Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What to Do?

As you can see I've resorted to my first, and hopefully only, poll (look to your right ->) to assess how much more I'm going to invest in this blogging effort. 

Go ahead and vote how you really think.  I'm pretty sure I'm not the most captivating writer out here in the blog-o-sphere, and judging from the comments and discussion these posts have generated over the months, I may even have no knowledge or information that anyone is particularly interested in.  If this is the case, I'd be happy to do us all a favor and move on.

Then again, it's entirely possible that information is good in and of itself, and requires no comment or further discussion to be valuable to anyone that happens by.  If this is the case, I'd also be happy to continue.  Anyway, consider giving me some feedback please.  The poll lasts only until April 15, so that should cover most of my occassional readers and perhaps 6 or 7 new visitors that even notice.

Kansas Well Records Available Online

In 1975 the Kansas Legislature required well drillers to complete a well completion form on every well they drilled - regardless of use.  These records were collected since that time and were available upon request, but really not all that available.  They eventually made their way to a computer data set which is now available online (here) within the Kansas Geological Survey website.

This is a searchable and interactive website on the 219,000 well records depository. You can return records by County, or PLSS legal description, which are then sortable by several fields.  The WWC-5 forms contain a lot of information including legal location, depth of well, well construction info, static water level, lithologic log and much more. They are individually scanned or PDF files, so if you're looking for a bunch of them, beware. 

If you're in the market for well info in Kansas, it's a good bet it's contained in this data base.   This material is also good if you're looking for probable well depths and/or static water levels for any particular area(s).  We use it quite a bit in helping the public with their groundwater queries.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

IRS Groundwater Depletion Allowance

Back in the 1960's a savvy Texas irrigator sued the IRS in order to claim a depletion allowance on his federal taxes for groundwater declines under his property.  He eventually won his suit and the IRS revised Section 611 of the Internal Revenue Code - dealing specifically with the Southern High Plains area of the Ogallala Aquifer (Texas and New Mexico) where natural recharge is scant at best.  This was Revised Ruling 65-296.

In 1973 three Kansas irrigators began claiming the same allowance, and ended up suing the IRS in 1978 after having been denied the claims.  They eventually won also, and the IRS revised the ruling again (82-214) for the rest of the Ogallala.

Basically to claim the deduction, you must show the IRS you own or have an economic interest in the land, the water table is declining due to its use, that recharge is negligbile or non-existent and that you have a cost in water that is devaluing as the groundwater depletes.  Practically, you need credible water level information for each year once you establish your cost in water for the land. 

I often wonder if the rulings have had any impact on groundwater use or conservation in the Ogallala.  The attorneys that litigated the Kansas case reported in 1980 that it could mean as much as $1 billion less tax burden to irrigators in Kansas alone - over the life of the aquifer.  Personally I don't think it is used all that much in NW Kansas - where the cost in water has always been harder to establish, and the declines less significant.  But where this is not true, I can see tax benefits to depleting the groundwater on schedule.

This'd be a good investigative report for some aspiring hydro-journalist some day.  I wonder how easy it would be to get a freedom of information request approved by the IRS for all such claimants by state?  Could be a very interesting study.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Extremes Make It...Well, Extreme

The law of statistics is the more data variability you have, the harder it is to describe.  And of course, the harder it is to describe, the harder it is to manage.

In our groundwater management district - all or parts of the 10 NW Kansas Counties (Map of KS GMDs) we seem to have quite a range of conditions to try and manage.  For example, our saturated thicknesses range from 0 feet to 210 feet of water - the average being about 75 feet.  The decline rates range from about 1.7 feet per year to rises of a few tenths of a foot per year - the average being .5 feet of decline per year.  Our Transmissivities range from about 8,000 gpd/ft to 125,000 gpd/ft - average is about 18,000 gpd/ft. 

We have areas of thick saturated thickness that are barely declining - all the way to thinner areas of saturated thickness that have higher decline rates.  Well development density is also all over the board, from Townships with one or two wells to one with 80 wells.  Bottom line is that everything we try to do we have to consider sliding scales, weighted formulas, or whatever it takes to make sure that management decisions don't under manage one area while over managing another.  The old saying that "One size doesn't fit all" is certainly true here.

Later I'll go into a bit more detail along these lines with some examples.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Thomas County, KS Index Well

TH Cty Index Well
The Edwards Aquifer Authority posts daily the water levels from 2 index wells they monitor, and 2 discharge rates from important springs in the district.  I enjoy these daily posts which show very short term trends that are important to the region.  These are posted on Twitter every morning for the previous day.  You can follow them, too, at:  Edwards Aquifer Authority Twitter Acct

Based on their lead, I've added a link to our index well on our web page here:
TH Cty Index Well Link  This is an interactive page that returns a graph and the raw data for any date range you want to look at.  The readings are taken every two hours, and began in June, 2008.  This page contains all 3 Kansas index wells - you'll find the Thomas County well information and data at the very bottom.

Below is the graph of water level elevations (in feet above sea level) for this well since it began operation.  (click on it to enlarge)  This index well is NOT an active irrigation well, and is located about 1/2 mile to 1 mile from all irrigation wells in the area.  It shows the classic curve of declining water levels in the Spring and Summer as irrigation is going on, and water level recovery back to the time the declines start again for the next irrigation season.  For this well, highest recovery levels are:  2975.7' in Mar 2008; 2975.1' in May 2009; 2976.2' in Apr 2010; and 2975.1' in Mar 2011.  This data shows a -.6' change (decline) from 2008 to 2009; a +1.1' (increase) from 2009 to 2010; and a -1.1' (decline) from 2010 to 2011 (the full -1.1 decline is not shown on graph , but has been measured since).  Bottom line from this data - this well has declined -.6' over the past 3 years.

The yellow dots are the actual measured water levels taken in early January each year which become the official water level measurements.  From this official data, this well changed -1.4' from 2008 to 2009; + 1.3' from 2009 to 2010; and - .75' from 2010 to 2011.  The directions are all consistent, but the sizes of the changes are different.

The regional irrigation wells, of which there are about 6, cumulatively affect the water levels at this point about 5-6 feet every year.  Of course, the pumping levels are lower yet as you get closer to the individual pumping wells.  In some cases, Mid-August pumping levels can be 50 - 70 feet lower than the static water levels of these heavily pumping irrigation wells.  You can also see that the water level impacts are much quicker than the recovery impacts.  This has to do with aquifer parameters, which affect pumping cones of depression, which influence water levels.

It is interesting that the lowest pumping levels over the past 3 years are increasing slightly, which may or may not mean good news, while the recovery levels (highest annual points) bounce around a bit.  It's important to understand that these highs represent actual physical recovery levels and not theoretical recovery levels.  We're finding that the recovery periods would continue past the start of the next irrigation season if allowed to do so, meaning the theoretical high points are being influenced by pumping.  The question is, to what degree?  Do we need to consider full recovery levels from year to year in order to more definitively describe what the water table is doing?  We're working a bit on projecting full recovery levels, but it's a lot of assumptions and statistics at this point in time.

What I like about this arrangement is that longer term trends can easily be looked at - as opposed to just today's data, yesterdays levels, and a comparison to the monthly average.  Oh, the hourly and daily variations are due to changing barometric pressures.  A low pressure regime will cause the water table to rise a few inches, while high pressure lowers the level a like amount.  We can see a 5-6 inch rise or decline over a days time due to pressure alone.  The real serious water level data in Kansas is further adjusted for barometric influences as well - where the regional pressures have been recorded and can be correlated.  I only wish we had a bunch more of these index wells logged.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Kansas Water Transfer Act

A water transfer in Kansas means the transportation of 2,000 AF or more per year for use at a point 35 miles or more away.  The act is administered by a Water Transfer Panel made up of the chief engineer, the secreatry of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Director of the Kansas Water Office - 3 state agency heads.  The chief engineer is the chair of the panel. 

Basic tenets are: 

1) No transfer can be approved that would reduce the amount of water required for present or any reasonably foreseeable future needs by users in the source area.  (Of course, there are exceptions, like if the panel thinks the benefits to the state for approving the transfer will outweigh the benefits to the state for not approving it; or, the panel says an emergency exists which affects the public health, safety or welfare; or, the governor declares an emergency affecting the public health, safety or welfare.)  

2)  No water transfer can happen: (1) If such transfer would impair water rights; and (2) if the transfer is for use by a public water supply, unless the panel determines that a conservation plan has been implemented by the applicant that meets state guidelines, has been in effect for a year or more, and implements a rate structure which encourages efficient water use.

3)  No transfer shall happen without an application and a public hearing.

4)  No transfer shall be exempt from complying with:  a) a GMD Management Program (so long as the program does not prohibit transfers out of the district; applies equally to users inside and outside a GMD; and does not discriminate against users outside a GMD); and b) the water appropriation act or the water plan storage act.

There are 9 elements the panel must consider when deciding if the benefits to the state for approving the transfer outweigh a no-transfer decision:  1) All current beneficial use(s) being made of the transferred water; 2) any reasonable future use of the water; 3) the economic, environmental, public health and welfare and other impacts of acting on the transfer; (4) alternative water sources available to the applicant; (5) the applicant's actions to preserve the quality and remediate any water contamination now available; 6) design, construction and operation of any works used to carry the water; 7) effectiveness of conservation plans implemented by the applicant; 8) conservation plans implemented by any persons protesting or potentially affected by the transfer; and 9) any applicable program, standard, policy or rule and regulation of a groundwater management district.

As you can see, there is considerable latitude given to the state panel in approving or disapproving water transfers.  And virtually everything is couched in terms of "what's best for the STATE".  Even the local GMD management plans must go along with transfers - at least they can't preclude them.  With few people, little political representation, relatively little money, an active water marketing system, and very little direct involvement in the process, can you see how skeptical the rural folks with water might be?
A common feeling is:  Why should we work at cutting water use back any amount when it's so easy for the state to transfer part or all of what we had been using out of our area for someone else's use?"  In these cases, it seems an active water market and a definitive transfer process become impediments to responsible management decisions.  I don't know if this is right or not, but it appears real.
In the process of developing the SD-6 HPA regulatory water use reductions, the first big concern/issue was proving that the water saved would stay local and be available to them or their descendants later.  Otherwise they would never have continued discussions.  There are likely few folks who will purposely scrabble and do with less water when the system can allow (or result) in their savings going somewhere else.  Not knowingly, anyway.  I wonder if this is an issue in other areas considering mandated water use reductions or active water marketing devices designed to re-allocate (reduce) water use?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Here We Go With the Generalizations - Again...

I wish folks could make it more clear in their writings on the Ogallala Aquifer of specifically where they are referring to.  Take the recent (March 15, 2011) article on the Ogallala - "The Next Oil", by Johnathan R. Grammer.  He spends a good deal of effort describing the entire Ogallala (all 8 states worth), and makes a few statements about the Ogallala in the Panhandle of Texas that easily could be true of anywhere in the aquifer.  Then he starts off a new paragraph that seems to be describing the entire Ogallala again:  

"..the Ogallala does not recharge. Simply stated, while most aquifers enjoy the benefit of "recharge zones" ... the same replenishment due the Ogallala is denied it either by evaporation or is diverted by the underground and surface geology. What results is a finite water supply much like an oil and gas reservoir. Once it is depleted, it is gone forever." 

What?  While he likely may be discussing smaller, isolated areas of the Ogallala in the Texas Panhandle, this certainly can't be true for the entire Ogallala.  But he says it is.  I happen to believe the Ogallala does recharge in Kansas - albeit a tad bit on the conservative side - but that water got there somehow.

" As a result [of no recharge], the Ogallala Aquifer has been depleted by crop irrigation and domestic use at a rate equaling 1.5 feet a year in some parts. Scientists have speculated, though, such a possibility represents a worst-case scenario, that the aquifer itself may be dry beyond utility within 25 years. Others have speculated that its supply will last for at least another 100 years."

Again, no inkling of where he is speaking, but his words say this is true of the entire Ogallala Aquifer.  Our portion of the aquifer in Graham County, KS is as full or fuller than it was in 1977.  There are even larger areas of our groundwater management district that have a solid 250 year life time projected.  In Nebraska there are large areas of the Ogallala that still have 1200 feet of water and are not declining.  This statement cannot apply to the entire aquifer.

While the Ogallala Aquifer does have its "OMG" overdrafted areas, and there are eye-opening overdrafts in many other areas of the aquifer in virtually every state, you simply cannot describe the entire aquifer in such sweeping terms.  And the range of conditions that exist make average values just about as useless as well.  Our average Ogallala decline rate in GMD 4 is .5 feet per year, but we range from almost 2 feet/yr to areas that are not declining at all. 

And the consequence of this is?  I was on #agchat tonight (topic was "water") and the following conversation came up regarding the declining Ogallala:

She:  "A friend & cotton farmer on the TX High Plains had CNN out on his place today."

He:  "Do you know what the CNN story is concerning? Thanks!"

She:  "yes, its on the Ogallala aquifer. what's happening with that water table, what farmers are doing."

The press has been focused of late on Happy, TX, a place smack dab in the middle of the most serious decline area of the Southern High Plains Aquifer in Texas.  See here;  and here; and here.  No doubt the CNN crew was also interested in this region.  These articles all read like the entire Ogallala does not recharge at all; and is dropping so fast there may be only 10 years of pumping left.  Doesn't it sound like this is what the agchatter took away from her sources?

The USGS Says:  "The areas of significant water-level declines are not common to the entire region. In fact, the area of the greatest water-level declines (25 feet to more than 150 feet) is focused in...15 percent of the entire High Plains aquifer area."  (USGS Circular 1243, 2004)

Total water in storage in 2005 was about 2,925 million acre-feet, which was a decline of about 253 million acre-feet (or 9 percent) since predevelopment. (USGS Fact Sheet 2007-3029 by V.L. Mcguire)

While the Happy, Texas area has obviously taken a considerable amount of water from the aquifer in their specific area, a 9% depletion since pre-development (1950 in most cases) does not sound like the end of the world for most of the remaining aquifer area to me.  Indicative of a serious problem - Yes, but immediate disaster - No.  Future articles written I hope are situated and qualified better.  These writers all need to be aware that many non-Texas folks are reading this material too, and need more accurate and less sensational material.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Way I Figure it...

Much has been argued about the water budget for ethanol production.  The industry argues that it's not that bad - a mere 3 to 4 gallons of water for every gallon of ethanol.  Well, like everything else, it depends on what you account for.  The way I figure it...

Corn in our area (Northwest Kansas) will take an average of 150 AF of water to grow an average of 225 bushels on a 120 acre circle - a very typical arrangement - here.  But only about 80% of that pumped water is consumed in the growing process (the rest returns to the aquifer system - yes, this is the consumptive water use mantra AGAIN!!)  This means that 48,877,650 gallons of water are pumped, of which 39,102,120 gallons are used.  With our average yields of 225 bushels of corn per acre, this means that 27,000 bushels of corn are produced for the 39,102,120 gallons of water.  This is 1,448 gallons of water for each bushel of corn.

The industry reports about 2.75 gallons of ethanol are produced by each bushel of corn, meaning that it takes .36 bushels of corn to produce each gallon of ethanol.  This means that it takes about 525 gallons of water to grow the .36 bushel of corn it takes to make 1 gallon of ethanol. 

Our local ethanol plant here in NW Kansas is efficient and uses 3.6 gallons of water in its process to make each gallon of ethanol.  This means it takes about 150 times the amount of water to grow the corn it takes to make 1 gallon of ethanol than it does to process that .36 bushel of corn into ethanol.

However, one has to ask whether or not the corn would be grown if ethanol were not being produced?  Probably a very high percentage of it would be, so what's the difference?  Moreover, even if no corn would be grown, it's just as likely that some other irrigated crop would be grown with the same water.  Again, what's the difference?  So, while I personally think the water use needed in corn production for ethanol is significant, I'm also thinking that ethanol is NOT the cause of our water dilemmas here in GMD 4.  We had regulations in place before the ethanol push, so no new land and water use came into production because of the push.  It's the new irrigated land that would have made our water supply problems worse.  Of course, it didn't help matters much, either. 

I guess what I'm saying is, if you're concerned about the water use associated with ethanol, the only way to truely save this water would be to revert these irrigated corn acres being used for ethanol back to dry land production.  I'm also saying that this is highly unlikely to happen, so maybe the chore of figuring water use is pretty pointless.  But it does bother me a bit to listen to the pro and anti ethanol factions discuss water use numbers that are so very far apart. And it confuses everyone who is trying to understand the issues.

Yeah, I know the real water footprint of ethanol production is even more complicated than this, but it seems to me to be an unsolvable argument when no one has any idea what the production choices will actually be otherwise.  These new production choices will be the key to making our water supply problems better or worse, and they'll vary from place to place based on local economics and regulations.

Friday, March 18, 2011

NW Kansas (Ogallala) Hydrology 101

Basically an aquifer is any underground formation that stores and can transmit pore water to a well in volumes that can be used. In nature, aquifers come in all shapes and sizes and usefulness. They can consist of fractured shales that yield just a few gallons per minute or day, to productive gravels that can yield multi-thousands of gallons per minute. Here in NW Kansas, our Ogallala Aquifer is middle of the road when compared to the possibility of aquifer extremes.

It’s also important to understand that even within a single aquifer, there easily can be considerable variability due to the aquifer make-up itself – how it was deposited, what materials it is made up of, how much cementing has occurred, how thick it is, how well or poorly sorted it is – you get the idea. Remember, groundwater exists in the relatively minute pores in between the aquifer material. Usually only 10% - 25% of a non-artesian aquifer’s saturated volume is water, and rarely is an entire non-artesian aquifer fully saturated. All this to make the point that a volume of water taken out of an aquifer will cause a water table decline that appears much larger.

It’s also possible that the aquifer characteristics change with depth. If they do, taking out a specific volume of water year after year (in a declining situation) will likely result in different rates of decline as different sections of the aquifer are dewatered. Add to this dynamic the variations from year to year in how much natural recharge is taking place from precipitation, underflows and/or leakage from other aquifers both above and below and you can see that it's no simple task to correlate withdrawals with changes in aquifer levels.

And what makes the system work? Gravity. The land surface, aquifer and water table in our NW Kansas portion of the Ogallala are all tilted slightly to the East. This means the groundwater elevation West of Colby is higher than it is to the East. This gradient – usually about 10 - 15 feet per mile – means the water is naturally moving through the aquifer pore spaces to the East (down gradient). The rate of this flow is dependent on the gradient and the interconnectedness of the aquifer pores – the steeper the slope and the more interconnected the pores are, the faster the flow rate. At our natural slope, our groundwater is moving about 75 feet per year. It’s our situation - small and fairly restricted connectivity between pore spaces and a relatively flat gradient - that dictate well yields, the size and shape of pumping cones, how fast the system flushes and how long contamination persists.

I hope this fairly general description has been helpful. If there are other aspects of groundwater hydrology you’d like to know about, don’t hesitate to ask.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Kansas Water Right Overpump Policy

Every water right in Kansas is limited to a maximum amount of water per year - depending on what the intended use is and how much was certified through actual use during the right's perfection period.  There are other limitations, too, but my point here is only so much water is authorized to be pumped in any calendar year.  So, what happens if the water right is overpumped?

Well, as it turns out there is a progression of penalties for overpumping, which are:

1st offense:  The state regulatory agency - Division of Water Resources (DWR) - will send out a notice of noncompliance, stating that your authorized quantity was exceeded. This notice is permanently placed in the action trail of the water right.

2nd offense:  DWR can issue a fine up to $500 and reduce your water right the following year by the same amount you overpumped. 

3rd offense:  DWR can issue a fine up to $500 a day for each day you overpumped, and reduce the right the following year by twice the amount overpumped. 

4th offense:  Could result in a one year suspension of the water right, which means you will not be able to use that authorization at all the following year.

5th offense: The water right could be revoked.

A couple of points need to be made here.  First, while it appears that this is a 3-5 year process before the real regulation hits, it isn't necessarily so.  The procedure is designed so that each "next offense" can occur the next week in the same year if the overpumping continues.  So, if you're notified that you've overpumped, you need to stop pumping right then.  Secondly, every well is metered, and the operation of the flow meter is very important - so maintain it well.  Thirdly, this procedure applies whether you overpump by 1 AF or 100 AF.  Monitor your water use closely if you're approaching your annual appropriation limit.  Questions?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

GMD 4 Rain - Pumping - Water Table Relationship

I continue to be struck by the simplicity of the water use patterns inside our groundwater management district.  The graph included (click on it to enlarge) shows 3 graphed data sets from roughly 1980 through 2002 - average in-season rainfall; reported groundwater pumped; and water level change.  (We used only the data from the late 1980s forward for reported water use - when our reporting process was enhanced significantly.)

When the rains come, the pumpage drops and the water table change is mitigated.  And of course, the opposite is true as well.  A really good example of inversely related data sets.  Now, if we could only get it to rain more...

One of these days I'm going to update this graph because it's so instructional.  You should note also the three trend lines included on the graph.  While the in-season rainfall and the water level change trend lines are relatively flat, the reported pumped water trend line is decidedly downsloping. 

Why, you ask, should the water level change line NOT be upward sloping if less water is getting pumped?  It's because consumptive use drives the water level changes.  While pumped water is actually declining due largely to irrigation efficiency improvements, the consumptive use of the reduced water pumped has held more or less steady.  To affect the water level change trend line, we need to reduce consumptive water use - or, make it rain more.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

CO2 Sequestration in Kansas? Good Idea or Bad?

Just over 3,000 feet below the South Central Kansas landscape and capped by up to hundreds and hundreds of feet of Permian evaporites there is a study on-going by the Kansas Geological Survey (KGS) and others to assess the potential for CO2 sequestration in the depleting oil and gas formations of the Arbuckle Group.  Not only will the extensive and relatively thick formations be looked at as the possible storage vessel for manmade sources of CO2 for the mitigation of climate change, but the injections could also squeeze the last vestiges of oil and gas from within - a win-win situation - if all goes well.

KGS is working primarily from $9.9 million in grants from the Department of Energy on this $12.6 million project - slated to be done in December, 2012.  No injections will be made as this study is simply to assess the potential to use these formations if US policy embraces underground CO2 sequestration.  KGS seems to think there is a 600 year storage capacity here, and a good industry could be generated by this situation.  Several issues are under the gun, though:  Who owns the pore spaces in these deep formations?  How much CO2 can be stored within?  Will it stay contained over time?  Will it be an effective enhanced oil recovery process?  What chemical and physical reactions can we expect?  How will injected material attenuate over space and time?  And the list goes on.

The study materials are all neatly located on the KGS website for this project at this link.  Warning:  A close look at this site is NOT for the timid. There is a lot of material - technical and otherwise. Quite frankly, I was surprised to learn about the on-going and planned CO2 sequestration projects worldwide - and much more about the issues - international and domestic.  This site is worth some time if you have any interest at all. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Future of Prior Appropriation?

A report by the Environmental Law Institute: Western Water in the 21st Century – Policies and Programs that Stretch Supplies in a Prior Appropriation World - was released June, 2009 and says that prior appropriation state laws need to do some things to soften the added pressures their laws are expected to feel as supplies shrink and demand increases.  Basically two things:  Reduce disincentives to sustainability; and enhance market incentives to sustainability.  To reduce disincentives it lists a number of issues including:  addrerss the no forfeiture laws; address instream flow rights; embrace water banks; more water storage (especially groundwater); and a few more.

Market incentives to sustainability include allowing the use of conserved water and dealing with a robust water transfer processes that is expedited, protects third parties and is more generally more flexible.

The report also says that prior appropriation state laws have been fortunate enough to have survived earlier difficult times through "..deep-rooted entrenchment in practice and law..”.  The author (Adam Schempp) says this like shallower, less substantial laws would have been better?  And even if states do implement these recommendations (assuming none have them implemented already) what state is not going to try and deep-root these in practice as well? 

I was interested in this report in light of the new conservation ideas Kansas has been discussing of late - a replacement Water Rights Conservation Program (WRCP); a new, statutory Conservation use type; and a few others.  Our GMD 4 new conservation ideas clearly address some of these recommendations, but not all of them.  For this reason I’m not sure I agree with the report relative to all their recommendations, because I think Kansas is close to getting it right – at least in terms of what our conservation needs are.

It is possible that the author has a different concept of conservation, however.  The report says it offers its recommendations to “..lead to more efficient, adaptive, or sustainable water use decisions.”  Without definitions of efficient, adaptive and sustainable, it's hard to tell what the institute is really trying to convey.  Anyway, the full report is available on line at the ELI Website.  It's a compact 82 page report that gives specific examples from the following states:  AZ, CA, CO, ID, MT, NM, NV, OR, TX, UT, and WA.

Friday, March 4, 2011

National Yield Contests

Is it just me, or are the national yield contests sending the wrong message?  Let's talk corn. 

I know corn yield contests are supposed to be about increasing production to feed a hungry world, but they can also push input limits - fertilizers, micro nutrients, water - to the max as well.  In every case, promoting the elusive 400 bushel per acre corn yield can be considerably input (water) intensive.   I also know there are a number of classes in the contest, including non-irrigated - and this is fine.  In 2008 over 6,000 participants were in the national corn growing contest - pushing their production skills to the limit.  And 2010 was the 49th year of the contest.

Most ag schools will tell you that maximum yield rarely (if ever) provides the producer the best net returns.  Like yield's response to water being curvilinear toward the top end, (See earlier irrigation post) yield response to fertilizer and all other inputs is the same.  It simply ends up costing the producer more in inputs than the last few bushels of grain are worth - thus lowering net returns.  Unfortunately, yield contests are all about top production - regardless.

In 2010 the irrigated class was consistently above 300 bushels per acre yield.  But I noted that all but a few of the top irrigated producers were from Texas and Colorado - dry climate states.  The top 2010 irrigated producer managed 368 bushels per acre from a Virginia farm. 

Maybe it's time we start thinking about the input side of crop production in a contest form.  Maybe the contest should be about crop yield efficiency - the highest yield with the least amount of inputs - especially water.  Classes within the National Corm Yield Contest for limited irrigation would do this - it'd be a start, at least.  When water gets really limited, it'll all be about growing maximum bushels with minimum water anyway, so maybe we should be pushing these frontiers a bit more now.  And maybe I'm all wet, too.  Comments?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Always Amazed!

I am always amazed at how many folks out there manage to stumble upon the lowliest water blog of them all - mine.  Our blog "Wisdom in Water, please.."  was originally intended to be a journal of GMD 4 activities as we scrabble through the enhanced management process in our high priority areas - breaking new ground with almost every step.  But I have to admit, this process doesn't move quite fast enough to captivate much interest, so, I've branched off and have been blogging on other items as well.

Our blog was getting about 15 visits per day, but over the past weeks our traffic has increased to about 30 visits per day.  To all the folks that come in, I want to express my appreciation.  I hope a few of you are gaining some additional knowledge you didn't have before you stopped. 

I do like the Visitors gadget I have to admit.  It grows a bit every day, with this one being today's cummulative tally - since Decembr 8 when I added it.  I am intrigued by the lone visitor from the area east of Madagascar, though.  Yeah, the one about a thousand miles east.  I'm not sure if that red dot covers one of the Mauritius Islands, happens to be someone linking in from a sailing vessel, or, is just a porpoise with an iPad, but it looks interesting none-the-less.  With my luck it's from a misplaced band of Somoli pirates looking for information about my next Indian Ocean excursion!  In any event, if you have suggestions about other water-related issues I should be blogging about, let me know.  Thanks again.