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.