Thursday, June 30, 2011

Drought and Kansas Water Rights - Part 2

Well, the decision has been made to offer drought relief to certain Kansas water right owners. Kansas Drought Policy - DWR  There are two options:  1) the Multi-year flex account (MFA - covered in part 1 of this issue (here)); or 2) a two-year term permit that basically lets the water right holder borrow against his or her next years water right for any over pumpage this year.

First of all, only water rights in agricultural drought disaster declaration areas are eligible.  These Counties are as of today are (in darkest rust color on map):

Barber, Barton, Butler, Clark, Comanche, Cowley, Edwards, Ellis, Finney, Ford, Gove, Graham, Grant, Gray, Greeley, Hamilton, Harper, Harvey, Haskell, Hodgeman, Kearny, Kingman, Lane, Lincoln, Logan, Meade, Morton, Ness, Norton, Phillips, Reno, Rice, Russell, Sedgwick, Scott, Seward, Sheridan, Sherman, Stafford, Stanton, Stevens, Sumner, Thomas, Trego, Wallace and Wichita Counties.

Moreover, this is a one-time offer.  Users will agree to reduce next years authorized quantity by the same amount this year's use is exceeded.  Applicants must file on or before December 31, 2011.  And water rights in established Intensive Groundwater Use Control Areas or that have any enforcement sanction against them for 2011 are not eligible.  If interested, use the link above to see all the program details and to access any filing forms needed for either option.

We have producers in all stages of drought damages.  If you have not been able to keep up with the water needs of the crop and its already burnt up or beyond responding to water, the term permit option is not in your best interest. The longer term MFA may be, but take a careful look at it before you jump in.  If the additional irrigation water will save your current crop, then by all means you should consider one of these offerings.  Filing fees will be based on the total, 2-year term permit, but these are not excessive.

If you do use either program, make sure you understand the new terms and limits of your water right and carefully plan on staying within these limits.  There'll likely be more on this topic later.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"Thoroughly and Thoughtfully"

These were the words the 11th Circuit Appeals Court used as they directed the Corps of Engineers to make a final determination on the water allocation from Lake Lanier - in one years time - to settle the tri-sate disagreement over Lake Lanier's uses.  This ruling was based on an appeal from Georgia on an earlier ruling by US District Court Judge Paul Magnuson that gave Georgia, Alabama and Florida until July 2012 to come to an agreement on how to share the water, or, Atlanta would only be able to withdraw the amount of water that it received in the mid-1970s.  The latest 11th Circuit ruling overturned Magnuson's 2009 ruling. 

Of course Georgia is pleased with the new decision while both Alabama and Florida are just plain, non-plussed.  It wasn't long before Alabama began calling for another appeal and  I'm certain Florida will weigh in very soon, too.

But my overall guess is the Corps will surprise everyone with their revised (thorough and thoughtful) operational plan next year.  I'm guessing Georgia will end up sharing more water with the other two states than they do now, and that all three states will still need to push water conservation, replacement supplies and efficient water use further than any of them have to date.  Just a hunch, mind you...

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I just finished reading the Laura Hillenbrand book "Unbroken" - about Louie Zamperini.  Yes there is plenty of water in it, and a dire lack of water as well.

Louie was a running phenom in the 1930's having made the US Olympic team as a 19 year old in 1936.  He was slated by most of the track pundits as the most likely runner in the world to break the elusive 4 minute mile.  He didn't do all that well in his first Olympics, but well enough that his sights were firmly set on the 1940 games set for Tokyo, Japan.  But the war intervened and the 1940 games had been cancelled shortly after having been moved to Helsinki, Finland as soon as Japan withdrew its host status.  Louie enlisted in the Army Air Corps and became a bombardier on a bomber in the Pacific theater.

The book is his story of being captured by the Japanese and his extraordinary will and courage to survive and assist others in surviving.  Water plays key roles throughout the book, but that's all I'm going to say about that.  The book is meticulously researched and quite an amazing read, and if you're interested in World War II it's a double treat.  Enjoy.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Water Plane..The Water Plane..!

A Russian company is now promoting the world's first jet water bomber purposely built for fighting wildfires.  In the last few years, the Beriev Be-200 Altair has helped fight forest fires in a number of countries including Greece, Italy, Portugal, Malaysia, Indonesia and Israel.

The flying fire-fighter suppresses fires by dropping water and/or chemical retardants. Eight water tanks are located under the cabin floor in the center fuselage section.  But the cool thing is that it can skim a lake and scoop up water, "on the fly" so to speak, skimming the source at 90% of takeoff speed.  Four retractable water scoops are used in this mode to scoop up a total of 12 tons of water in just 14 seconds.  I didn't see any reports of how many fish, boats or swimmers the system can handle, though.  However, if you're concerned about these dangers, the tanks can be alternatively filled from a hydrant or other water source on the ground. 

In it's multi-purpose configuration, the company reports that the "..water tanks can be removed quickly for carrying cargo or people.." - unless of course they're filled with water.  Anyway, with these tanks removed, 72 people can travel in pressurized and air conditioned comfort, or up to 30 stretchers with seven medical crew and go where needed.  I suppose if one of the water tanks was left in at least 25 stretchered patients could even take baths - again, no report to this effect - I'm just surmising.  But it's main purpose is fire fighting.  Water can be dropped in a single dump in right at one second, or, in up to eight consecutive drops.  The aircraft also carries six tanks for fire-retarding chemical agents.

The company so far has a total of 26 confirmed and optional sales, but they are thinking that growing threats of huge forest fires due to global warming will push their demand up well over 100 planes in the next 10 years.  They also are looking to the US whose fleet of fire-fighting planes tend to be old military air tankers that are aging quickly and will need to be replaced soon.   Heck, with corn markets as high as they are, I'm surprised some of the Californian ag folks aren't looking at these as high-tech irrigation systems.  They could even skim out of Lake Powell at night and the Nevadans might not ever catch on!  One thing's for pretty sure - Kansas is too far to make such water soirees economically viable!! 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Water Rights Conservation Program - Kansas

Kansas had a water rights conservation program (WRCP) that ended December 31, 2009 due to budget cutbacks.  It was a jointly conceived and developed program that allowed valid water right holders to set their water right (use) aside for a number of years and not become subject to abandonment for non-use.  And the best part, it was a free program for the water right owners.

When the budget crisis hit in 2008, the state agencies began jettisoning all non-core programs (not required by statute) and the WRCP was one of these.  It was developed and operated out of the goodness of the state agency's heart.  This program's demise was lamented by many because it was fairly well used - with almost 1,000 water rights enrolled - some of those having been idle for as many as 15-20 years.

With a lot of work and convincing, we were able to get the 2011 Legislature to statutorily embody this program, and require a $300.00 filing fee to cover all the state's administrative program costs.   I'm happy to announce that the program starts back up again July 1, 2011, and I've already had my first applicant asking to file - even though the application forms aren't even available yet.

There were a few other changes as well, like limiting the enrollment time to 2, 10-year enrollments with a maximum of 2 years between each enrollment.  All in all, the new program is better for all concerned and should run smoothly - completely fee funded.  I'll try and keep tabs on enrollment and cover this program again later.  It's a good thing when water rights in overappropriated areas can be set aside for conservation rather than be used for fear of being abandoned and forfeited.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Energy Beets?

I see now there is a push in North Dakota on growing energy beets for ethanol production rather than corn.  The pitch:  Energy beets:  help the soil in that they use less nitrogen than corn; are tolerant to saline soils; deep rooted so they mop up nutrients escaping from shallow rooted crops; require only 1.5 gal water to produce 1 gallon of ethanol compared to corn's 2.5 gallons; produces twice the ethanol per acre than corn; and irrigated yields are 41 tons per acre.

What the article I am reading never says is how much irrigation water it takes to grow a 41-ton per acre crop.  While I can appreciate the fact that the processing water is significantly less for beets than for corn, this has never been the real issue for me as a water manager.  What is the issue is the irrigation water requirement - which for corn, is significant.  I suspect it's considerably more significant for beets, but I've looked for about an hour now and nobody's fessin' up to how much water it does take. This likely means it's a boat-load! 

I guess one could argue that even if beets take twice as much irrigation water as corn, the studies report you only need one-half the acres of beets for the same amount of ethanol produced from corn.  This could be good, right?  At least no worse!  But in the business world I'd be very surprised if the ethanol production (economic returns) won't be maximized if the land and water are available.  Besides, these guys are talking about pretty significant new acreages of beet production.  My guess is that in North Dakota water conservation is not very prominent on the radar screens of those promoting ethanol production from beets.   And this is fine - if you've got the land and water.  But, if water conservation is important, or necessary, to you, looks like it'll have to happen some other way if you jump on the beet ethanol wagon.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

What's With Kansas & It's Fish?

In the Late Cretaceous Period - about 87-75 million years ago - Kansas was under water.  Yes covered by a shallow sea of saltwater.  It's only been in the last 65 million years or so that the Rocky Mountain uplift elevated us above sea level.  This event also elevated all the sea bottom sediments (shales and chalks) that contained a wealth of marine fossils.  One of these was the unique Fish-within-a-fish fossil discovered by paleontologist George Sternberg in Gove County, Kansas in 1952.

The fossil is a nearly 14-foot Xiphactinus audax specimen that just happens to have a 6-foot Gillicus arcuatus in its stomach - also very nicely preserved.  See more from the Sternberg Museum of Natural History.  The Smoky Hill Chalk is the upper member of the Niobrara Chalk Formation, and has yielded many significant fossils - like the largest yet discovered Xiphactinus audax measuring in at 17 feet long.  It was discovered in 1996 by Mike Everhart.  

So, while Kansas doesn't have the world's wealth of water today, there was a time.... 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Paleohydrologic What??

I'd like to introduce you to a most interesting group - Wright Paleohyrological Institute (WPI). Formed in 1996 by Ken Wright of Denver, Colorado, this group does some pretty interesting, and important, work.

They are a multi-disciplined group that studies and then explains ancient water structures around the world. Europe, South America, United States - it doesn't matter to these guys. If it's very old and smacks of water or hydraulic engineering, they're on it.

Their hydrologic engineering work at the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru is well known and has shed lots of light on the inner water workings of this remarkable Incan complex.

They also studied several features of the Anasazi tribe in SW Colorado at Mesa Verde that had stumped everyone since the ruins were first discovered in 1888. These very old structures happened to be on the mesa top and turned out to be water collection and storage features. The story of their construction, use and maintenance is remarkable in and of itself. Ken Wright's book on these features is a short, but very interesting read.

I see now they're beginning work on another site - at Ollantaytambo, Peru, - which was first excavated in 1980-1982 by Arminda Gibaja Oviedo. It's called "Incamisana". This Inca site includes a temple area containing 16 fountains and was a facility dedicated to the worship of water. I can't wait to read about this story.

So, if you're interested in this kind of stuff, you should check these guys out.  I'm kind of wondering where all the paleo groundwater wells are hiding, though...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Transboundary Groundwater?

The U.S. Supreme Court has recently taken on the lawsuit Mississippi filed first against Memphis Light, Gas and Water, and later the state of Tennessee, over Memphis' pumping of groundwater from the Sparta Aquifer - a very prolific fresh water aquifer underlying both states.  Some are calling this the first transboundary groundwater case in the US.  Anyway, Mississippipi is claiming that as much as 30% of the water Memphis has been pumping for many years has been coming from under Mississippi, and that use of Mississippi groundwater is causing the state economic harm.  GMDA has covered this story and even captured some other coverages as well.  This will be an interesting court case, because as Michael Campana and others have already said, this will not be a small ruling - Mississippi is seeking a very large penalty.

Oops.  Did I miss this one!  My apologies.  All the above was true at one time, but as Jesse Richardson pointed out in a comment, I was in fact confused.  However, while the Supreme Court did effectively close Mississippi’s current claims over withdrawals from the aquifer back in 2010, they did so without prejudice, so Mississippi is still free to file an original action with the Supreme Court whenever they think they can sufficiently demonstrate injury.  The legal pundits are guessng that the two states will work out something by mutual agreement.  I'm betting this won't happen as amicably as the pundits are thinking it will.

Anyway, it still gets one to thinking about the nature and extent of transboundary groundwater, and whether or not the Ogallala might become the poster child for such legal actions.    I recall a Kansas Geological Survey study done a while back that quantified the impacts of northeast Colorado well production on the groundwater underflows crossing the state line into northwest Kansas.  Due to groundwater declines upgradient in Colorado caused by their pumping, the natural groundwater underflow into Kansas has been reduced.  Does this qualify for a lawsuit?   

There have to be scores of major and minor transboundary aquifers in the US, assuming an aquifer underlying two or more states qualifies as such.  Be advised that in the international community, a transboundary aquifer is only one that underlies two or more countries.  In their listing of the 274 known transboundary aquifers of the world, the Ogallala doesn't even show up.  In any case, another issue has to be the very wide range of influences caused by pumping centers likely to be present in any or all the states claiming damages.  This'll become a prior appropriation impairment call on steroids I'm afraid.  Oh well, it's a new day every day in groundwater - and thank you Jesse for such a diplomatic correction.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Water Conservation Message is Important!

Kudos to the U.S. Postal service for the new water conservation stamp in their Go Green series (2011).  The message of water conservation needs to be everywhere, all the time and this certainly helps.  I guess I'll have to eventually add this to my earlier article on US postage stamps and water (here), but not just yet.

I also like the fact that it is a forever stamp, so it just might be around for a while.  I'm going to buy it for as long as I can.

Friday, June 10, 2011

And Then There are the Earth Tides...

I blogged earlier about the difficulties of measuring groundwater levels here in Northwest Kansas (here) and (here).  What with the effect barometric pressure has on the water levels, and the time-critical date-of-measurement relative to recovery stage, it'd seem a careful hydrologist wouldn't have a chance at an accurate measurement!  But I have not yet discussed Earth Tides - yet another influence on water levels.

Earth tides are caused by the same mechanism that causes ocean tides - the gravitation forces of the sun and the moon on the rotating earth.  The elasticity of the earth allows it to deform as it rotates through the gravitational pulls of the sun and the moon causing pressure differentials that affect groundwater levels.  The data shown to the right are from a deep well in Oklahoma and show the 6-hour and 12-hour earth tidal effects on the groundwater just over a half mile below the earth's surface.  While the ocean tides are affected normally by about 3 feet, the earth deformation is typically only about 8 inches.

The good news is that the earth tides are pretty difficult to pick up in shallow wells because the effect is really quite small and all the other influences (temperature changes, barometric pressure, pumping wells, local recharge events, etc.) are considerably larger and almost always drown them out. They are also very variable as the tilt of the earth and the constantly changing positions of the sun and moon cause different gravitational forces on the earth throughout the year.  Of course, the moon, being considerably closer, has more gravitational affect on the earth than does the sun.  But when both these bodies line up (or are fully opposite each other) their gravitational forces become cumulative and we experience stronger tides.

Science has in several places connected the tidal forces on earth to earthquakes, but the details are not fully understood.  The earthquakes would have happened anyway because of the shifting plates, but the daily waxing and waning tidal forces push and pull just a bit harder it seems. There is a definite correlation to Spring tides and increased earthquake activity in several places on earth.

Bottom line - I thought you might be interested in earth tides and we should all know they exist, but I'm not going to get too exited about trying to coax out their affect on my water level measurements!  

Thursday, June 9, 2011

World Water Crisis? Apparently so..

Twenty former heads of state, including former US president Bill Clinton, met in Quebec, Canada May 29-31, 2011 as the InterAction Council and warned of an impending "water crisis".  The group (whose full membership listing is not yet available on their website) discussed several issues - including water.  In regard to their water deliberations, they agreed to establish a panel to tackle the worldwide leadership gap on water issues. They also urged a new international water ethic and offered a number of recommendations for world water management entities, including:

Placing water at the forefront of the global political agenda and linking climate change research and adaptation programs to water issues.

Urging national governments to price water sources to appropriately reflect its economic value, while making provisions for those in poverty.

Urging national governments to stimulate private and public sector innovation to address the global water crisis and capitalize on the economic opportunities that arise from finding solutions to these complex challenges.

Asserting that where water supplies are threatened, water used to grow food should not be substituted for water to grow crops for biofuel production.

Encouraging increased investment in urgently needed sanitation coverage and improved access to safe water supply globally.

Welcoming the work done by the Clinton/Bush Haiti Fund, which aims to rebuild housing in Haiti with adequate sanitation to avoid public health disasters through water contamination.

Supporting ratification of the UN Watercourses Convention and the development of the draft articles on transboundary acquifers.

Supporting and advancing the UN international water protocols.

Encouraging a discussion on water security at the UN Security Council.

Linking of agricultural and water policy with energy policy locally, nationally, and globally.

Encouraging the development of materials and water treatment approaches to enable non-traditional water use in domestic, industrial, and in energy generation and refining applications and in particular research on more cost-effective desalinization integrated with renewable energy resources.

Renewing local, national, and international focus on monitoring hydrological processes and increased attention to mapping and monitoring of groundwater.

Urging national governments and multi-national companies to improve water availability assessment, energy and water systems analysis, and decision tools.

Urging national governments to reduce the loss of water in public networks through adequate monitoring and infrastructure development, as well as the per capita consumption in municipal use.

Supporting the conservation of the world’s intact freshwater ecosystems, the establishment of ecological sustainability boundaries, and investment in ecosystem restoration.

Encouraging high-level dialogue and cooperation on water-allocation in major transboundary rivers such as discussions between Indochina states on the Mekong River.

Welcoming the role of NGOs in the further development of water governance solutions and particularly emphasizing the role of women, given their special responsibility for water.

I can't argue with many of the recommendations, but a few have me scratching my head.   In my "world view" (which isn't necessarily right) the key to creating a legal right to water is keeping the cost low enough to make access and distribution to the under served (usually the impoverished) a reality.  That's hard to do if you raise the price of water to reflect its economic value. Of course, their recommendation is qualified with "..while making provisions for those in poverty."  This probably means those not in poverty will have to agree to a cost of water well above the real economic value of water. 

In areas where water is rationed, they urge water priorities for food crops and not bio-fuels. This seems to me...

You know, come to think of it, every one of these recommendations could serve as a unique blog entry that's going to get out of hand in a hurry. Why don't you pick out your favorite one and offer a comment response to it below.  Quite frankly, I'd rather hear what you think...   

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Drought and Kansas Water Rights

In Kansas, a granted water right is a specific quantity of water per calendar year, for a specific use, at a maximum rate of diversion, to be used in or on a specific area.  You get the picture - it's a very specific right.  Not only that, but the applicant gets 5 years, and when requested, up to 10 years to perfect that maximum quantity.  The end result is a water right that should be sufficient in quantity to cover your highest water use needs.  This would include the driest years in an irrigation situation. 

Well, there's dry, and then there's DRY!  A group of Southwest Kansas irrigators are mounting a push to have the state suspend irrigation water right limits this year due to the exceptional drought conditions.  While this is actually a no-brainer for the economy, you can imagine what it's going to do to the aquifer reserves and the area's groundwater decline rate.  Clearly the dry-year reserve built into most existing water rights is getting pressured more this year than in the past 25 years.  So, the burning question is:  Should Kansas water right limits be suspended this year in SW Kansas?  Or, I guess we should actually be asking:  Should they be suspended in any year of drought that exceeds the driest year the water right was perfected under?

To make things more interesting, Kansas just amended its Multi-year Flex Account program to allow instantaneous enrollment.  The MFA program was originally set to allow any water right owner to convert a water right to a 5-year water right that more or less equals 90% of the 5-year total, then pump the new total in any year or years.  But all applications were up front, and the new converted water right began the following year.  The new program lets you convert immediately - meaning that the current year becomes your first year.  It was done specifically for cases like this.

While I sympathize with the dry SW (and we're dry, too), the MFA will allow them to legally overuse their rights this year, but will require that they make up that extra water use (plus 10%) in one or more of the following 4 years.  This arrangement will keep the crop production going while keeping groundwater withdrawals from getting any worse.  I'm certain there will be those who disagree with this opinion, but I'll not be influencing this state decision one way or the other.

Of course, if the extreme drought lasts another 4 years we'll be having this same discussion again at that time, and I'm likely to have a different outlook.  I'll try to remember to blog on this issue again after any decision is made.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

GMDA Was A Good Conference

Stanley Hotel
The Groundwater Management District Association (GMDA) has two conferences per year - a Summer session and the Winter Conference. The Summer event is smaller, and usually focuses on technical issues or specific programs or projects being undertaken by member districts.  The Winter Conference usually includes more policy issues and updates from state and federal water entities.  This year's Summer meeting just concluded in Estes Park, Colorado - at the Stanley Hotel.

I particularly enjoyed the talk by Dean Pennington of the Yazoo Mississippi Delta Joint Water Management District on the Mississippi River flooding adjacent to the West boundary of his GMD.  His staff has been assisting the Corps of Engineers in locating and marking levee leaks (called "boils") for monitoring and future repair if needed.  There are thousands of these leaks ranging from saucer-sized to 20 feet in diameter.  The more problematic ones are ringed with sand bags, or concrete, or whatever you can find, to raise the hydraulic head over them 2-4 feet - just enough to stop them from boiling water up through them.  Too many leaking leaks is not good for a levee system, it appears.

If you're interested in groundwater management, you may want to consider joining GMDA and participating in future conferences.  Let me know - I know those folks pretty well.