Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Interesting Fence Posts in Kansas

I ran across an interesting article on Kansas' famed post rock fences that was written by Eric Durbin (Durbin Post Rock Article) that I am choosing to pass along instead of my usual water post.  I recommend you read this short article if you don't know about these unique features.

According to the Post Rock Museum these are really heavy posts - usually weighing from 250 to 450 pounds each.  The few I have wrestled with I'm certain were closer to the 450 pounders, so I don't know how accurate the website is!

It took 90 of these per 1/2 mile, or 360 to fence in a quarter section.  At 25 posts per day, I'd say the Summer's work schedule was pretty well set for several of the ranch hands.  For more information visit the Post Rock Museum Link.  Enjoy.

P.S. (added 6/11/2011)  There actually is a water connection to this blog post, too - sorta.  When first quarried, the limestone posts are relatively soft due to the soil moisture they contain. They must be set out to cure (dry out and harden) before they can be used for posts or other building needs.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A California Water Dialog

I recently ran across a website promoting better groundwater management for a discreet, isolated, inter-mountain valley aquifer in California - the Borrego Valley in Northeastern San Diego County.  http://www.borregowaterunderground.org/.  The website owners are using this site as a call to arms to force the groundwater regulating entity therein - the Borrego Water District - to implement a groundwater plan they alledgedly drafted in 2002 but have never implemented.  This site claims the groundwater levels have been falling at over 2 feet per year for the past 20 years, and this rate is increasing of late.  Prediction is, based on projected extraction rates, another 30 years before the aquifer reaches a critical point.  Other facts are:  a population of 3,000; a 70 sqaure mile area; and withdrawing 24,000 AF per year.  Sounds pretty serious - at least it did to me upon my first read.

The state's information on the valley is a bit different, but a lot more complete.  They report an area of 240 square miles; annual average net use of 15,160 AF; average annual recharge of 8,300 AF; maximum saturated thickness of 4,500 feet in 3 stacked aquifers, but thinning a bit toward the valley flanks; specific yields ranging from 2% in the deepest formation to 25% in the shallowest; pre-development storage of 5,500,000 AF; total net depletion of groundwater (pre-development to 1980) of 330,000 AF - resulting in 1980 storage of 5,170,000 AF.

Amazing how the scope of the problem changes when the rest of the picture is provided.  In fact it was the lack of saturated thickness, recharge and aquifer storage information that got the better of me and caused me to find this out.  There had to be more to this story.  I had started reading the webpage in context of my local groundwater experience and was struck by the reported decline rates.  These are worse than ours, which are locally considered too high.  It wasn't until the scope of the overdraft in terms of the aquifer's storage volumes was discovered that this picture changed.  While any decline is a problem of some degree and should be addressed (with accurate information if possible), and I applaud these folks for pointing out the situation, I have to also believe there are likely bigger problems to get after than this one, at this time - even in Borrego Springs, CA.

Monday, May 23, 2011

High Plains Information

The Kansas Geological Survey has a great website for all things geology, water, energy and education within Kansas.  But that's not all! 

I'm proud to highlight their High Plains Aquifer Information Network pages which include links to the entire High Plains Aquifer - a one-stop shopping experience for data and information - at least that's the plan.  It is a work in progress, but it has progressed quite a bit over the past 2 years. 

If you're interested in the High Plains Aquifer, you might give this site a spin.  Might save you a lot of time rather than snooping around in and about 8 states.  And don't forget to look at their other pages as well.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Solving the West's Water Woes

The Pacific Institute (http://www.pacinst.org/) headquartered in Oakland, CA thinks a lot about water globally. The institute has recently opined on the solutions for the water woes of the West - in fact offering up four necessary strategies:

1. Rethink Water Supply. PI says we need to rethink “sources of water that were preciously ignored or unusable” - citing treated waste water and desalination of brackish water.

2. Rethink Water Demand. PI calls for significant strides in water use efficiency in all water uses - especially industry, agriculture and public water supplies. Cited is the steel industry which now uses 3 tons of water per ton of produced steel as opposed to 200 tons in the 1930s.

3. Improve institutional management. PI says we need “New arrangements, especially in terms of improved clarity of federal/state responsibilities..” which can reduce pressures on water.

4. Integrate climate change in all the above.

When thinking of the water woes of the entire West, the first two strategies - water supply and water demand - do not seem mutually exclusive issues to me. The “ignored and unusable” supplies PI cites are more expensive, so will never compete with normal water supplies for industry, ag or any use, which all desire (or worse yet, require) the cheapest water possible to be economically competitive, or, to even think about affording the efficiency upgrades called for. And it’s also quite possible that raising the price of water in order to force efficiency improvements on the demand side will not find all users equally poised to adopt the desired efficiency. Ag users come to mind first as the group least able to cope with such a rethinking strategy.

Strategy three has me perplexed. “New arrangements” in PI’s context sounds like political-speak for a change in who gets to decide on who gets to use whatever the available water supplies are redefined to be. This is plain scary when talking water from California to Kansas. Moreover, I hope everyone realizes that the water managers don’t have the authority to change the system, or craft "new arrangements", just because they like a new way to look at water use. Kansas has 60 years of water law built on the current way of looking at water use - be it right or wrong - and most western states have way more years than Kansas. The legislatures will be the only way “new arrangements” can be made. Or Congress….  

Strategy four I can’t argue with. Whomever is going to solve the water woes of the West, climate change is sure to be a wild card that is far more likely to make it more difficult than less so.

My closing thoughts? The solution to the West’s water woes will come from a small, discrete watershed or groundwater basin where the local users decide they want a new water paradigm. They’ll use these same strategies (more or less) but only within the constraints of their state water law and on a regional scale more manageable.  But I’m sure this is what PI means - even though the headline implies otherwise.  Thinking the entire West can implement these strategies drives me crazy.

But regardless of the scale, how do we know that nine times more steel won’t be produced when the industry improves its water use efficiency by nine times?  How do we know that agriculture won’t produce more acres of more crops when they increase water use efficiency?  How can we be comfortable that any “new arrangements” and increased water use efficiency (which agriculture is the least able to manage) aren’t back door attempts to reallocate western water for uses someone else feels are more important? 
Only the lawmakers can change the legal system in which water has evolved, and do they have the wide vision that PI does? 

Four simple strategies to solve the water woes of the West?  Not a chance - unless it’s done at the right scale, by the right people and for the right reasons.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Wells In India - Whew!

I once had the priviledge of meeting and talking to Dr. Tushaar Shah of the International Water Management Institute, Anand, India Regional Office while he visited Kansas on issues of groundwater management.  He was invited to Kansas by KU Law Professor John Peck after having made the statement that institutional groundwater management had not been successful anywhere in the world.  Professor Peck invited him, and asked several of the Kansas groundwater management districts to present a response to his sweeping statement.  Of course, Professor Peck believed that local GMDs in Kansas were far more successful than Dr. Shah's statment would lead everyone to believe.  We presented, and basically concluded that we were mostly successful, but had more work to do - blah, blah, blah. 

But it was during our lunch discussion that I was blown away.  Dr. Shah had told me that India has at least 20 million groundwater wells in the country, but no one really knew how many more there might be, and that with their governmental and water management structures, there was no control over existing wells and little end in sight to new wells coming on line.  Twenty million plus wells and growing. 

Our GMD is fairly well developed (a bit over-developed, in fact) with 3,552 wells, but we're considerably smaller.  Our 4,845 square mile area, by the numbers then, contains about .75 wells per square mile.  India's area is 1,269,219 square miles - meaning they have some 17 wells per square mile - for every square mile in the country.  How'd you like to manage that? Dr. Shah quietly asked me. 

Monday, May 16, 2011

Kansas Governor To Conduct Water Summit

It's now official.  Governor Brownback with support from Agriculture Secretary Rodman and the Kansas Water Office are co-sponsoring a Water Summit here in Colby, KS on July 21, 2011.  The venue will be the Colby Community College Cultural Arts Center.  The focus will be groundwater in the High Plains Aquifer (Ogallala) - with forays into at least conservation, use-it-or-lose-it, and economic advances in water use.  The final issue agenda has not been set yet, so other topics are likely to be served up as well.  Stay tuned.

The summit will start at 9:30 10:00 A.M. and will conclude at 12 noon 3:30 P.M. with a lunch being provided.  The session will be looking for all ideas regarding the advancement of conservation and economic growth from water uses - hopefully simultaneously.  I am pleased to report that the summit organizers appear to be genuinely seeking ideas, and not just using this venue to showcase their ideas of where the state should be heading.

I'll pick up this topic again following the summit with all the closing remarks I feel need to be expressed.  Perhaps we can continue the dialog a bit right here for those interested.

(Summit times were updated June 14, 2011 at 7:08 P.M. - WAB)