Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The High Plains Water District in Lubbock, TX is proposing some new rule changes in order to meet their new, "50/50" management goal - having 50% of their 2010 saturated thickness available for use in 2060.  And this goal comes from the much heralded Regional Water Planning Group process on-going all over Texas for the past 6 years or so. 

The district is proposing:  a 15 inch per acre allocation for all irrigation wells; designating areas declining faster than 4 feet in the last 5 years as high decline areas - with these areas being reduced an additional 5% in every year the water table declines exceed the allowable rate; mandatory metering; and a new, non-exempt well moratorium in high decline areas declining 4 feet per year or more.

Sound familiar?  This is eerily similar to what we have been working on in the SD-6 High Priority Area for the past several years, although the numbers and triggers are quite different.  I was hit also by the public comments provided by the Texas producers.  Quite frankly, sounds to me like the SD-6 folks were in attendance.  Some of the Texas comments (from the April, 2011 Cross Section) were:

“You got our attention…now step back and be reasonable.”

“I think the district should slow down and develop good rules, and consider the intended and unintended consequences. Allow us to learn how to apply the requirements before regulation.”

“We can pay now or pay later—but we are going to have to start paying toward water conservation if we’re
to pass anything on to the future... We’ve got to start controlling abuse of the natural resource.”

“Water banking is a good idea. If we put on 15 inches in a season and need two more inches to finish
a good crop but can’t because of restrictions and then lose the crop, that’s not efficient water use at all.”

“Treat everyone equally. Don’t punish the high decline areas when everyone in the district should conserve water as well!”

"The High Plains Water District plays an important role in water policy for this region. And while you may not agree with what is being presented here today, it is probably best to have local control rather than state or federal control of groundwater,”

“Farming is a free-enterprise, private property right. We bought the land, we know the risks, and should be allowed to pump as much water as we want. Otherwise, these rules amount to condemnation without compensation.”

"Consider a CRP program for water and pay producers not to pump for 50 years. Water is a commodity just like all the others.”

“I hate that the water situation has come to this point. I hope and pray that we can work something out that
will benefit all.”

Yep, we've heard these same comments (and more) in our SD-6 deliberations.  Generally, I think the SD-6 program is triggered earlier and is more restrictive, but it affects smaller areas of the district than does the Texas approach.  One of the take-aways of this process by the water district is the realization that the regulated public is not familiar enough with the rule making process - and this has been an issue.  Now that I think about it, this has been the case in our area as well.  I don't know what the High Plains District did in the way of PR in advance of their efforts, but I am positive our approach has been exceedingly open and well publicized.  I'll be watching their process closely.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Only In The Dry West

Mostly when people and political factions discuss breaching a dam it is for fish or wildlife reasons - or their habitats and ability to survive.  Then there are the Bonny Reservoir discussions in NE Colorado - draining the lake to mitigate Republican River Compact issues. 

Bonny Reservoir was filled in 1951.  Today it is at it's lowest elevation since that time. During the last eight years it has averaged about a two and a half foot drop each year.  And this has been inspite of efforts at water conservation including a FY 07-08 effort to remove tamarisk trees from the park to increase base flows. 

One of Colorado's options under the Republican River Compact Settlement Stipulation is to drain Bonny Reservoir and return this portion of the Republican River back to it's natutral flow state.  Just having Bonny in place puts a significant draw on their compact account due to its natural evaporation.  There are other options, too, like reducing irrigated acres that are in the area - the irrigation of which is intercepting groundwater movements that would otherwise contribute to base flows; augmenting the intercepted groundwater with other sources; and a few others.  Farmers in the area are urging the drainage of Bonny to reduce the number of wells that will have to be shut off to comply with the compact.  The lake users are asking for any other resolution that retains the lake operation that is important to them.

It's Colorado's decision how they will come back into compliance with the compact, but it's no simple answer no matter how they look at it.  Some would say the groundwater use is ultimately the cause of the compact shortfalls so why are the surface water users having to pay the price?  And Bonny always has been a good idea for the fish and wildlife and recreational uses of NE Colorado.  It may come down to who has the most political sway and can back up their points with economic bracing.  It is expected that the Colorado Division of Wildlife and Parks will recommend the lake be drained.  We'll all have to wait and see.

And most don't realize the choice of draining Bonny is not as easily done as said.  It is a federal dam, and Kansas wants it completely removed for compact compliance - arguing that any vestage of the structure will act as a dam of sorts.  Of course, Bonny was approved with flood control as one of it's multiple uses, so some structure has to remain as long as that purpose remains.  Colorado is also receiving some federal funds to keep the associated park up and running, which depends on the reservoir and fishing.  These funds will be lost if the lake is drained and the park is eliminated.  It looks like to me this is coming down to a fiscal issue for Colorado - how to provide Kansas its water at as little cost to the state as possible.  Could be wrong, tho...

Friday, April 22, 2011

Dewponds, Of All Things

Sussex Dewpond
If you've been to our webpage you likely know I collect water quotes, poetic verses and other sayings about water - be they rivers, groundwater, lakes, rain, oceans, etc. (GMD4 Quotes Link).  I was playing a Twitter-based word game the other day and one of the players used a quote from the Rudyard Kipling poem "Sussex" that caught my attention.  I discussed this verse with him a bit and ended up reading the full poem just to place his quote in context.  Lo and behold I found a water verse that spoke "groundwater" to me.  It is:

"We have no waters to delight
Our broad and brookless vales—
Only the dewpond on the height
Unfed, that never fails—"

My Twitter game friend, who lives in Gothenburg, Sweden, is actually English and as a boy lived in Sussex.  When I told him of my find and that I had posted it on my website, he kindly offered up more information.  He wrote me:

"Sussex is crossed east to west by a chain of chalk hills, the South Downs. The chalk was laid down at the bottom of an ancient sea and the lines of the Downs roll just like a frozen seaswell, which gives us our "broad ... vales". (Also "Our blunt, bow-headed, whale backed Downs".) When it rains, of course, the rainwater soaks straight into the chalk, hence "no waters to delight Our ... brookless vales". There are, though, plenty of springs and streams around the edges of the Downs where the rainwater absorbed by the chalk meets the underlying impermeable clay and emerges to water the Weald (which is the big valley north of the South Downs), and Sussex itself is crossed by a number of rivers that have cut through the chalk.

However, here and there on the Downs you find mysterious ponds. High up in the hills, well above the margin where the Wealden springs emerge, but always in grassy dells, they are not obviously fed either by streams, springs or even rainfall, so local tradition decided they must be places where dew collected - hence "dewponds".  When Kipling writes "the dewpond ... that never fails" he's repeating the tradition but in fact they do fail - in the sense dry out from time to time - though magically reappearing again in the same spot.  

At school I was taught that, in these spots, a dip in the chalk matched an irregularity in the underlying clay so that the chalk dipped below the top of the watertable. The dewponds grew or shrank and disappeared depending on the quantity of water in the watertable.  I was never entirely satisfied with that explanation because there are also plenty of places in the Downs (locally called Dykes or Ghylls) where the chalk dips much further down, but where no dewponds form. And now I find (thank you, Wikipedia!) dewponds are actually man-made, specifically to hold water for farm animals. They can be ancient, though, and there doesn't seem any consensus on where the water comes from that fills them, or why it doesn't evaporate as quickly as conventional wisdom says it should. Perhaps there's something magic about the dewponds after all."

On further investigation, I find also that the dewponds are in fact man-made, and the source of water is NOT groundwater, (as John so observantly questioned) but surface drainage water.  One trick to placement of these ponds is a very subtle (gradual) drainage area of just the right size. In the "old days" a team of oxen pulling a broad-wheeled cart would begin circling the perimeter of the future pond, crushing the chalk which was wet down.  After nearly a day of circling, there was enough chalk dust and moisture in the depression (the consistency of thick paste) to trowel out like concrete.  When dried out, it would hold water as well as the Clampett's "cement pond" - normally for cattle or sheep.

Just goes to show you - you learn something every day!  And a huge "Thank You" to John from Sweden.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

New Ogallala Study Starting Up

A four-year, $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation has been provided to Kansas University and $1.2 million to Michigan State University to co-study and clarify the future prospects of the Ogallala (links are press releases by both schools on this study).

It is no secret that total pumping from the aquifer many times exceeds recharge - even though these imbalances vary quite a bit from area to area within all of the states.  Irrigation is the support for one of the most abundant agricultural zones in the world, producing alfalfa, corn, sorghum, soybean, cotton, sunflowers and wheat, in addition to supplying water for numerous, and in some cases, very large feedlots.

The study is designed to look at not only the hydrologic aspects of the aquifer, but also economic and environmental factors.  A number of short and long-term scenarios from hydrological and socioeconomic perspectives will be explored hoping to answer questions about what the effect climate change and land-use changes might also have on the aquifer.  And even how the water users themselves may respond to changes in technology, economics the climate and declining water levels.

Kind of sounds like a repeat (but on a much larger scale) of the hydrologic and economic modeling we're already doing for our portion of the aquifer, but which is currently stalled due to funding issues.  I wish them luck and will be interested in their results.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Small Use Applications in GMD 4

Up until 2006 new groundwater rights for small, non-domestic uses in closed or over-appropriated areas were exempt in all of Kansas.  The amounts varied, in some places applications for 25 AF or less were exempt, and in other places the limit may have been 15 AF, but you could always count on a small use application getting approved under the combination of state and/or local rules.

GMD 4 was the first entity in Kansas to eliminate this practice.  Today, the only way to get a new, small use groundwater right of 15 AF or less in GMD 4 is by having the water you are applying for (plus the consumptive use conversion quantity) dismissed by some other water right owner within 2 miles of your proposed well.  No other location in the state has such a regulation requiring such an offset.  The board's thinking in requesting this new regulation was that "closed" meant "closed".  The regulation is KAR 5-24-10 and only applies to GMD 4.

In addition, the new water right is actually a new water right.  It becomes a brand new priority and must be certified again through actual use rather than retaining the original priority of the water use. When looked at in its entirety, this new regulation is a fairly significant change.  

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Phreatophytes - Control 'em Or Not!

Another one of those "I wish I knew" issues.  Phreatophyte control is an "on again, off again" water management issue that keeps popping up in the West.  It started in the 1940's, peaked again in the late 1960's and is resurging again in the mid-2000's.  It's always a question of water supply, riparian habitat and aquatic species impacts - usually in that order.

No one doubts that  these trees, which are deep rooted, can and do use groundwater.  In Kansas these tree species mainly include Tamarisk, Cottonwood, Russian Olive and Willow.  How much water they use is not all that much at issue either - it's considered from hearty to prodigious.  What is not clearly understood is their real impacts on the base flows of adjacent creeks, streams and rivers.

Many reports say their impact on baseflows is significant.  Many others say not so.  Most reports I have reviewed start with the assumption that they do affect baseflows, then work all kinds of magic with ET numbers to quantify that impact and conclude that eradication will subsequently free up X thousand acrefeet of water per year for other uses.  A few reports consider the replacement growth's ET requirements and moderate the saved water numbers in various degrees - all the way to no net increase in baseflow at all.  I found one report that says the impact on adjacent drainage baseflows depends on the nature of the creek and it's contribution drainage area - in cases where baseflow is a small component of streamflow, large-scale phreatophyte clearing in combination with sound range management will not lead to any increases in streamflow.  This of course, implies that where these conditions are not the case...

I will admit the majority of reports are in the camp of "..clear the water-robbing suckers out of the way, man..", but I'm not so sure.  It is an expensive procedure that requires a lot of maintenace and follow-up for a long time.  I guess I'm looking for the definitive compendium on phreatophytes, water supply, species impacts and habitat changes associated with this practice - taking into account the various climate regions, soil regimes, runoff ranges and whatever else is likely to affect these relationships.

BTW, this is another of the water conservation efforts Nebraska is proposing to do in the Republican River Compact area to placate Kansas. 'nuf said.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Supreme Court Agrees to Hear KS Case

A U.S. Supreme Court decision last week will reopen a Kansas lawsuit against Nebraska on the Republican River.  At issue is the water use by Nebraska can and has exceeded the compact  - particularly in 2005 and 2006.  Kansas is arguing that Nebraska has not done enough to reduce its water use to stay within the compact every year.  Kansas agrees the compact has been met in the last 3 years, but only because of very wet conditions and lower irrigation demand.  In 2005 and 2006 the compact was exceeded, and it will be again as soon as normal or drier conditions return.

Meanwhile, Nebraska continues to implement water conservation efforts.  One example is the use of soil moisture sensors in the Lower Republican Natural Resource District (LRNRD) where it's been reported that 300 sets of these sensors have been sold so far - through a $780,000.00 cost-share program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative and the LRNRD. 

Soil moisture sensors can be used for several purposes.  One use is that they will tell the irrigators to stop pumping when their irrigation water gets to the bottom of the crop root zone, with the thinking that the extra water they had been applying (before the sensors) will be saved.  They can also be used to manage deficit irrigation water very accurately.  The problem is that the first use does not reduce consumptive water use while the second use will - to some degree.

In all fairness, Nebraska is implementing other conservation efforts as well - in various locations up and down the Republican River - and some of it designed to reduce consumptive water use.  I think Kansas' issue is not that nothing is being done, but that not enough real water conservation is being done compared to the possible Compact exceedences. 

In Compact compliance issues, the only relevent number is the consumptive use of the Nebraska irrigators.    Eliminating the inefficient water use = recharge (first use of soil moisture sensors) does not lessen the water being used by the crops.  The second use, will - depending on how much deficit irrigation takes place or is required.  I'm certain the Supreme Court will be aware of water conservation efforts that work for Compact compliance and those that don't.

Friday, April 15, 2011

All The Trends Are Right, But...

I've just updated a suite of data sets I have been keeping for about 30 years on GMD things - like water appropriated, decline rates, new water rights filed, etc.  While most of the trends are just the way we'd like to see them, the bottom line is that they are not steep enough to make a lot of difference.  I guess the good news is the problems are not getting any worse.  For all these charts, keep in mind that the district was formed in 1976, hired staff in early 1977 and got it's initial management program approved in 1978.

New Water Rights Filed:  This graph shows how quickly we got the excessive trend of new water rights under control.  What you don't see on this graph is that since about 1990 most of the new water rights were very small appropriations compared to before that time, so while we may have approved 4 new rights in 2009 for instance, the total quantity of new appropriations (water) those rights represent is quite small - especially when compared to 4 water rights that were approved in say, 1980.  You also don't see how many water rights are being removed from the system. There is a net reduction in appropriated water rights regardless of the new rights coming on line of late as we'll see below.

Appropriated vs. Pumped Acrefeet:  The fact that appropriated acrefeet are trending downward is good but it is not a steep trend.  Appropriated acrefeet are lost by certifications, abandoned/forfeited water rights or voluntary reductions/closures.  The annually pumped water is highly climate dependent and does bounce around a bit, but the longer term trend is positive (lowering) as well.

Irrigated Acres, Inseason Rainfall, Pumped Acrefeet:  Again, we see the in season rainfall trend line (blue) essentially level while the pumped water trend line (green) trending slightly downward.  This graph also shows the high correlation between in season rainfall and water pumped.  Unfortunately, the cumulative decline line (bottom line) is not reflecting all of the positive trends, albeit slow ones, which we had hoped it would.  It seems to be stuck on its inexorable downward trend.

Several things could be at work here.  Maybe all the trends are in fact short term trends and/or are not really real enough (significant enough) to affect the bottom line.  Maybe there is a lag time and we'll start seeing the positive effects of all these good trends in the near future.  Maybe the aquifer parameters are changing with depth more significantly than the reduced water use is slowing the decline rate.  It is also possible our observation well measurements aren't what they should be - I've covered that  in an earlier post.  And finally, maybe the reductions of pumping have been solely the result of water use efficiency improvements, and the consumptive water use (which is the only cause of changes in aquifer storage) has actually not changed at all.  And just maybe it's all of these things happening simultaneously.  One thing is clear - the decline problem is far more complex than most realize, and really understanding it starts with being able to measure it way better than we can now.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Thomas County Kansas - March 12, 1885

A bit more NW Kansas history.  I ran across a copy of the March 12, 1885 edition of the Thomas County Cat - the first newspaper in the County, and incidentally, the first edition of the paper.  The County was created in 1873, but did not petition for County status until the Summer of 1885 when the population began to expand.  The January, 1885 population was 161 hearty folks. By October of the same year, the population was declared to be 1,900.  Based on this growth and positive future, the residents petitioned for a separate County organization and on October 8, 1885 Kansas Governor Martin proclaimed it official, Thomas County was established.  Back to the Cat.

The first edition of the Cat was published before it was an official County.  It reports that a townsite (that would likely become the County seat) was under planning near the center of the area and would be named Colby.  Oddly, this site was some 20 miles North of the established railroad at that time in Monument, Kansas.  In reading the paper, I was struck as to how many references there were to water, creeks and wells - at least 20 on the first page alone.  These words go to great length to describe every creek in the County, and most of the wells that already existed - by owner and depth to water.  In describing the future town site, it says:

...a townsite has been located 2 1/2 miles north of the Colby postoffice, on the Priaire Dog, and the name proposed for the new town is Colby. Water can be obtained on the new town site at a depth of 50 feet.
In reading the front page I also learn that M. Woodcock and his son-in-law are engaged in boring wells; the postmaster at Streator grows corn and has a fine well 80 feet deep; Charles Cooper and Almond Vincent are engaged in boring wells and are setting up to market windmills; Martin Williams' well is only 17 feet deep; William Reed's well is 110 feet deep; Charlie Coover's well is 66 feet deep; Henry Kneudsen raised 120 bushels of onions and 200 bushels of potatoes and only irrigated his garden twice from his windmill; The Bohemian John (can't read last name) has a well 66 feet deep; plenty of good water is available by digging from 40 to 140 feet deep; and stock of all kinds do fine, but have to be watered at a well.

Fair to say that water has always been pretty important in Thomas County, Kansas.  Oh, and if you're curious, a well today in Colby would find the water table somewhere near 140 feet deep.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

PSSST..! It Could be the PST

PST stands for Practical Saturated Thickness - which differs from true saturated thickness.  It actually is pretty important in aquifers or aquifer sections that display a wide variability in storage coefficient and transmissivity.

According to the Kansas Geological Survey, who is doing a study on behalf of the Southwest Kansas GMD 3:
The PST considers only the net thickness of saturated sediments that significantly contribute to well yield from the water table down to the bedrock surface and differs from the saturated thickness (ST), which is the total thickness of saturated sediments between the water table and the bedrock surface. Thus, PST provides a more accurate picture of water availability and may also provide insight into future water-level trends at the scale of an individual well.
You may have 300 feet of saturated thickness in your well, but if half of that is comprised of tight sands, clays or other non transmitting materials, you're in for a surprise down the road.  SW GMD 3 is conducting a pilot study in the two areas shown in the attached graphic.

Drilling logs were used to estimate PST.  The logs used in this study are only from wells drilled into the bedrock surface. 207 logs were used for the Four Corners study area and 48 logs were used in the SE Stevens County area.  By evaluating the driller's logs and assigning aquifer parameters to the sections, it was determined that the pre-development PST fraction of ST was approximately 58% for both study areas.  The fact that only 58% of the saturated aquifer is contributing to well yields will likely impact future management decisions.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Limited Irrigation Insurance Coverage?

A number of areas in Kansas are already, or poised soon, to see reduced irrigation applications for crops due to a variety of reasons including regulatory compliance, well yield reductions, groundwater control areas, enhanced management efforts and the like.

Applying less than the full crop water needs is called “limited” or “deficit” irrigation, and Kansas is actually encouraging such irrigation as an important water conservation tool.  Our developing groundwater models are showing us that reduced irrigation can be a significant reduction in water use - and if done correctly can be accomplished with less economic impact than other conservation approaches for the same amount of water savings. I've blogged about this before, but basically the last few acre-inches applied to an irrigated crop are the least profitable, so these are the inches that should be targeted for conservation gains if economic concerns are important.  This means deficit irrigation.

Crop insurance plays a part in all of this because it's an important risk management tool for crop producers.  The problem is, currently there is no crop insurance for limited or deficit irrigation - a field may be insured as fully irrigated or as dryland.  Thus the risk factor of deficit irrigating, if one has to, or purposely chooses to do so, looms large.

Not only does dryland crop insurance not adequately cover the production or revenue losses a producer could face with a limited irrigated crop, but it also doesn’t provide as much collateral for the bank, when seeking next year’s loan, as would occur with a limited irrigated crop insurance.  This alone is another reason to  provide this new tool.

Kansas, along with Nebraska and Colorado, has been working with personnel from the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) Regional Field Office, and the USDA RMA in Kansas City to develop and offer a pilot program of limited irrigation insurance coverage.  The USDA – RMA has given a tentative approval to develop and offer limited irrigated crop insurance in Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado, perhaps as soon as 2012, if certain products, procedures and milestones can be met.

Agricultural engineers in all 3 states have developed crop production curve tables, also known as Irrigation Yield Adjustment Tables. These tables are expected to serve for the production guarantee during the transition of getting four or more years of limited irrigated crop harvests.  We are fully supporting RMA's efforts as the enhanced management areas of GMD 4 are going to be instant recipients of the program if they implement their reduced water usage plans in 2012 through 2016.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

OK, The Poll Had To Go

Sorry about the poll.  I should have known it was a bad idea.

After 8 days I had 4 votes cast.  Over that same time I had 558 page views.  So, it appears virtually no one cares to take the time to participate in blog polls - not mine, anyway.  Of course, it's also possible everyone participates in blog polls and these 4 visitors have stopped by 137 times each... Isn't it?

The good news is 100% voted that my blog was good just the way is is.  No need to broaden its scope, or focus more, or turn it over to a better writer, or give it up.  Well, if you voted, thanks.  If you didn't, well, you've shaken my confidence to its very core.  Anyway you look at it, you won't have to worry about any more polls on this blog.  Now, back to the business of water.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Predicting Full Aquifer Recovery

Trying to understand the aquifer recovery process following a pumping season for irrigation has led to some interesting things.  First, the rate of recovery is not constant, but increases as time goes by - at least in the unconfined aquifer conditions we have here.  Secondly, there are 2 distinct stages of aquifer recovery - the first being the initial 1000 hours (41 days) and the second being everything afterwards.  Thirdly, our aquifer never recovers fully before the following year's pumpage begins to drop it again.

With data loggers in a dedicated index well taking water level measurements every 2 hours since the Summer of 2007, we have data on four full recovery stages and three full pumping stages.  (See data and graphical results here)  The data has been plotted both as a semi-log recovery curve and as a Horner recovery curve - for each recovery year.  All the plots show a distinct, 2-stage recovery process.  Here is a Powerpoint update with many of the graphs and data sets.

What is so amazing is that the theoretical full recovery (as predicted by the Horner plots) will take a full year or more to happen.  This finding has implications on the true accuracy of the annual well measurements Kansas has been collecting since the mid-1940s.  This was a surprising find.

The graph included (click to enlarge) shows the projected full recovery levels for each of the three captured recovery periods as red dots.  For ease of understanding they have been assigned to the same dates as the highest physical recovery even though these recovery levels would not be achieved for another 6 months to a year. The yellow dots are the annually measured (official water levels) for this well for all four years.  Using the annual measurements, we think this well's 2010 water level was at 2974.5'.  Using the 2010 theoretical recovery level (following the 2009 pumping season) the water level would be 2978.9' - a difference of 4.4 feet.

Discerning what the water level is for any data point is simply not all that easy and straightforward.

But what is straight forward is voting on my poll.  So go ahead, do it!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

They Call Me "Institutional Memory" Now

Had to chuckle today when I got a call from my colleague in SW Kansas asking to access my institutional memory reserves.  Seems he has a case where an Oklahoma irrigator has filed for a new water right in Oklahoma just up against the Oklahoma / Kansas border.  The problem is that there is a municipal well and water right just a couple of hundred feet away in Kansas.  He wanted to know if I had ever run into this situation since our GMD extends to the Kansas / Colorado border (and of course since I've been doing this for 34 years now).

I pondered.  And I responded:  Back in about 1980 I suggested to the KS chief engineer that Kansas and Colorado and NW Kansas GMD 4 and Colorado Plains GMD work on a mutual well spacing agreement specifically to avert this kind of situation.  It didn't have to be anything hoity-toity - just a signed, 1-page agreement saying that each state would honor some well spacing distance from each others wells along the border.

WOW!  Word came back that such an agreement would be unconstitutional (U.S. Constitution - Article 1, Section 10:  No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, ..., enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State).  No, we weren't going there.

A few weeks later the Plains GMD and our GMD plotted all our wells within 2 miles of the state line and traded this information.  Upon a handshake we agreed to take into consideration each others' wells when processing new applications in each of our districts.  Turns out neither one of us ever had a new water right application close enough to the line to invoke our mutual (common sense) understanding, but I certainly was sincere about it.

But that story didn't help my Kansas friend at this point in time.  For his case, I suggested he contact the Oklahoma Water Resources Board and express as much concern as possible, as I was aware of no Kansas law that offers this kind of protection.  Turns out this was the exact advice he received from the Kansas Division of Water Resources.  Too bad states don't have a little latitude in cases like these - short of an interstate compact, that is.  And yes, I'm still chuckling as I hadn't thought of that escapade in many years.  Don't even know if today I could find the mapped wells they provided me so long ago.  Institutional memory my butt!

BTW - don't forget to join the 4 intrepid folks who have voted in my poll thus far.  I will remember these votes for at least several weeks!  Thanks.

Monday, April 4, 2011

TransCanada and the Keystone XL Pipeline

TransCanada has filed for a US permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline to move crude oil from the oil sands of northern Alberta, Canada to Cushing, OK and then on to US Gulf Coast.  The pipeline capacity will start at 591,000 barrels per day (bpd), is proposed at 700,000 bpd, and will increase to 900,000 to 1.1 million bpd - depending on the source.  The pipeline route is shown on the map here. (click to enlarge).

The issues are many.  Some of the hottest are:

1.  The product is dirty and continues to promote reliance on fossil fuels;
2.  The steel being used is from China and is weaker than US steel;
3.  It will cross the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska posing an environmental risk;
4.  It will create 13,000 jobs and reduce US reliance on Middle East oil;
5.  Pipelines are [most dangerous / safest]  way to transport crude;
6.  Tar sands crude is more caustic than regular crude;
7.  There is no real need for this much extra transmission capacity;
8.  The extra transmission capacity will provide important transmission redundancy;
9.  The monitoring is insufficient;
10.  TransCanada has no effective spill response plan;
11.  And the list goes on and on!

The public reaction is very divided.  The New York Times has opposed the permit based on environmental concerns.  The Washington Post has equally supported the project on jobs and reduced reliance on foreign oil.  Union labor supports it - environmental groups are generally opposed.  And the horror stories abound.  The Post cites a 800,000 barrel spill in Michigan last summer from a similar pipeline operated by a competitor of TransCanada.  Of course, according to TransCanada, this pipeline will be state of the art - bigger, faster, stronger.  And besides, the vast majority of pipeline leaks are small - most involving less than three barrels, 80% involving less than 50 barrels, and less than 0.5% involving more than 10,000 barrels. To move the same volume of oil into the U.S. by train would result in 50 railway accidents for every pipeline accident (according to Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration).  Here is a very recent list of myths and facts prepared by TransCanada  Who ya gonna believe?

The permit application has been promoted, supported, maligned, cussed and sued and yet it continues getting consideration and may eventually be approved - albeit with some strings attached - like enhanced monitoring, job concessions, whatever.  Kansans who are opposed are really down on the project - they believe state officials sold them out by offering the company multiple years of tax abatements - amounting to many, many dollars of lost state revenue.  It's not going to get political, is it?

All in all, I'd have to say that I oppose the pipeline.  As much as I appreciate the jobs and reduced oil reliance, I think continued reliance on fossil fuels is a mistake.  The same amount of money invested in wind or solar or other alternative energies would in the long run be the wiser choice. (Boy, am I glad I didn't write this two weeks ago and include nuclear).

There is a bunch of info out there if you're interested in more - just Google "TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline" and settle in for a long research session.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Local Control with State Oversight?

I have been asked before how Kansas manages local control provided by the Kansas Legislature.  The local Groundwater Management Districts were newcomers to the water scene in the state when authorized in 1976, which had been managed and regulated by the division of water resources under the state engineer.

It begins with the Legislative Declaration contained in the GMD Act, which says:  
It is the policy of this act to preserve basic water use doctrine and to establish the right of local water users to determine their destiny with respect to the use of the groundwater insofar as it does not conflict with the basic laws and policies of the state of Kansas. It is, therefore, declared that in the public interest it is necessary and advisable to permit the establishment of groundwater management districts.
The GMD Act also says:
Before undertaking active management of the district the board shall prepare a management program. Upon completion of the management program the board shall transmit a copy to the chief engineer with a request for his or her approval. 
This would appear that the Chief Engineer has significant control over the local management programs.  But, this section of the act goes on to say:
The chief engineer shall examine and study the management program and, if he or she finds that it is compatible with article 7 of chapter 82a of the Kansas Statutes Annotated, and all acts amendatory thereof or supplemental thereto and any other state laws or policies, he or she shall approve it and notify the board of his or her action.
This added wording changes a lot in that the chief engineer's review of the local GMD's management plan is just to insure its consistency with the Kansas water appropriation act and other state laws.  Regardless of what the chief engineer feels about the plans of a GMD, as long as it's legal, he or she pretty much has to go along with it.

So, in a nutshell, this is how Kansas has structured its local control with state oversight - at least as far as the Management Plan goes.  As far as other influences the chief engineer can have over a GMD and its activities, I'd be lying if I said there were none.  The technical support the state can provide, or not provide, and many other subtle working items do factor in.  For these, it's the old fashioned "build a working relationship of trust and cooperation over years" and these will take care of themselves.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

GMDA to Meet

The Groundwater Management District Association (GMDA) meets twice a year - a Winter meeting usually in the first half of January, and a Summer meeting usually in early June.  The Winter conference is the formal meeting where most of the business happens - like board elections, resolutions, and the like.  The Summer meeting is more of a technical session most heavy on the inner workings of local groundwater management.

June 1-3, 2011 GMDA will be meeting in Estes Park, CO at the Stanley Hotel (haunted, no less).  You are invited to attend if you have an interest in groundwater management, and invited to join if you are a groundwater management district person, an associated business or even an individual with an interest.  Contact me (Wayne Bossert, PO Box 905, Colby, KS 67701) for more information.

GMDA has two web sites:  Main webpage; and a History site to help you get acquainted.  There are some incredible local groundwater management people - both staff and board members - who will be in attendance.  Visit the main webpage for more details of the Estes Park Conference.

(Hey, don't forget to vote in the poll !!!!)  

Friday, April 1, 2011

Water Policy

I want to talk a bit about Water Policy. Now everyone’s got an opinion of what it is – at least to them and their interests – so I’m asking that you put your notions aside for now and consider what I think it isn’t, or shouldn’t be.

If you shuffle the letters around a bit the first thing you discover is “water policy” can be a “lawyer topic”. As you develop yours, make sure the attorneys help the local parties define and implement effective water policy rather than craft it for you solely in ways that can be easily defended legally. They work for you, you know.

Shuffle the letters again and “water policy” becomes just a “wiry ole pact” – developed in smoke-filled, back rooms no doubt. And maybe with no one but lawyers present. Such is not conducive to good water policy which needs wide, effective and informed public airing.

One more letter shuffle reveals the words often heard by most of the participants following new water policy implementation: “Lo, wet piracy”. How often is new water policy just a re-distribution of the already short supply – with a lot of losers and a few winners? The “wiry ole pact” approach will almost assure this response.

The last shuffle gives us the real essence of too many water policy developments today: “Try, wail, cope”. In the end, water is so important to every one and everything that simple solutions are rarely workable. But, does the complexity inherent in any good water policy mean that we are destined to try new stuff, wail about it at great length, and eventually resign ourselves to coping with the results? I hope not.

It is a shame there are no good, positive anagrams for “water policy”. I’ll have to think about what that might mean…