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."