Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Another Hydrograph to Consider

Most of our observation wells for NW Kansas are functional irrigation wells that are measured in the Winter each year after they shut down - usually in early to mid-September.  As such, these wells are normally recovering to some degree from their irrigation season pumping levels when the annual measurements are made.  About 25 of the 280-some measured wells within GMD 4 are listed as "unused", so this group of wells may need to be looked at a little differently.

The hydrograph shown (click to enlarge) is one of these wells.  It is located in SW Sheridan County and has a water level record spanning December 1964 - December 2010.  This well was one of the original wells that was measured quarterly until 1997 and annually thereafter.  The measuring frequency doesn't affect much as you can see from the hydrograph - with the overall trends being clear, regardless. 

This well is showning a decided decline since 2000, but we see that it has been as low and even lower in both 1980 and 1990.  It appears to be showing a more regional perspective on the local water table - since it is itself not pumped annually.  Statistically the entire decade of the 1990's was several inches above normal precipitation in NW Kansas while we have been a bit droughty since 2000.  The hydrograph certainly bears this out.  It also appears that the regional climate may have been wetter from 1980 - 1985 and drier from 1986 - 1990, but I'll have to check this out to be sure.

This well is 184' deep (BLS) with the December, 2010 water level being measured at 105' BLS.  How long the remaining 79' of saturated thickness may last is anyone's guess, but this particular observation well is interesting in that it has a clear decline trend from 1964 - 1980 (11 feet of decline in 16 years), then looks fairly stable since 1980, but with several, significant, decadal-termed fluctuations.  Oh, the joys of groundwater monitoring. 

If you'd like to see the full data for this observation well, use this link:  KGS Wizard Database .  If you'd like to see any specific observation well covered in this manner, let me know.  Of course you can see every observation well in Kansas on the KGS Wizard site.  More later.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ogallala Aquifer Advisory Committee Meeting 3

The third meeting of the OAAC was held today in Colby, KS.  First up was continuation of discussion on the water right abandonment issue. There were two statutory amendment versions discussed last meeting - a simple change and a more involved change allowing the GMDs to individually address abandonment issues.  Still controversial, there was a lot of discussion, but in the end, the simpler version (described here) was adopted - with several votes cast in opposition to the adoption motion.

The developing LEMA statute was discussed next.  While a current draft of the proposed language had been provided to the committee, still more recent changes were also covered.  In the end, the committee suggested 4 additional changes:  1)  the language currently in the proposed regulation describing the minimum standards that any proposal must meet to begin the process should be moved to the statute; 2) the required newspaper legal notice of the LEMA hearings should specify the use of a local County newspaper wherein the LEMA will be designated; 3) the option of the chief engineer to reject the proposal after hearings should include a requirement that the reasons for the rejection be specified and sent to the GMD with the notice of rejection; and 4) more specifics regarding the dual hearing process envisioned should be incorporated in the statutes.  These were acceptable suggestions that did not change the concept of the proposal and were to be added to the final draft to be acted on at the next meeting.

The committee next turned to the multi-year flex account (MFA) issues.  DWR explained the current MFA and presented several ideas being considered for improvements.  The agency was leaning toward the use of net irrigation data to determine the quantity of water to allow in the MFA.  DWR asked the committee to support upcoming legislation improving this program when it is developed.  The committee indicated that the MFA could be a good tool for producers and they looked forward to considering the final draft of this legislation.

Next was discussion on water banking.  The current water banking act and the operations of the only bank organized under them was covered.  The committee agreed that some form of water banking would be another good tool for producers and supported the broadening of the water banking opportunities in western Kansas.  The Kansas Water Office was asked to put more detail in a proposal.

These were the only decision items taken up by the committee.  The next meeting was set for October 13, 2011 in Garden City, KS to begin at 9:00 AM.  The location will be announced later.

These meetings are really hard to summarize because so much discussion is held - ranging over many different concepts and ideas.  To cover all the discussion would take considerable space, and since 90% of these ideas  don't receive any action, it's hard to justify the space - no matter how interesting all this discussion is.  So, rather than relying on my limited (lame?) summaries, perhaps you should start attending the meetings yourself.  They are open. And another way to track them if you're interested is to read the official minutes and see most of the handout materials, etc., which are all posted on the KWO Website.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A New Approach to Control Areas In Kansas

We're attempting to get some legislation passed in the upcoming 2012 session regarding control areas.  The current statutes allow intensive groundwater use control areas (IGUCAs) to be formed by state process.  Either a groundwater district can request one of the chief engineer or the chief engineer can initiate one on his or her own.  In either case, once the IGUCA is initiated, there is no telling where it'll end up.  Every or any solution can be put on the table during the public hearing process.  First, the list of corrective control provisions (solutions) allow for adjustments to water rights therein.  Second, the solution itself can be a few mild water right adjustments all the way to severe adjustments that result in aquifer restoration to any historical level.  No doubt about it, under these conditions it's a risky proposition for everyone - except perhaps the chief engineer who makes all the decisions and may or may not have his or her own ideas of what should happen.

Our proposal addresses this single issue.  We're asking that the law be changed such that, within a GMD, if the locally requested control area is proactive, the GMD be authorized to submit a locally developed enhanced management plan along with the control area request. The chief engineer must first rule on the local plan - does it meet minimum standards of a defined, realistic area, include solutions that will address the issues at hand, etc.  If it does, he or she initiates the control area.  The locally developed plan, then, is the sole focus of the public hearing process, and in the end, the chief engineer must either accept the plan (unaltered); reject it totally; return it to the GMD for amendments to bring it into legal compliance; or return it to the GMD with suggestions for improvements (coming only from the public hearing process) that the GMD can accept (then be added to the final order) or reject (stopping the process and withdrawing the original request).  That's about it.

While this approach doesn't guarantee the locals will get what they want, it does guarantee they won't get what they don't want.  It also provides a strong incentive to act locally in the first place - proactively - because this approach is not available if a control area is court ordered, or comes from the state as the result of an impairment complaint or other such action.  It also retains the existing IGUCA process, which can and may be needed if this approach fails for any reason.  It retains a significant level of decision-making in the hands of the chief engineer, and retains full public access to the process.

Couple this process with a suite of other water management incentives being considered for special management areas only, and we design a much more favorable climate for local action than we've ever had before.  If this doesn't work, I'm pretty resigned that a top-down, state approach is the only approach left.

By the way, this new-fangled control area has been dubbed a LEMA - Local Enhanced Management Area - and is looking like it'll get its own statute within the Groundwater Management District Act.  Right now the statutory language is being written collaboratively by the chief engineer, a revisor of statutes within the legislature, and our GMD.  Conceptually, it has been supported by many water groups in the state, but as everyone knows who's been to this rodeo, the devil is always in the final wordsmithing details.

In closing, this approach in no way speaks specifically to what local plans might be put forth for consideration - it merely provides the vehicle.  I'd be interested in any comments you might have - especially if there are deep pitfalls looming.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Abandoned Oil & Gas Wells in Kansas

Abandoned oil and gas wells without responsible parties in KS are dealt with depending on their abandonment date - before or after 1996.  Why 1996?  The industry and the legislature locked horns over the problem and it was by mutual agreement that the state would handle the older abandoned wells (before 1996) which most often were old enough that the primary responsible parties (PRPs) were either out of business or gone.  The industry agreed to handle all well abandonments after 1996.

To do all this, the legislature created two funds:  The Abandoned Well / Site Remediation Fund that is to cover the costs of the pre-1996 wells (state responsibility); and a Well Plugging Assurance Fund which the industry would use for post-1996 wells.  The state's fund is pre-set to sunset on June 30, 2016.  The industry fund is supposed to be permanent.  Both funds are administered by KCC.

The state's fund consists of 4 sources and receives about $1.6 million annually, although the actual funding has been somewhat erratic of late, with the state general fund and state water plan fund having contributed zero dollars of late due to the state's economic conditions.  The industry fund is from 4 industry sources and currently has a cash balance of $3.966 million and a non-cash balance of $3.296 million.

The KCC reported on September 9, 2011 the following total program gains from the state funded program (July 1, 1996 - June 30, 2010):  8,200 wells have been plugged (pre-1996 wells) and 5,475 remain on the inventory list to do.  Moreover, 209 additional wells were added to this list during FY 2011.  All the available state funds have been spent each year.  The KCC asked that the state general fund and state water plan funding be reinstated.  They also noted that the average plugging cost per well has been increasing over time, so with the same funds, fewer wells will get plugged as this cost rises.  They said this was due primarily to the contractor costs increasing - as they contract with industry personnel and equipment to do this work.  WOW, Sweet deal - the industry gets out of their responsibility for these wells and then cuts a deal to get paid to do the very same work with the taxpayers footing the bill.  Gotta shake your head, sometimes.

The KCC also reported that no funds have yet been spent from the industry fund (post-1996 wells).  Yikes, does this raise any red flags?  And when this was noted, no committee member asked "Why?"

While it is comforting to know that abandoned oil and gas wells with PRPs are taken care of by the responsible parties, and that such wells without PRPs can also get taken care of, it is not so comforting to know that it's going to take an estimated 40 years to address the currently known list, and that the fund created to do this is slated for sunset in 2016.  Of course, it's already been extended once - so maybe a couple more times won't be asking for too much.  I gotta tell, you, it sure appears to me that the industry has been coddled in Kansas.  I hope I'm wrong.  But I guess, when you carry a purse as big as theirs, you have to be careful how you deal with 'em.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ogallala Aquifer Advisory Committee Meeting 2

I attended the OAAC second meeting on August 23 in Scott City, Kansas.  Another good turnout of committee members and state and local agency folks.  Also had at least two members of the press in attendance as well - representing the Hays Daily News and Kansas Public Radio.  The major focus of this meeting was slated to be 2012 Farm Bill discussions - How does the current Farm Bill affect water use and how can the next Farm Bill promote water conservation?  But first, status reports on the two action issues out of the first meeting were requested:  the water right abandonment situation, and a proposed new, local IGUCA.

KDA reported on two draft versions of the abandonment statute amendments.  One version was simple and proposed to strike the language of the current bill that required water right owners to maintain their wells in order that their non use would be considered "due and sufficient cause".  The second version also included language that would allow the local GMDs to effect abandonments if they chose to.  Recall that the discussion last meeting was to consider allowing the GMDs to develop regulations that would direct the chief engineer's abandonment efforts locally. No decision was made.

KDA also reported on a draft statute and regulation that would support the local IGUCA discussed and approved on August 9.  The effort was a new statute authorizing a new process for a Local Enhanced Management Area (LEMA).  Both DWR and GMD4 indicated that discussions have identified 6-8 changes that were being further contemplated.  Moreover, the Revisor's Office has not yet completed their draft work, but it should be available soon.

The committee decided to hold up the next meeting until the IGUCA statute draft language was completed.  They indicated they wanted to consider the actual draft language rather than simply support the concept.  More later.   

Monday, September 12, 2011

Seeing Stars In Daytime From Within a Well?

I too have heard this claim several times, and I honestly don't know the answer. I ran across the following from Snopes.com, so maybe this is it.

My mother read a book written a few years ago, set in the American Civil War, in which an anecdote was put forth in passing that states "if a person stands in the bottom of a well during daylight hours and looks up he or she will see the stars." Is this true?

There is a persistent belief that the stars in the heavens (which are masked from sight during the day by the light provided by the sun) are easily viewable when regarded from the base of a very tall chimney or from the depths of a deep well or mine shaft. According to lore, such a strictly narrowed field of vision would serve to diminish the brightness of the daytime sky, making the ordinarily invisible stars starkly apparent.
The belief is an old one. Aristotle (384 BCE - 322 BCE) mentioned it in passing in one of his essays, and Chapter 20 of Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers begins with it.

Ancient or not, the belief doesn't work in practice. As Rev. W.F.A. Ellison said of the belief in the Journal of the British Astronomical Association in 1916 (as quoted by Ackermann):
A very little scientific reasoning, even without experiment, will be sufficient to dispose of it. For, what is it which hides the star in the daytime? It is merely the glare of our atmosphere illuminated by the Sun's rays. As the atmosphere extends to a height of 50 miles or more above the Earth's surface, a shaft or chimney 100 to 200 feet high could do but little to take away that glare, and anyone who has ever actually looked up from the bottom of such a shaft (as I have from the bottom of a colliery, 900 feet below the surface) must have been struck not by the darkness of the little disc of sky visible, but by its dazzling brilliance.

More simply, from the depths of a well, what can be seen of the daytime sky appears bright, bright blue, not the inky black that makes stars stand out. That the sides of the shaft are dark will only serve to heighten the contrast presented to the viewer by the daylit sky.

So, being at the bottom of a well won't turn the visible daytime sky into a canopy of darkness against which stars will stand out. But will it at least make objects easier to see, even though they're being served up against that bright blue background?
The Snopes article goes on to say:
Experiments performed in 1946 showed that the dimmest star conceivably visible to the human eye in ordinary open daylight would have to be five times brighter than Sirius, the brightest star in our skies (save for the sun itself). In non-open daylight (that is, from a location that severely restricted the observer's field of vision, such as the bottom of a deep well, a long chimney, or a mine shaft), Sirius itself is potentially visible during daytime; however, even for the very, very sharp-eyed, Sirius wouldn't stand out the way typical stars do against the dark backdrop of the night sky. Moreover, Sirius would have to be directly above the viewer's tiny opening, something those in the know have calculated as wildly improbable. (On a typical moonless night, approximately 10,000 stars are visible to the naked eye. Yet, even if your very deep mine shaft had a big opening, you would likely see only 10 to 20 stars pass overhead that entire night.)

The belief about stars being visible during the day when one gazes at the heavens from deep wells or mine shafts is somewhat fueled by what people perceive about telescopes: that stars one can't see (or can't see well) with the naked eye become easily viewable when gazed at through its long, dark tube. Sadly, that belief credits the instrument's tube for the magic actually performed by its lenses.
So, there you have it. Now I'd like to hear from anyone that has seen stars from within a well - and not the kukoo stars one sees after getting knocked in the head - a likely occurrance as to why one is in a well in the first place!


I was browsing water stories in my RSS feed today (9/20/2011) and ran across a story on the rebuilding of the Greensburg, Kansas Big Well - the largest hand dug well.  Out of the the discussion, JustTess comments:

"OK..I ask only one thing. PLEASE DON'T BIULD A ROOF OVER IT! All my life I have heard that if you go down into a well you can see stars in the daytime. When I put it to the test I found a very solid roof over the Greensburg well, thereby nullifying the most compelling reason to buy a ticket."

Several others chide her a bit and even reference the same Snopes.com account that I included above.  Guess I'm not the only one after all.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Ogallala Gets a Little Play

It's not often that an aquifer gets mentioned in popular culture - books, movies and the like, but our favorite friend the Ogallala Aquifer has shown up in several cases.  Keep in mind there have been endless reports and scientific writings and books on the aquifer, but I'm talking popular culture.

One of the early mentions was in James A. Michener's epic novel "Texas" published in 1985.  The final chapter (Power and Change) features our Ogallala.

In 1990 the second Dust Bowl in David Brin's futuristic novel, "Earth" is partly blamed on the dewatering of the Ogallala.

We even made it into the world of Marvel Comics when Spider-Man deals with a plot for world domination that includes this vast source of freshwater.  Of course, I wasn't worried a bit!

The aquifer also figures prominently in the novel "That Old Ace in the Hole" by E. Annie Proulx - published in 2002.  The hero is sent to a small Texas town to evaluate land for a mega-hog production company.  And we all know what most Texas land is worth without water under it.

And finally, it forms part of the historical background of the plot of the Canadian television mini-series "H2O".  The actual water subjects in these two mini-series are the Great Lakes, but they are being looked at as a recharge source to the vast Ogallala and other US water supplies.

There are probably others out there, so if you run across any, you can add to this developing list.  Who knew groundwater could be so interesting?

Hydraulic Fracking in Kansas - 2

A little more light on Kansas hydraulic fracking (HF) history and activities.  I attended a joint Legislative Committee session today in which several presentations were made on HF in the state - one by the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) and one by Kansas Independent Oil & Gas Association (KIOGA).  According to both presentations HF is well regulated in the Kansas.

KIOGA strongly opposes EPA regulating the practice, so touted KCC regulation as very sufficient.  KCC said they regulate many phases of the practice, but had to admit that they have never generated any statutes or regs that specifically apply to, or even mention the HF process.  All their regulations which they claim adequately protect Kansas are covered by their existing general oil & gas regulations.  These would include surface pipe; production casing; and well cementing regs; and their intent to drill and pipe permitting processes and reporting requirements.  Excuse me, but just how effectively do these old original regulations deal with the new issues of HF when the process never even appears in the statutes?

The joint committee did get the closest look yet at Kansas activity.  As I wrote on February 2, 2011 (here), HF was first done in 1947 in Grant County, Kansas.  Moreover, the KCC reported that probably 80% of all oil & gas and coalbed methane wells in the state have been fracked.  The good news was that Kansas has just over 19,000 injection wells readily available to take all the flowback fluids, so this waste stream in Kansas is 100% injected.  This of course was to ease water treatment concerns that are a huge issue in other parts of the US.  They regionalized some crude figures on HF water use and injection pressures.  From lows of 200 bbl of water per well and 300-1000 psi injection pressures in SE Kansas, to 2700-5000 bbl of water per well and 2500-3600 psi injection pressures in NW Kansas.

I have to admit, they were pretty convincing, but then again, they weren't challenged very hard with probing questions.  They made a big deal out of the FracFocus.com web-registry for fracking chemicals used, but never mentioned that Kansas operators rarely use this voluntary site.  Remember, in February, 2011  I queried for every Kansas well in the entire registry and got two returns.  They made huge pitches for the KCC regulation of HF, yet just an hour earlier they reported on several KCC rulings that made it more unlikely that the industry (or anyone else) would ever be held responsible for older abandoned oil & gas wells.  They touted again that not a single case of groundwater contamination in the US has yet been verified from HF.  They criticized all the anti-fracking materials, from the New York Times series to the Gasland documentary.  And they mentioned three times that the industry is all about transparency, yet never mentioned how they have fought chemical disclosure.  Quite frankly, I sensed them being just as radical and entrenched in defense of the practice as they accused the environmental groups of being in opposition to it.

All this leads me to believe the real answer is somewhere in the middle, which is essentially what I said back in February.  I do wish the committee would have asked more questions, though.  They were far too polite.  I would think that Kansas should consider a set of regulations specifically for HF that include at least:  1) full disclosure of HF chemicals and injection pressures; 2) full disclosure of flowback fluid injections; 3)  full disclosure of engineering work-ups on the fracking plans used; and 4) a remediation fund should any problems occur.  Now, if your activities are 100% safe and will never cause a problem, why would you oppose these basic requirements?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Dilemmas of Local Groundwater Information?

Most of what I do in the arena of information dissemination is geared first and foremost to the folks of NW Kansas.  They simply need all kinds of information to make informed decisions about the groundwater resource we have been given the right to manage.  And I see the internet as an extremely effective way to provide that information - it's available all the time, can be (and in the case of our webpage, is) updated regularly and has links to virtually any water information or data anyone in NW Kansas could possibly need.  Our newsletter goes out 6 times a year to these same folks and often mentions our use of a dedicated website, a weblog and twitter for these primo informational opportunities.

Yet, I marvel at the lack of use our folks make of these sources.  Seems the older generation has the stronger desire to understand groundwater and participate in its management, but are not embracing the electronic venues provided.  The younger folks of course jump all over anything e, but don't yet have the interest in groundwater.  Heck, for all our offerings, I've picked up 2 local twitter followers (neither one of which is active today), no local blog followers and a consistently non-local visitation list to our webpage.  We're getting a fair number of hits to all these items - just not who they were created for.

I guess it's going to take a full generation for this to work any better than it is now - waiting until the current youngsters develop the level of interest in groundwater management that motivates them sufficiently.  And of course anyone is welcome to read for enjoyment or use the information we put up, but since this material is not particularly written for non-local and international folks, I often wonder if they get anything out of any of it. 

Maybe I need to get more sophisticated in the preparation and presentation of the material.  If it was absolutely relevant and snappy enough wouldn't the target readers find it?  Yes, it could all be my fault.  Comments or suggestions will be welcomed.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Emergency Drought Permits in Kansas

Just a few weeks ago the Division of Water Resources announced the offering of an emergency drought term permit for water right owners looking at exceeding their annual water right amounts in order to complete the 2011 crop.  The drought in much of southern and central Kansas has been one for the ages to be sure.  The feeling was to shut off irrigation to stay within the limits of the water right and lose all or a substantial amount of the crop production would be a waste of the state's water resources invested in the production to date, so some mechanism needed to be provided to bring in this crop.

Basically the emergency permits require a water right owner to set aside his or her annual water right and be provided a two-year term permit (2011 and 2012) worth double the amount under the regular water right.  What ever is overpumped this year must be compensated for next year.  The need apparently was there because DWR has now eclipsed 800 term permits in the works - in literally 3-4 weeks time.  There is more to this program, but it clearly is a short-term, attempt to get through this devastatingly dry year.

More funadamentally, however, it could be argued that every water right owner knew on January 1, 2011 how much water he or she had for the year.  The safe decision would always be to plant only the acres and crop populations that could be completed ONLY with the irrigation water (assuming NO rainfall is received).  The problem with this mindset is that in the other 68 years out of 70 they underproduce because they fail to take production advantage of whatever rainfall is received.  When it all boils down, it's an economic and risk management system.  Seems like most producers have economic production goals and a risk tolerance well above the safest levels.  So we tend to operate for the bounty of the moderately dry, average and wet years and scramble for the fixes in the driest of the dry years.  Nothing more than human nature I suspect.  And in the end, the fixes do keep additional water from getting used, so it seems like reasonable business to me.