of irrigation, and are now seriously servicing the questions of potential applicants.  And there is a lot of interest and a lot of questions.  There is also a program eligibility change which I corrected in my July 19 Blog article (previous entry below).

We are confident that we can retire 2,000 irrigated acres within our 6 high priority areas in our first program year.  Keep in mind, these acres will be non-irrigated for 6 years only.  We are also hoping to leverage the state's Water Transition Assistance Program (WTAP) with this effort to permanently retire perhaps 800 of these acres in year 1. 

With 2 more years of AWEP funding available (pending Congressional funding and local participation) we'll eventually retire from 6,000 to 7,000 acres for the 6 years.  This activity should catch the attention and interest of the Kansas Legislature to fund WTAP sufficiently over the same 3-year period so we can continue making permanent conversions by leveraging the two programs.  If it doesn't, I can only conclude that our Legislature is actually disinterested in reducing groundwater use - regardless of what they pontificate otherwise.  Yes, I'm throwing the gauntlet down and challenging the Kansas Legislature to step up.  (Yeah, I'll bet they're really worried now.)

No seriously, I think we've put together a pretty responsible program to convert irrigated acres in our most critical areas - exactly what our state water plans says needs to be done - with the heavy lifting being done by the NRCS' AWEP program.  To not support this effort with state funds will be "penny wise and pound foolish" as Ben Franklin would say. We'll see.  

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

AWEP - Conservation Log: Day 19:

A bit more detail has come out on how the Partnership program is going to operate in our 6 HPA's.  Any irrigator within our 6 areas can now visit their local NRCS office and make application - again, to receive 5 years of payments per acre in lieu of not irrigating for 6 years.  The annual payments will be based on ones benchmark acres - average acres irrigated per year between 2005 and 2009.  Moreover, the benchmark acres must equal or exceed 66% 45%* of the authorized irrigated acres and must have been watered at least 2 of these 5 years.  Finally, the acres must have received at least 6 acre-inches of water applied.  These are the eligibility criteria.

All the eligible applications will then be ranked.  If your irrigated acres are from 70% 60%* to 79.9% of the authorized acres, you'll get additional points.  If from 80% to 89.9%, more points, and if more than 90%, more points yet.

If you applied from 8 - 12 13 acre-inches of water per acre (average over all years irrigated) you'll receive additional points.  If you applied more than 12 13 acre-inches per acre you'll receive more points.

Finally, if you had submitted an eligible Kansas Water Transition Assistance Program (WTAP) application  in the last go-around and were not accepted, you get additional points.

As you can see, this program is seeking to convert the acres that have been irrigated the most - hence will result in the most groundwater conservation.  I won't apologize for this although water users who have seriously reduced their water use over the past 5 years will tend to not fare as well - especially if they have eliminated acres to do so. 

A common question is what will happen to the water rights?  Being in a designated HPA, the water rights will be protected from non-use issues for the entire time and will be completely usable after the 6th year.  However, our intent remains to permanently convert the irrigated acres enrolled.  We will be seeking other programs to make this happen.  Bottom line:  If you are keenly interested in a permanent retirement, don't ignore this program just because it's temporary. 

Others ask about overlapped water rights. Overlapped water rights must be all enrolled to ensure water conservation.  Also, enrolling part of a single water right will not be allowed.

We've received calls or visits from folks in every HPA as of just a few minutes ago, so there appears to be sufficient interest.  We hope it continues.

NOTE:  * corrections are updates to the program rules that have been made after the original date of this post.  Blog corrections made by WAB on 07/27/2010

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Log of Our AWEP Experience

Over the next year I'll try to capture my experiences with the AWEP award we received earlier this month from NRCS.  For those who do not know, AWEP stands for Agricultural Water Enhancement Program.  It is a fairly new initiative within NRCS that was created in the 2008 Farm Bill.  It is actually part of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which we'll discuss in a bit.  AWEP is a voluntary conservation initiative that provides financial and technical assistance to ag producers to implement ag water enhancement activities on land for the purposes of conserving surface and groundwater and improving water quality.

On July 2 it was announced that our proposal (from a partnership between GMD4, 4 county conservation districts, a county Farm Bureau group, and the Kansas Water Office) was awarded, and that in FY 2010 $2.666 million was being made available toward our plan - a 3-year, $9 million effort to permanently convert irrigated acres in our six high priority areas (HPAs) to non-irrigation uses - thus saving 100% of the groundwater irrigation use on these acres.

It must be noted here that we proposed to permanently convert acres with program payments between $1350 and $2250 per acre - depending on how much historic water had been used on them.  The acres with the most water used, would receive the highest payments.  Our proposed payment levels were based on just over 100 actual bid offerings from producers under a competitively bid water rights retirement program offered by Kansas last year. When awarded, we assumed that the entire program was approved.  This turned out NOT to be the case.

Remember that AWEP is implemented under the EQIP program - an on-going effort already with it's own rules.  Turns out that EQIP can only pay on the producer's lost income for adopting the conservation practice (converting irrigated acres to dry land production) and for only 5 years.  It was unlikely that any irrigator was going to give up irrigation forever for just 5, annual, lost income payments. Under these constraints, we requested that the award be changed to a 6-year irrigation set-aside for the same 5, annual, lost income payments.  NRCS approved. 

The temporary suspension of irrigation in our HPAs would help, but we were disappointed that permanent conversions would not be possible.  The fact is we were close to being disgusted that NRCS was good with paying $1100 an acre to not irrigate for 6 years, but not OK with paying $200 to $800 more an acre to conserve the water forever - all because of an EQIP rule.  To add insult to injury, NRCS also imposed an unbelievably short timeframe on this first year - setting an August 13, 2010 deadline for all producer applications. Recall, the program just got announced yesterday.

However, after more thought, we were wrong think that permanent conversions were out of reach and that AWEP was useless to us.  We now are embracing the AWEP award as a significant first step to this very goal - it'll just take another program or two to make it happen, and we have 5 years to craft whatever it is that we need.  And actually, since permanent conversions are off the table, the August 13 deadline is also not near as daunting.

In my next entry, I'll cover the details of our AWEP program and outline how we're expecting to work it with other programs to make these conservation efforts permanent.  As always, questions can be directed to me.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Words, Words, Words

OK, I'm a sucker for word games and such.  Those who have been following me on Twitter probably already know this from my water "Anagram" posts.  I have found two more word thingies that are pretty cool.  First is "Wordle" - a web site where you can make word clouds from your own text, such as this kansas groundwater cloud I just made.  You can control the colors, the nature of the cloud, the font and much more - so you get just that right look.  The more text you put in, the busier the cloud.

I also just started participating in Artwiculate - an internet word game that is creative.  Artwiculate provides a bodacious word every day that you are to use in context in a tweet.  Everytime someone votes for your tweet on the Artwiculate page, or retweets your tweet in Twitter, you get a point. At the end of the 24 hour period, most points (cleverest tweet using the word?) wins.  My first attempt yesterday on the word "Asinine" netted me a top 20 finish.  I hate to say it, but I used an anagram to get 18th place - 40 votes.  My tweet was:  "Asinine = is inane (an anagram for those who don't recognize one)".  Today's word is Debacle.  Vote for my entry if you get a chance. 

This stuff keeps me busy when Twitter and the Blogsphere is slow.  Several of my Twitter followers would probably do pretty well at these sites!  You know who you are - AO, GL, JF, & MR.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Saturated Thickness Variability

I'm often asked:  "What's the water table doing?"  It's a perfectly good question, but a difficult one to answer as succinctly as asked - especially in our area where the variability of conditions - from rainfall to actual measured declines - is so variable.  And averages only seem to confuse the issue, so I try to stay away from them. 

Case in point:  our water level elevation data from Thomas County - the heart of our GMD area.  The graph below shows four of the sixty-seven wells measured every Janauary to describe both the water table elevations and the saturated thickness.  (Click on the graph to enlarge it)  The wells are measured to the nearest 1/100th of a foot.  These 4 are the observation wells with:  the most saturated thickness (ST) in 1965; the least ST in 1965; showing the most decline (1965-2008); and showing the least decline (1965-2008).  I have also included (heavy black line) the annual average of all 67 wells.

From these 4 wells we start to see the variability within 1 County - not only in saturated thickness (from 62 feet to 175 feet) but in decline rates as well (from 5 feet to 38 feet).  And if you think spouting average values is misleading (or at least less than helpful) try answering with ranges of values.  Even less helpful to most.  And I've not even gotten into the variability over time, which finds our decline rates at any location changing from decade to decade - due mostly to longer term precipitation variability.

It wouldn't be so bad if it was just water level data, but it's other data as well.  The variability of our rainfall numbers for example stagger even the most hardened meteorologist.  So is the life of a groundwater manager.  Maybe I take it all too seriously.  Maybe people are asking me the rhetorical, ice-breaker question and really aren't that interested anyway.  And maybe that's why I keep all this stuff on our web page - so you can conclude your own answers. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Agchat - Practical Sustainability

I've mentioned this before, but I log into #Agchat from time to time on Twitter to discuss ag issues.  This past Tuesday (July 13) the topic was Sustainability in Ag.  I thought this could be an interesting discussion - especially if the sustainability of Ag water was discussed.  To offer this as a topic, I shot in the following question (not knowing if it would be used by the moderator or not):  "How important is water resource sustainability to your Ag operation?  If it is, how much control do you have over the issue?"

Anyway, the discussion began with question 1:  "Begin by defining ‘sustainable farming’ and ‘un-sustainable farming’ (with examples)."  The discussion that followed had me scratching my head more often than not.  Right off the bat several of the participants offered:  "..our citrus crop in CA uses 76% less water than conventionally grown citrus & produces 5X more fruit per acre"  and  "Citrus crop uses dense plantings and newer technology" and  "sustainability = producing more with less" and "switching our corn/soys to 20" rows has increased yields and increased use of each acre".  

First of all, I'm pretty sure these folks' definition of sustainability was geared more toward sustaining their own farm/operation than toward sustaining their input resources - like irrigation water.  Simply stated, anytime production yields increase, consumptive water use increases - regardless of how much more or less water you physically apply to the crop.  More often than not the newer technologies transfer the inefficient (non-consumptive) water application to consumptive crop use - hence you don't have to pump as much, but actually use more (demonstrated by the increased yields).  If everyone did this, how can we hope to achieve sustainable water use as our water use continues to increase?

To be fair, there were some good responses too.  One said:  "Regardless of your definition, future impacts must be considered."  I think this participant was seeing the broader picture - at least I hope he or she was.

My question did get posed, but the discussion was ... well, polite.  Responses were:  "is vital to sustainability of life" and "Very important & controlled" and "My friends do a great water training on how to install drip".   Not at all what I was hoping for.

This is when I posed the following discussion point:  "What happens if you have a series of individually sustainable farms, but collectively they are unsustainable?"  It seemed like everyone was focused on what sustainability was for their farm, but refused to consider that collectively they could be having a very unsustainable impact - not so much from what they do to the land, air, water, etc., but certainly from what they take from the land, air and water.  My question was not discussed or even acknowledged.  What do you think?  Was it too cryptic?  Too close to home?

All in all, it was a lively discussion, as it almost always is, but I'm thinking Twitter is simply too limited a venue to seriously discuss any topic - especially in a 2-hour session.  This is where I think Google Wave could do a much better job.