Thursday, May 6, 2010

What Are They Thinking?

Just ran across a story from Helena, Montana this morning where a judge has ruled that pumping groundwater, in the recovery process of coalbed methane, just to put it into surface pits and evaporate it is a waste of water and in Montana is unconstitutional.  This makes sense to me.

However, a state administrator says the ruling only deals with the mechanical means to speed up the natural evaporative process, and not the pits themselves.  As such, if anyone chooses to water cattle or horses out of such a pond, the water would be "beneficially used" and the pit and practice would be OK.

I must ask:  How much water will cattle and horses drink from a 50 acre-feet sized pit?  If they drink it all, I'd agree, but really...  Later in the article a 2003 study is quoted as saying some 58 billion cubic yards of groundwater would need to be pumped to develop the methane from just one region of the state.  Wow, that's a lot of cattle and horses!

I can't imagine the judge was referring to just the sprayers that accelerate the evaporation.  If he did, shame on him.  If the administrator is mis-reading the ruling, shame on him.  Evaporation is a consumptive water use and needs to be recognized as such. 

Finally, the article didn't discuss the quality of the water too much, but did say it would be likely to increase salts in the rivers if discharged directly there.  Regardless of its quality, this volume of water will eventually be desired and made usable - I guarantee it.

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