Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Water Use Report

Recently the USGS released a report on water use in the U.S.  The press picked the headline:  "U.S. Uses Less Water Today".  The report is actually using 2005 data and comparing it to data in previous 5-year blocks of time.

From one of the press releases:  "The report concludes...even though the amount of irrigated acres has increased, irrigation application rates have steadily decreased - a change that the report's authors attribute to the increased use of more efficient irrigation systems.


"We are pleased to see that irrigation efficiency played such a major role in decreasing our nation's overall water use" (John Farner, Irrigation Association).  

Inside the actual report we find recognition that irrigated acres have been increasing.  And inside the guidelines for the preparation of the 2005 report we find the statements:  "Irrigation withdrawals include conveyance losses." and "Data for the optional elements...will not be part of the national water-use analysis for 2005..." and in the mandatory elements we find "Ground-water total withdrawals.. [including conveyance losses]" and in the optional elements we find "consumptive use, by county" [not part of the report].

What seems to be really happening in this report is that the conveyance losses are being reported as use and the consumptive uses are being ignored.  Sure, irrigation efficiency will reduce conveyance losses, thus appearing to "use less water", but the real question is what's happening to the amount of actual consumptive water use?  This is the vital number that relates to long term supply and the health of any hydrologic system. 

My guess is that while pumped (diverted) water is actually less, the application of the less water on more acres is likely to result in increased consumptive water use.  Yes, you get more production from each unit of water as efficiency increases, which is a good thing, but you don't consume (use) less water.   

The judicious use of the phrases "water use" and "consumptive use" are in the report, and I think the distinctions are made - but far too subtely for most to recognize.  So the press simply concludes that water use is reduced. 

I think this is the wrong message to be sending and it leads to more money and effort put to irrigation efficiency (in the name of water conservation) in areas where reducing consumptive water use is most important.  This is one reason why water management continues to be so difficult.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Kansas GMD Managerial History

For the Kansas groundwater folks that might be interested, I have put together a personnel roster (in chronological order) of all the GMD managers since the GMD's were authorized back in 1975 - a little stroll down memory lane if I can be indulged.

Western Kansas GMD 1 (Green district - Scott City, KS) has had two active managers: Keith Lebbin and currently David Brenn.

Equus Beds GMD 2 (Pink district - Halstead, KS) has employed the following managers:  Tom Bell; Mike Dealy; Lee Wheeler and currently Tim Boese.

Southwest Kansas GMD 3 (Yellow district - Garden City, KS):  David Pope; Rick Illgner; Gary Baker; Steve Frost; Hank Hansen and currently Mark Rude.

Northwest Kansas GMD 4 (Blue district - Colby, KS):  This is the GMD I work for, and I have been the only manager.   Since I am the only remaining original GMD manager in Kansas, I guess it's up to me to record this bit of Kansas groundwater trivia.

Big Bend GMD 5 (Orange district - Stafford, KS):  Rick Sloan; Ralph Davis and currently Sharon Falk.

If more history of the GMD's would be of interest, comment back on this post as to what you'd like to see presented.

Update - posted April 13, 2011:  Wes Essmiller now manages GMD 5 with the departure of Sharon Falk in the Summer of 2010.

Update - posted July 26, 2011:  Jan King now manages GMD 1 with the departure of David Brenn in June, of 2011.

Update - Orrin Feril now manages GMD 5 with the departure of Wes Essmiller in the Summer of 2012.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I participated in twitter's #Agchat last night since the discussion topic was water.  What an experience!  Probably 100 or so avid #Agchat folks offering insights into water and ag issues - many times simultaneously.

If you've never stopped in, maybe you should give it a try.  The person moderating posts a question that either they pose or has been submitted by one of the participants via twitter - pertaining to the stated topic. Then the comment and discussion begins and you'd better be a fast reader and an even faster texter. The positive aspects of the process are:

1)  Some of the folks have some really useful information they provide;
2)  The entire discussion is normally captured and made available for reflection;
3)  The participants are available for further discussion if necessary;
4)  The participants usually span the entire country; and
4)  The ability to follow any of them via twitter broadens your info-net greatly.

The negative aspects are:

1)  The conversation can be difficult to follow in real time;
2)  The technology doesn't always cooperate; and
3)  With only 134 spaces many ideas are hard to articulate effectively.

All-in-all I enjoy the sessions I have attended.  You don't always have to participate although the moderator usually wants you to introduce yourself upon arrival - and they strive for professional comment and conduct.

If interested, #Agchat (strongly focuses on advocating for all things ag) happens each Tuesday evening from 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM Eastern time and you'll want to use a twitter application like twubs or tweetchat to join so that you can see all the comments.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Abandoned Well Lore

The following article came from the Tri-Basin NRD Newsletter, Tri-Basin Topics, Volume 22, Issue 2, Spring, 2008. It chronicles the travails of pioneer F. W. Carlin and his run-in with an abandoned well.

On August 14, 1895, a pioneer named F.W. Carlin steered his wagon off on the wrong track as he was crossing the prairie north of Broken Bow, Nebraska. The trail dead-ended at an abandoned sod house. He tried to turn his team of horses around and head back down the road, but one of them balked. He got off the wagon to see what was spooking his horse.

Here in his own words, as reported at the time by the Custer County Beacon, is what happened next: "without a moment's notice, I became aware of the fact that I had stepped into an old well and was going down like a shot out of a gun. I placed my feet close together, stretched my arms straight over my head and said "O God have mercy on me!" According to a later measurement of the well, he fell 143 feet.

Amazingly, the only injuries he sustained when he landed in water and mud at the bottom of the well were a broken rib and a badly sprained ankle. In spite of this amazing stroke of luck, he still faced the staggering problem of getting out of this very deep hole by himself. He struggled for hours before he was able to break away part of a board in the cribbing that lined the well hole. He shoved that board into the sidewall and used it as a seat. There he spent his first, cold, wet night underground. For the next two days he slowly, patiently inched his way up, digging footholds and handholds using his trusty pocketknife.

Emerging from his would-be grave, he gave thanks to God for saving him from death by hypothermia or starvation, but his troubles weren't over. His horses and wagon were long gone, so he had to crawl on his hands and knees a mile and a half to the nearest house, which took all night.

This is one reason why we plug abandoned wells in GMD 4.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Free Water Rights Session Scheduled

We often get calls from folks asking about web data and/or information on water, water rights, water levels, etc. We thought perhaps a series of group sessions about on-line data sources might be helpful. Our first session will be:

March 31, 2010; 1:00 PM; in the district offices, 1175 S. Range, Colby, on the Navigation and Use of WIMAS.

WIMAS is the on-line Water Information Management and Analysis System maintained by DWR but housed on the Kansas Geological Survey computers. It contains all the public information relative to all Kansas water rights. In this session you’ll learn how to find the site and use it.  There is a lot of information on Kansas water rights here, including reported water use, ownership, authorized rates and quantities and more.  The mapping and graphing of the information is also useful.

All we ask is that you register so we can get a bigger room if necessary. Call 785-462-3915 or email rwade@gmd4.org if you plan to attend. Later sessions (if the response supports them) will be on water level data; well completion records; and the High Plains Atlas; and perhaps other water-related sites if suggestions are offered from the participants. If there is no interest in WIMAS the later sessions will be cancelled.

Friday, March 5, 2010


The 1972 Clean Water Act is proposed to be amended by replacing the term "navigable waters" to "waters of the United States" - thus giving EPA much, much more regulatory authority over water and water quality in the country.  State's have opposed this change because they fear the additional federal authority.  The environmental community is largely supporting the amendment because they feel the states have been lax and the federal government should step in an regulate more effectively.  One article I read (Marisa McNatt, author) said:

The ambiguity in the term’s meaning has allowed industries to pollute American waters and be free of jurisdiction.  In 2007, for instance, a pipe manufacturer in Alabama was convicted and fined millions of dollars for dumping oil, lead, zinc and other chemicals into a large creek.  Since the Supreme Court exempted the waterway from the Clean Water Act, an appellate court overturned the conviction and the fine, and the company agreed to pay a smaller amount and submit to probation.
The first question I have to ask is How is this example "free of jurisdiction"?  Granted they paid a smaller fine and got probation time, but this is hardly free of jurisdiction.  The article also never cites who prosecuted the pipe company.  If it was EPA, where was the state of Alabama in this case?  I think that if this pollution was such a travesty, Alabama should take responsibility for crafting laws and regulations that don't allow it.  If it was in fact Alabama that prosecuted it under the federal Clean Water Act, they should clearly realize the shortomings of this law and craft their own water quality and anti-pollution laws that are as restrictive as they wish.  The Alabama folks who are outraged at this situation should be pushing their state to assume authority and responsibility (primacy) for water pollution activity.
Simply handing this important responsibility over to the federal government is risky. Take whatever issue you want - if you don't like what's going on, would you rather fight the federal government or a state or local governement?  Which level of government would you rather work with to improve any environmental issue - state or federal?  It might look easy and convenient to allow the EPA to step in and regulate this obviously bad situation, but perhaps you should be careful of what you ask for.
The GMD 4 board often gives testimony on water issues in the state - particularly on agency regulations and Legislative bills that deal with groundwater.  During the March board meeting a suite of such regulations was considered by the board and their testimony was approved for presentation early next month.  Of the suite of DWR regs to be heard, this post will deal only with the two proposed regs dealing with what is essentially a brand new process dealing with complaints received by DWR that deal with water right impairments.

The board is concerned over one section that  the proposed language allows the chief engineer to require hydrologic testing and the installation of observation wells as part of any impairment complaint investigation, and there is no indication of who is to pay for this testing and extra installations - if required.  Since there is also proposed to be a much more active role for the GMD's (if the complaint is within a GMD) the board feared that we may be standing some or all of these costs.  We are recommending that the language be clarified to say that DWR is to pay all these costs as a matter of their investigation process.

In all other respects but one, these two proposed regulations (one deals with direct, well-to-well impairment cases while the other deals with regional water level decline situations where everyone is being impaired, but no one is directly the cause) are very well crafted and are board supported based on the specific and reasonable processes outlined and the thoughtful role provided for the GMD's in those processes.

The one lingering issue is that of the chief engineer's authority to claim impairment on behalf of senior water right owners.  These regulations are written on the basis that he or she has this authority.  Since this is an issue that the board feels should be clarified by the Legislature, they have not included it in their testimony.