Monday, August 29, 2011

2012 Farm Bill Field Hearing - Wichita, KS

Kudos for Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) for conducting their second 2012 Farm Bill field hearing in Wichita, KS last week.  I can't stress how much help a well designed farm bill could be for water conservation efforts in water stressed areas.

Historically the farm bill has been blamed for promoting fencerow-to-fencerow corn production due to it's design and implementation, which of course, does little for curbing water use in irrigated ag areas.  So, we were thinking that a farm bill that would promote less water intensive cropping choices - especially in water stressed or enhanced management areas - could conserve water at no additional program cost.  This is apparently a very difficult thing to do, but we asked again, anyway. 

We also asked for a crop insurance program that would insure limited irrigation operations.  This would actually reduce liability and be less expensive than the current program.  It'd allow irrigators to implement a water conserving, limited irrigation plan on land that had been fully irrigated, but also receive a critical level of crop insurance discounted proportionately with the expected yield goals of their limited irrigation plan.  This could save a lot of water as well, so we asked for it.

We also asked that NRCS EQIP and AWEP programs support partial water use set asides - allowing producers to enroll the least efficient portions of their irrigation operations rather than the entire irrigated acreages.  The water conservation would be the same, at reduced program costs, while returning a higher economic return for the producer. 

These are just three ways that the current fam bill could reduce program costs while resulting in water conservation.  We'd hope they'd only be offered in closed areas (where no new appropriations are being approved) and where the post program water use could be monitored enough to insure a true water savings.  We'll see.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Groundwater Movement in NW Kansas

As we have been discussing what to do in our high priority areas (HPAs) the question of basic hydrology comes up again and again - How fast is the groundwater moving through the aquifer?  There are beliefs that it is a fast moving river all the way to the fact that it doesn't move at all because it's in a very large bathtub.  The issue is important to the regulated community because they want to understand where the benefits to any groundwater conservation they accomplish will accrue.  Will the conserved water be available to them and the next generation? Or flow on to benefit folks elsewhere who are not conserving.

Based on these concerns the Kansas Geological Survey (KGS) did a water budget study on a legal township scale for a typical GMD 4 HPA in Thomas County.  (This is a larger report, but the TH-5 water budget portion starts on page 104)  There is about 300 feet of elevation drop from West to East across this 4-Township area whose cross section is 30 miles in length.  Since there are natural surface elevation and bedrock gradients from West to East, there is likewise a natural groundwater gradient as well.  So the bathtub theory is dispelled pretty quickly.

As it turns out, the hydology calculations show that the average pore velocity of groundwater coming into the West boundary of the study area is 1.05 feet per day.  They also found that the average pore velocity of groundwater leaving the East boundary is .56 feet per day - almost exactly half the incoming rate.  This has to do with all the pumping taking place inside the heart of the HPA area and its affect on natural groundwater flow gradients.  Essentially, this heavier pumping over time has depressed the gradient in the middle which has tended to speed up the upgradient pore velocities and slow down the downgradient velocities.  Anyway, there go the raging river groundwater flow myths as well.

They conclude several things: 

"Based on the values tabulated above, the long term flow in the area takes approximately 15-20 years per mile.  While the effects of local pumping might speed this up slightly, we consider it very unlikely that volume of groundwater underneath a township could be replaced in less than 50-60 years.  This means that the first and greatest effects of either conservation or depletion will be experienced in the immediate area."

So, while we can't guarantee every drop of conserved groundwater will be available forever to those making the sacrifices, it does appear that the the vast majority of the benefits will accrue to them for at least a generation or so.  And keep in mind, that every aquifer is different, so natural groundwater flow rates can be very different as well - ranging from very, very slow to veritable underground rivers.  That's just not the case here. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ogallala Aquifer Advisory Committee Meeting 1

Well, the 21 member OAAC met earlier today in Dodge City, Kansas.  It was an impressive beginning with 19 of the 21 appointed members in attendance - along with 4 Kansas Legislators, 2 state agency directors, 4 groundwater management district managers and about a dozen other, interested folks.  The agenda was true to form with the two potential statutory changes getting discussed:  a) IGUCAs; and b) "use it or lose it" (water right abandonments).

The water right abandonments issue took most of the time as it was clearly the more complex and far-reaching issue. In the end, the committee passed a motion that the current statute KSA 82a-718 (d) be amended such that the requirement of maintaining the diversion works for non-used water rights in closed areas of the state be eliminated.  Basically, this means that in closed areas of the state non-use of a water right is lawfully due and sufficient cause for non-use - period.  This was done even though everyone understood that it completely eliminated any ability of the state to abandon a water right and forfeit it it back to the public domain.  Said another way, the only possibility of any water right abandonment in closed areas of the state would be through voluntary abandonment by the water right owner.  The motion passed 16 for and three against.  It was also agreed that considering additional GMD authority to address this issue through their management programs should be re-discussed at a later time.

The IGUCA issue was in concept a law change allowing a GMD to submit a complete enhanced management proposal to the chief engineer simultaneously with its IGUCA request.  Under these circumstances, the substantive public hearing required by current law would be limited to the GMD/local proposal.  Following the hearing, the chief engineer would have only one of 3 options:  a)  approve the proposal in its entirety and generate the IGUCA order; b) close the hearing and reject the proposal;  or c) continue the hearing and return the proposal to the GMD/locals for corrections with cites for every instance where it is not consistent with state law or the GMD management program, or, falls short of the requirements of a minimal management proposal.  Following discussion, and questions, a motion was unanimously passed to support this statutory change as presented, with a suggestion that some time constraints be considered for the chief engineer's post-hearing decision.

[UPDATE:  The above IGUCA discussion eventually became the Local Enhanced Management Area (LEMA) concept.  This was very early discussion before the concept even had a name.] 

Discussion next turned to possible issues for the next meeting.  One of the issues suggested was the prior appropriation system of water rights itself - the most fundamental concept of Kansas water law.  As noted before in this blog, I never heard this mentioned at the Governor's Summit, but because the state characterized several comments into the common topic of:  "Examine all water laws and regulations", this  and any other law or regulation now seems to be fair game.  Was this idea really sported at the Summit, or did the state take too liberal poetic license with the process?

Anyway, the next meeting is set for August 23 - most likely in Scott City.  The Farm Bill implications to, and potentials for water conservation in Kansas will be one of the agenda items - in preparation for Senator Pat Roberts' field hearing on the 2012 Farm Bill in Wichita, KS on August 25.  More later.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Selected Kansas Water Information Websites

Water Rights information:  Contains all the public information on every water right in the state.  If you need to know what a water right is appropriated to pump, its owner, the priority date, the well location, etc., etc., this is the site for you.  It is updated every day so it's very current.  It does not lend itself to broadcast data collection though, so if you want to know everything about every water right in Thomas County, you'll need about 800 clicks to get it.

Well Completion Records:  These are the required (since 1975) well completion records of all wells drilled in Kansas.  Great for looking at an area and seeing what is already known about it as far as total depths, saturated thicknesses, and stratigraphic formation goes.  These are well driller supplied data, so some are better than others.

Water Level Data:  This data set contains all the known water level measurement data in the state - through time.  If you need to look at water levels, this is the place to start.  It is searchable and sortable.

GMD 4 Webpage:  Chances are you already know about our webpage - containing much information about GMD 4 - from staff, to policies, to news, to board meetings - and just about everything in between.  Many people get to this blog via the webpage - and vice versa.
High Plains Aquifer Network:  This site is continually being worked on, but will eventually pull together much of the information from the 8 states that cover the various parts of the High Plains Aquifer.  Great vison on this site; I hope it doesn't expand too large and actually become difficult to navigate and use.

Kansas Interstate Compact Info:  Administered by the division of water resources under the Kansas Department of Agriculture, all the state's interstate compacts are listed here with relevant documents.  For the Republican River Compact, which GMD 4 is most interested in, this site contains all the pivotal legal efforts and court documents.

Moreover, DWR is working toward providing the most efficient assistance it can to the public. They have posted a lot of material on their web page to help answer questions.  Use of this material has the added benefit of producing more focused questions if it does not answer the public’s queries in the first place – all resulting in better service with less time and manpower. Information online includes:

• Instructions for the Notice of Completion and Meter Installation Form

• Kansas Water Flowmeter Regulations (excerpted)

• Specifications for Water Level Measurement Tubes

• Check Valve Specifications

• Partial Listings of Approved Check Valves

• Information about Division of Water Resources Hearings

• Water Protection Fee Requirements

• Minimum Desirable Streamflow Regulations

• List of Certified Water Flowmeters

For DWR's main page use this link.  Ken Kopp is the manager of this new effort and can be reached by E-mail at:  DWR’s phone number is:  (785) 296-3717. They know everyone doesn’t have the web or use it religiously, but to the extent that the public can use these info sources, it’ll help streamline the system for everyone.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Can Flexibility Be Had Without Increasing Water Use?

Dilemma - Kansas irrigators are asking for multi-year flexibility under their annual water rights for various reasons.  They say it will help them make more efficient use of the water they pump, and provide an answer to staying within their legal rights in our state's exceptionally variable weather regime.  Is there a way to provide such flexibility without resulting in any increase in water use?

With an annual water right an irrigator might have 100 AF of water as his or her annual appropriation.  The way it was perfected means that the 100 AF would normally include enough water to cover a dry year, and as such, it would never be legally allowed to exceed 100 AF of use.  In a dry year they would likely use all of it, but in the average and wet years they would use less - say 75% in an average year and 50% in a wet year.  Under this arrangement, and never knowing beforehand if it was going to be dry, wet or average, water use would end up being 75% of the 3-year cumulative appropriation (225 AF) if it was an average 3-year pattern (one wet year, one dry and one average - in any order).  Since there would be an equal chance of having any combination of years (3 wet years in a row (resulting in 50% total use) or 3 dry years in a row (resulting is 100% use) or any other combination) it makes sense to me that over the long haul, the averages will hold true.

However, if you allow an irrigator to use 300 AF over every 3-year period, could they more consistently use their full 200 AF cumulative use in the first 2 years - regardless of the weather - and then play the averages in the third year?  The math says that if the third year was wet, the irrigator would use 250 AF cumulative; if it were average, they'd use 275 AF and if it was dry they'd use all 300 AF.  In every case you'll note they use more than the 225 AF they would have used under the annual water use system.  This begs for some kind of AF stipend from the irrigator for the ability to have the added flexibility (flexibility translated to:  management opportunity to maximize water use).  But what is a fair arrangement that will allow flexibility, but not increase water use?

Some systems I've looked at also provide for "borrowing" from or "carrying over" to the next 3-year allocation period.  While providing yet more flexibility, this arrangement also provides that much more management opportunity to maximize water use.  Maybe it's not that big of an issue.  While some increase in water use is possible with a multi-year appropriation, it's not all that alarming and the increased use is capped - meaning that once it starts occurring, it never gets any bigger.   But it does occur every 3 years.  Should we just chalk the likely increase up to the cost of doing business and take the extra production?

In Kansas we also have peripheral issues - the most pressing being possible impairment if we allow essentially uncontrolled annual pumpage. Our well spacing systems were mostly designed on annual maximum pumpage quantities so as to have a known impact on all surrounding wells.  Allowing any additional annual pumpage could theoretically pose short term supply problems between wells.

I'd be interested if anyone else has addressed this issue, how they have done it, and how satisfied they are with their approach.  Kansas will be thinking about this pretty seriously over the next 6-months or so.  We're always looking for ideas.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Reading Common Kansas Flow Meters

Since all the wells in GMD 4 are metered, it never hurts to cover the reading of water flow meters from time to time.  Kansas meter specs have been adopted by our GMD, and they allow for any number of meters to be used by water right owners.  All the meters listed on the Kansas approved meter list have been approved as meeting the state specs.  This is good in most respects, but it does mean plenty of different-looking meters are out there.

Fundamentally, they are in most ways similar, though.  Most read in either "Gallons", "Acrefeet", or "Acreinches", and most have both a totalizer (odometer-type numbers) and a volume of water sweep hand (speedometer-type hand).  Finally, most of the totalizers have two or three fixed digits following the wheel-type numbers.

In reading any water flow meter, you need to know the "units" the meter is calibrated in (Gallons, Acrefeet, etc.) and its multiplication factor.  Two fixed digits equals a multiplication factor of 100 for meters measuring Gallons (left example in jpg below) while three fixed digits equals a multiplication factor of 1000 - again, for meters measuring Gallons (right example in jpg below).  Click the images to enlarge.

The most common meters we have in GMD 4 are calibrated in Acrefeet.  The multiplication factor works differently for these units.  A multiplication factor of .01 (left image below) indicates where the decimal will be placed in the string of numbers - in this case two digits from the right.  And three digits from the right in the case of a .001 multiplier (right image below)  In most cases the decimal digits will be a different color, or otherwise differentiated from the whole numbers.

If you're still confused, we have a meter calculator on our website HERE.  While pretty nifty, you still need to know your units and multiplication factor.  We have pictures of the common meters on the website so you know which calculator to use.

Finally, to calculate how much water has been pumped, you need to subtract your starting meter reading from the ending meter reading - as the totalizer is cumulative and does not reset.  If you didn't jot down your starting reading, you're toast - unless it was a brand new meter which of course started at zero.  (Just think of this the same way you'd figure out how many miles your son put on the family car for his date last Saturday night.)  However, this gets tricky if the meter has rolled over in the middle of your pumping season.  Yeah, you'd figure it out if the car odometer rolled over on date night, so you can do this, too.  But if you get stuck, use our website meter calculator.

As always, if you have a specific question, call the office.  In many cases we monitor meter values from time to time throughout the year, and will always have the reported ending meter reading from the year before.

Friday, August 5, 2011

U.S. Water News - Bet You Didn't Know This

Some of you who will happen upon this post may remember the premier Water Publication called "U.S. Water News".  It was a monthly newspaper owned and published by Kansan Thomas Bell, from Halstead, KS.  He began the paper in 1984 and it ran until mid-2009 - with the last edition I can put my hands on being July, 2009.  The picture (click to enlarge) shown here happens to be the first edition - Vol. 1, No. 1.  Over the years the paper covered thousands of water stories from around the world.

If the subscription listing for the paper were available chronologically, you'd find the very first newspaper subscriber to be the Northwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 4 (this is us).  I know this to be true because as a result of my comments and advice as he was designing the paper, Tom promised that he would allow me to be the paper's first subscriber.  And I took him up on it.

What this all means is the paper hanging on my office wall - pictured above - is the very first paper of the very first edition - in the entire world.  At least that's the way I see it.  Oh, in case you can't read the hand-written note, it says:  "To Wayne, our first subscriber (and best subscriber) ever!  From your friend  Tom Bell".  This is obviously the way Tom sees it, too.

Incidentally, Tom was managing the Equus Beds Groundwater Management District No. 2 in 1984 when he opted for a career change as a water newspaper owner/publisher.  It was a good run of 25 years plus, and while I don't have a copy of every edition, I'm betting I have 97% of them.  Now you know a bit more about America's water history than you did before arriving.  Thanks for the read.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Borrego Springs Groundwater Management Revisited

This past May I did a post on the Borrego Springs, CA groundwater management situation.  Quite frankly, I was a bit acerbic about the web page I had run across on this groundwater basin - making the point that the situation was not as bad as it seemed to the web page authors because they had, inadvertantly or otherwise, left out some pretty important groundwater facts.
I also just read a report by Rebecca Nelson titled "Uncommon Innovation: Developments in Groundwater Management Planning in California".  This report looked at groundwater management plans that exist in the state and extracted the best, or most promising management approaches from 50 plans that were looked at in some detail.  Incidentally, according to Nelson there are 20-some distinct types of groundwater entities in CA that are authorized to do groundwater management plans, and an estimated 2,300 individual boards, districts, etc. that are engaged. Since they are all local, independent, and lack state oversight, knowing who is doing what and obtaining specific groundwater management plans in the state is difficult at best.

Anyway, in her report Nelson picks several groundwater management approaches from the Borrego Water District's management plan (adopted in 2002) that she cites as innovative and worthy of replication elsewhere.  And they sound really good on paper.  This made me revisit my earlier Borrego Water District post only to discover that I missed the point altogether of the website I visited.  The point of that visited website was that the 2002 Borrego Water District Management Plan, while being adopted by the District governing board, has never been implemented.  This makes their website a bit more meaningful, and Nelson's report a bit more revealing.

I certainly don't profess to know if their management plan has been implemented or not, but if it hasn't, then what's the use?  Nelson does summarize her report with a statement that more research is needed in CA on local groundwater management plans - with questions asked, including:  "Do you actively use your groundwater management plan?" and "Which elements of your plan have been implemented?"  Seems to indicate that groundwater planning for the sake of planning in CA may be a more prevalent practice than most Californian's realize.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Governor's Water Summit - Post Activity

As already reported, Kansas Governor Brownback's water summit was held July 21, 2011 in Colby.  It was attended by 400 or so folks from across Kansas and even a smattering of people from our neighboring states.  There were no shortage of ideas provided by those involved.  As I said before, the complete list of ideas is supposed to be published on the Kansas Water Office website, but it's not been posted as of this writing, so I'll point you again to the preliminary capture of ideas which are here.  Suffice it to say that I have one issue with this capture which has been brought to the attention of the KWO.  I'll be interested in seeing if it is addressed in the final posting. (More about this below)

Anyway, all the ideas will be handed off to a 21-member select committee that was just recently appointed by the chairperson of the Kansas Water Authority.  This committee is made up entirely of western Kansas stakeholders and contains no water professionals (water agency types - either federal, state or local).  They will meet for the first time August 9 in Dodge City and will open with two issues:  What should be done with the Kansas abandonment statutes to foster better conservation?; and Should the intensive groundwater use control area laws be amended to foster more local use?

While I still have mixed feelings on the abandonment statutes (previous post here), it is the IGUCA laws that I am excited about.  I think there can be small changes made to the existing laws that will get the local folks far more interested in using this approach for new enhanced management approaches.  This alone was well worth the effort to me.  But it remains to be seen what other issues will follow these two as this process plays out.  My issue with the process (mentioned earlier in this post) has to deal with the state's broadening of the comments made during the summit.  While individuals did suggest law changes or retention for the abandonment, IGUCA, personal property rights and water use flexibility portions of the statutes, I heard no one suggest that every law and regulation needs a serious review and reconsideration - which is what became characterized by the KWO and is currently posted on the web page as public comment number 2.  Maybe someone said it in one of the breakout sessions, but I didn't hear it.

Of course, if this comment prevails, every aspect of the Kansas water appropriation act now becomes open for change - including the very most fundamental aspect of the entire system - the prior appropriation system.  This could get real serious in a hurry.  Anyway, all in all I think some positive things will have a chance to come out of this effort in a fairly short period of time.  Let's cross our fingers.

UPDATE(August 5, 2011):  The full slate of public comments are now posted on the Kansas Water Office website.  There are 3 links under the heading:  Stakeholder Input from Summit Small Group Sessions.