Sunday, February 27, 2011


I can't tell you how many times I've heard it said, or seen it in writing:  "That area should quit overpumping the groundwater" or something very similar. I'm sure you've heard it too.  Well, any area that has aquifer declines large enough to be that obvious is well beyond sustainable yield.  That's because the well development generally took place decades ago - before groundwater modeling that could predict these impacts became widely used.  In reality the true impacts of well development and groundwater pumping is initially masked and not at all obvious.  Due to the groundwater lag effect, it can take decades before the development starts to affect stream baseflows, which is one way the declines become noticed as serious.  I'd hazzard a guess that in most groundwater overdevelopment cases that are considered serious enough to address, it'd take a minimum of 40% less pumping to even make a dent - and remember, that's once the declines are discovered, quantified, and the permitting of new wells gets properly addressed - if it ever does.

If this is the case, you can see how difficult such a decision would be to any such area. If you can imagine the impact a 40, 50 or 60% reduction in water use within your City or County might have, then maybe you can be a bit more compassionate.  And if you can't imagine such an impact, then you have no business partaking in the discussions.  I can promise you, if it was that easy to do it'd have already been done.  It simply doesn't help to stand out there offering disparaging comments and acting judgmental and disappointed.

We're working on it.  I'd appreciate some honest, well intentioned help, or your quiet understanding.  My phone number is 785-462-3915.  Talk to me!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

How You Reduce Water Use Matters

Guess I have to hit this issue again because no action seems to be on anyone's planning calendar as of yet. 

The issue is the design of the Federal EQIP and AWEP programs which are supposed to be, in part, helping producers and states conserve water use.  They are doing OK - at least the way we're using them in Kansas, but they could be even better.

No one doubts the positive relationship between water application and crop production. Every Ag school in the nation produces crop production curves showing the normal yield associated with each additional inch of water made available to the crop - either by irrigation or by nature.  And all the curves look more or less the same - a steeper curve for the first 60-70% of the crop ET, then a flattening curve until it actually starts dropping when too much water is applied.  A grain crop production curve from Elsie, NE is provided above - click to enlarge.  Every crop in every climate has such a production curve.

If this is the case, it makes perfect sense that any decision to reduce water use in ag should reduce the least efficient water use from several users rather than the full water use from any user(s).  In other words, reducing 20% of water from 5 users will be the same amount of water reduction as reducing 1 water user fully (as long as they're all using the same amount) - but the former approach will yield more production at the end of the year than the latter.  This is because every inch of the reduced water in the first approach was being applied at the top of the production curve - when the crop's yield response is at its lowest.  There are actually other reasons such an approach is better economically, but not enough space to go into these now.  

Right now, EQIP and AWEP are only available to conserve water through the set aside of full water rights.  This, of course, is not as efficient a reduction of water use than if we could have more people involved in the reductions as suggested in the first approach.  I'll continue to work on NRCS to promote this relatively minor tweak in their programs.  I'd appreciate any help I can get because thus far they don't seem to be all that interested in this idea.

Again, we can conserve the same amount of water either way, but with more producers saving smaller amounts of water, our production levels are not reduced as much, and this is quite a bit better for the local economy.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The A,B,C's of Water Products - NOT...

I ran across a really interesting website on the psuedoscience of water - a listing of those water-related products that sound just scientific enough to catch your attention, but are hyped aggressively enough to catch a portion of your paycheck.  The website is hosted by Stephen Lower, a retired faculty member of the Dept of Chemistry, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby / Vancouver, Canada.  He just hates to see chemistry misused to fool or bilk folks.

One of my favorites is "Hexag0n Water" in the structured water section -- 
Hexag0n’s EC3000 Energy Converter is packed with bio-ceramic beads which emit FIR (Far Infrared Rays), a form of natural electromagnetic waves, that vibrate and energize the water, mimicking what happens when natural spring water splashes over rocks and natural magnetic fields.
There are plenty of examples - literally from A to Z.  If you need some lighter reading fare, give this page a look:  If you've bought any of these, you may want to ignore this website, or not...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

NW Kansas History of Note

It was Spring of 1902 and Cheyenne County farmers Daniel Berry and his family were having a tough go of things. They were in a spat with their neighbors to the East - Rawlins County rancher Chauncey Dewey and his family on the sprawling Oak Ranch.  There were claims of fencing each others' land, vandalizing wells, cutting fences, rustling cattle and allowing cattle to feed on crops.  Finally, Daniel Berry and his nephew were arrested and jailed on charges of assaulting Dewey workers.  Also, the Oak Ranch filed a suit against Daniel Berry over a property rights issue - and won.

On May 14, 1903 a notice of a public auction appeared in the paper to settle monetary claims against Daniel Berry - the auction to be held at his son's farm.  Up for auction were a 12-foot Goodhue windmill and a 15 barrel wooden stock tank.  As things would have it, Chauncey Dewey's men ended up buying the stock tank, for $5.00, and indicated that they would be by the next day to load it up.  The Dewey men were cussed out by the Berry's and Chauncey Dewey was called a "blue-bellied coward" as they left the farm auction.  

The next day Chauncey Dewey and 10 of his men set out to collect the water tank.  When they arrived, only Daniel Berry was on the place with his son's wife and children, but the Berry boys were not far and came in quickly when they saw the activity.  Tying up their horses and adjusting their gunbelts, they were crossing the yard when the shooting started.  No one knows who fired the first shot, but when it ended, 3 Berry's lay dead, and one seriously wounded.  The only Dewey casualty was one of their horses.  Of course, each claimed the other fired first, and this fact is disputed to this day.  The trial ended in an aquittal for Chauncey Dewey and two of his men, but years later (late 1920's) Chauncey lost a wrongful death suit and paid the Berry's $15,000.  Chauncey Dewey died in 1959 as an 81 year old, and Roy Berry, the wounded survivor died in the 1950's as well.

Some of the history books call this a "water rights" dispute, but it really wasn't. The only water-related elements were the early allegations of damaging stock wells and the fact that a windmill and a stock tank were the final fuses to this long-standing family feud.  Anyway, now you know.  

Friday, February 11, 2011

Egypt has Other Problems Looming...

It's hard not to be proud of the Egyptian people for their perserverence toward freedom. But as is too often the case, other also fundamental issues are yet to be faced.

And one big one will be a new apportionment of the Nile River. It all began when a 1929 treaty regarding the River was brokered by the country’s former colonial power, Britain. It granted Egypt a veto over any water project that may alter the flow of the Nile – by any country. A 1959 pact between Egypt and Sudan later claimed 90 percent of the Nile’s flow for themselves – while the remaining eight countries in the basin were not invited or involved. They are now, and they’re wanting their fair share of the Nile River. (click on map to enlarge)

Last year Congo and Burundi spearheaded the drafting of a Comprehensive Framework Agreement (CFA) addressing the most contentious issues of the Nile River – equitably allocating the sustainable annual river yield; fairly considering and approving new water and energy projects on the river by all countries; and the elimination of Egypt’s claimed veto authority. The accord has already been signed by Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, and is about to be signed by Congo and Burundi. Only upstream Eritrea has not been involved in the CFA to date.

Nearly all of Egypt’s water supplies come from the Nile, so the accord has serious implications for the country and its future water projects. They have opposed the CFA process and have threatened to withdraw from the Nile Basin Initiative (a World Bank funded program to resolve disputes over the river’s water) if the seven upstream states sign the accord.

The Nile River’s average discharge is about 300 million cubic meters per day - with Ethiopia being the source of about 85 percent of this water. The CFA countries argue that Egypt must share, and, must allow the other countries to develop water projects fairly. Solutions offered within the CFA involve relocation of the Aswan Dam, more efficiency of Egypt’s current water use and elimination of a large irrigation project for Egypt’s Tushka Desert – all saving enough water to provide the rest of the basin countries access to water they need without reducing what Egypt and Sudan are currently using.  I wish the Egyptian people also the strength and foresight to tackle their water problems as well.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Kansas Observation Well Network

Most don't know it but the Kansas Observation Well Network was redesigned in 1984 based on some pretty sophisticated statistical foundations.  The former network consisted of 1749 wells measured at least every Winter - with some being measured quarterly and a few being automatically recorded.  These 1749 wells had more or less been haphazardly added over time since the early 1940s - being added where there were holes in the network, but to no specific pattern.

Turns out, the pattern of well locations does impact the data to some degree, and haphazard is not good.  The original network of 1749 wells statistically gave us a standard average error of about 12 feet.  This was from the beginning considered good enough to at least spot trends in water table attitudes in decadal time frames. 

Kansas found that converting the haphazard pattern to a a hexagonal stratified pattern, the state could achieve the same standard average error with 1135 wells measured annually.  This allowed the state to choose between either operating the network at a reduced cost without sacrificing accuracy, or, improving the network accuracy considerably for the same cost.  Turns out they did both when they added wells very selectively (in previously scarce areas) and reduced the total measured wells.

This is not the whole story though. The size of the hexagonal cells is critical and dependent on the variability of the bedrock and water table data.  The more variable the data, the smaller the hex cells must be to achieve any desired accuracy.  In Kansas the bedrock is far more variable than the water table, so each had its own semivariogram generated.  The final cell size was a 16 square-mile hexagon.

Of course, today's debate is whether the 12 feet of standard average error is sufficient to describe our smaller enhanced management areas in shorter than decadal time frames. Of course it isn't, so we may soon be going back to the drawing board in places.  But it's nice to know we can design exactly what we need in terms of accuracy and be assured that it costs as little as possible.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Hydraulic Fracturing in Kansas

The process of hydraulic fracturing an oil or gas zone to enhance production has become a hot topic of late in many areas of the US that produce oil and gas. The Marcellus Shale regions of Pennsylvania and the gas producing areas of Wyoming and Colorado have been at the forefront of this controversial issue – over claims that 1) the process is affecting or can affect potable groundwater supplies, and 2) the use of freshwater in this process is a waste. It was a surprise to learn that an estimated 75% to 90% of the Kansas oil and gas production wells have undergone this process. In fact it was mentioned that the process here in Kansas has been used since the mid 1940’s and the very first well fracked in the US was done in state.

Hydraulic fracturing is a process of pumping sand and water (and a tad bit of other proprietary chemicals – mostly ethylene glycol based) into a tight production zone under pressure. The fracking materials fracture the producing horizon allowing the sand to enter and then prop open the fractured veins – thus increasing production. The proportion of chemicals used to the sand and water is small – usually on the order of 1% or less.

Like everything else, this process done correctly and in the right situations and places, is not likely to be an environmental problem. However, done incorrectly or in the wrong places or situations, it can be. Add to it the fact that the specific chemicals used, albeit small amounts, are proprietary (unknown to anyone but the company doing the work) and you can see why state regulatory agencies are snookered – there’s no way to associate or directly connect contaminated water to the fracking process. Another legal issue is that the oil and gas wells have been excluded from federal environmental laws like EPA’s Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).  On the bright side, all this activity in Kansas requires a water right - either permanent or term, and the state is not allowed to approve any water right for fresh water when other, lesser quality waters are available to be used.  Presumably this would find very small (if any) amounts of fresh water being used for fracking, or any other oil & gas purpose, in Kansas. (see update below)

It’s clear there is a significant economic benefit of using this process – and to eliminating it. Kansas claims oil and gas is a $4.5 billion dollar industry that would be not near as lucrative if the additional production from fracking processes were eliminated.  From my readings, it's clear that the economic prowess of these operations weigh heavily on every state when it starts considering additional regulation.  Of course, many are opposed to it on environmental arguments as well.

The sides are lining up in many states, but not here in Kansas it seems. To date there has been no significant or organized opposition to this process that I'm aware of. This is likely because either it is working well here, or, everyone in the state has been asleep at the switch. Not being aware of any insults in Kansas at this time, and knowing that not everyone is clueless, I have to conclude that our geologic conditions and fracking activities have been compatible. We have 1 oil and gas water right in this GMD that was approved from the brackish Dakota Aquifer many years ago for a secondary recovery water flood project. From my limited experience, it seems that the water quality aspects of the issue are working here as well.

Update - October 12, 2011:  As it turns out, no freshwater can be approved for use in Kansas when lesser quality waters are technologically and economically feasible.  As a result, freshwater is in fact being used in Kansas at this time for oil and gas industry uses.