Monday, October 31, 2011

Water Folklore - The Kelpie

I play a twitter wordgame from time to time called Loqwacious where a word is posted every day and the players use that word in a clever, funny, poetic or other kind of tweet.  Today's word is "Kelpie".  I seem to have heard of a breed of dog called a kelpie, but wasn't sure this was the right word.  As it turns out, this is the secondary definition for this word, but the primary definition is rooted in folklore - water folklore to be more precise.  And much more sinister.  From Wikipedia the definition is:

"The horse's appearance is strong, powerful, and breathtaking. Its hide was supposed to be black (though in some stories it was white), and will appear to be a lost pony, but can be identified by its constantly dripping mane. Its skin is like that of a seal, smooth but is as cold as death when touched. Water horses are known to transform into beautiful women to lure men into their traps. It is understood that the nostril of the horse is what creates the illusion of grandeur.  It is wise to keep away from them.

The fable of the kelpie differs depending on the region where it is told. Other versions of the story describe the kelpie as "green as glass with a black mane and tail that curves over its back like a wheel" or that, even in human form, they are always dripping wet and/or have water weeds in their hair.

The water horse is a common form of the kelpie, said to lure humans, especially children, into the water to drown and eat them. It performs this act by encouraging children to ride on its back. Once its victims fall into its trap, the kelpie's skin becomes adhesive and it bears them into the river, dragging them to the bottom of the water and devouring them—except the heart or liver.

Similar creatures:

In Orkney a similar creature was called the nuggle, and in Shetland a similar creature was called the shoopiltee, the njogel, or the tangi. On the Isle of Man it is known as the cabbyl-ushtey (Manx Gaelic for "water horse", compare to Irish capall uisge) or the glashtin. In Wales, a similar creature is known as the Ceffyl Dŵr. It also appears in Scandinavian folklore where in Sweden it is known by the name Bäckahästen, the brook horse."

Here are a few of the Loqwacious tweets so far today - for a flavor of the game.  (When I play, I'm known as @wb1949)

@oldbuffalo:  a true kelpie likes her seafood pie with a little meat in it #lqw

@zenDecision:  Hear the loon 'neath Hallowed moon | See dripping blood and guts | as the unDead meet the Kelpie | & Fate reclaims what shall be #lqw

@wrobertswriter:  Mr. Ed was a kelpie. I know because he warned me not to swim for at least a half hour after eating.

My #lqw entry for "kelpie"?  I haven't played yet today.

Anyway, now you know the full story behind the infamous Kelpie!  And my story for not knowing of this water creature before?  Heck, I'm a groundwater manager.  Not only is there no kelp inside an aquifer, but the adhesive needed to take kids down there I'm sure does not exist!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Yet More on Water For Oil & Gas Drilling

I just had a question from a landowner about water rights on their land - anticipating the time when a landman would knock on their door to secure an oil & gas lease.  In this case, there is only a domestic well supplying the house and yard, and they had no idea what legal rights or obligations they had in this regard.

In Kansas every non-domestic use of water requires a water right - regardless of the quantity of water needed.  There is no argument that oil well drilling is NOT a domestic use, so there is no question that such a use needs a water right.  There is also no question that the only water right these folks have is a domestic right for their household and landscape needs, so there is no argument that additional water rights need to be obtained. 

Well, there are several options in this case.

1)  Either the oil & gas company, drilling company or the landowner could obtain a temporary water right for drilling an oil & gas well.  Once the temporary permit is obtained the water could be withdrawn from any specified water source, be it an existing well, a new well, a surface water supply as specified in the permit.  NOTES:  1) The temporary water right is NOT a permanent right and is active for only 6 months, so this process would have to be done each time a new supply of water is needed;  2) If a new well is drilled, the disposition of that well when the permit runs out needs to be pre-determined. If the landowner is going to take it over, they then assume all ownership and responsibility for the well and its plugging when no longer useful.  It's a good idea to cover this issue in the lease up front if not already covered.

2)  The landowner could file for a new water right for industrial use (oil & gas recovery) on their land provided water is available for appropriation.  They can do this from any source of water, again, on an existing well or a new well or a stream channel or surface pond.  This results in a permanent water right for that use.  Notes:  1)  New water may not be available to appropriate.

3)  If the landowner has a non-domestic water right on the land (most typically in our area this would be an irrigation water right) they can convert a portion of the non-domestic water use to "industrial" use.  This would be a permanent change and would allow water to be provided for oil & gas purposes up to the extent of the change approved.  NOTES:  1) This is a permanent change that will reduce the former right by the quantity changed to industrial use; 2) It provides for a dependable water supply to the oil & gas industry for any wells within about a 10 mile radius.

Each approach has advantages and disadvantages, but one of these three options must be taken to stay within the law.  When sales of water are made informally and without a water right it really upsets those who have formally converted part of their existing water rights to service this demand, or have bothered to otherwise arrange to provide this water to the industry legally.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ultra Pure Water (UPW)? What Gives?

You'd think that clean water is a good thing, and moreover, when it's for drinking, water couldn't be too clean. But you'd be wrong. In certain manufacturing worlds water has to be VERY clean. Not even pure makes the grade, it has to be ultra pure - nothing but two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen pure. And this kind of water is NOT good for a body. In fact, rather than giving things that your body needs, it starts to take all kinds of minerals from your body that it needs. Besides, it tastes pretty awful, too. This water is so clean it doesn't even conduct electricity worth a hoot.

UPW is particularly useful in the semiconductor and microchip industry, but is used in pharmaceutical manufacturing as well. In the computer world it's used to wash the semiconductors which are becomming very small and very condensed. In fact the electronic pathways on microchips are so small these days they're narrower than the wavelengths of visible light and can only be seen with an electron microscope. Can you imagine the havoc a salt crystal would wreak on one of these chips? Kind of like finding Pike's Peak in your garden.

If you think reverse osmosis filtering would be involved you'd be right, but, it's just the first step with about 12 filtering processes afterwards - all the way down to the final filter of somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 nanometer wide pores. This is water that the typical municipal water plant does not provide, so where do they get this stuff? Fact is, most semiconductor plants make their own with a water treatment plant within the chip production plant - can't rely on anybody else's water!

Given all this information, I'd say that while you can't drink it, UPW would probably make some pretty darn good bath water, maybe - especially for those who like to listen to the radio sitting on the edge of the tub! But the best news of all is that it has to weigh less than regular or heavy water - great for transporting it!  As long as you can afford the stainless steel pipes, that is.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Haven't Been Fracked Yet But Are Concerned?

The question was posed to the SW Kansas GMD 3 as follows:  "If I were a concerned domestic well owner in an area where hydraulic fracking operations were to begin, what should my initial, pre-fracking, water quality sampling protocol include?" 

This is actually a very astute question and one that many folks may want to think about as the oil and gas industry ramps up and dives deeper and deeper for extra hydrocarbons.  A baseline, pre-oil activity, water sample (or set of samples) seems like a very smart idea that is more likely to give you a starting point should groundwater quality problems crop up after these areas become active.  Turns out GMD 3 contacted the Kansas Geological Survey (KGS) and asked their opinion, which is recounted here in this blog.  Thanks, Mark!  Click this link to the KGS if you want to review their website.

The KGS approached the question in an interesting way, beginning with "If someone wishes to at least have some basic, affordable, analysis made of his/her ground water, I would suggest...".  How thoughtful and actually dead on this approach was.  Anyway, they go on to suggest some basic inorganic tests including:  pH, specific conductance, calcium, magnesium, sodium, alkalinity or bicarbonate, chloride, sulfate, nitrate, and fluoride concentrations.  They like this suite of tests in that it will provide a background quality that will be helpful in distinguishing the pre-activity water quality from any post-activity quality should there be the more common problems of:  oil or gas brine leaking from waste at the surface; or through a faulty production or injection well; or through a poorly plugged (old) oil or gas well nearby that may have been affected by the fracking process.

They continue on to say that the other fracking chemicals are organic and will be much more expensive to include in a testing protocol - but none-the-less are as important.  While many of the organic constituents of fracking activities are none that landowners or farmers would be normally using, there are some that are - like ethylene glycol (antifreeze), methanol (antifreeze, windshield fluid and denatured ethanol) and isopropanol (glass cleaners and fuel additives).  Unfortunately, these are the same 3 organics they recommend being tested for because they are also the most commonly used in the fracking process.  If they show up in the post-activity testing, be prepared to prove that they're not yours!  If they show up before oil operations and you've been using these products, perhaps you have a leak in your septic system or have had poor storage and disposal practices on the farm already.

In any case, KGS recommends you contact a company certified by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for whatever testing you decide on.  This link or This link can be used to find a KDHE qualified lab.

They also indicate that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) and the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) are working with the industry to obtain samples of actual fracking fluid being used in Kansas horizontal wells, but I have not confirmed this.  Presumably this would yield a fairly accurate fingerprint of these water qualities for future reference and comparisons.  There is also an understanding that other fracking operations in different formations in Kansas will require a different fracking brew, so this may be a long and involved process.

I have to reference the industry FracFocus website at this time as well.  This is a voluntary site where drilling companies can choose to list the chemical constituents of their fracking formulas along with a lot of other information on the listed well.  A breeze through this site for fracking wells close to your area could give you far more specific information about what is most likely being used.  You could then choose to test accordingly.  Some companies use this site more than others, and some states have required its use, like Texas.  Kansas has not.  Might be something to talk to your legislators about...

Anyway, I hope this gives some direction on how landowners can approach a water quality sampling effort that gives them some peace of mind yet doesn't require their entire life savings.

[Update: October 26, 2011]

KGS has offered an interesting alternative to those who have not yet leased land for oil and gas operations that makes sense to me.  Thanks, guys.  In their own words:

"Dave Newell at the KGS had an excellent suggestion concerning negotiating an analysis for a new lease and I have added some procedure to it that you might consider adding to your blog:

If a land owner is being approached to lease their land, a baseline laboratory analysis paid by the oil/gas company could be negotiated as part of the leasing agreement. This is not costly compared to the total leasing agreement and drilling, and in some ways, it could protect both the property owner and the company. In this case, a third party could collect and submit a water sample to an independent certified laboratory and both the oil/gas company and landowner should receive the results."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Limited Supply Water Use Meetings Slated

ATTENTION KANSAS IRRIGATORS:  The Kansas Department of Agriculture Division of Water Resources (DWR) and K-State Research and Extension will be hosting four educational meetings for water right holders who have questions about water rights in drought and possible ways to manage next year’s water supply. If you have used any of the emergency water right tools this year, you should plan on attending one of these sessions.

The goal of these meetings will be to provide information to water right holders, who will likely be operating their irrigation systems next year with less water, about potential solutions available for them.  The information will cover all the newest gizmos developed in response to the 2011 drought - including emergency term permits and flex accounts.  In addition, Kansas State University (KSU) has some great tools for making decisions on how to optimize profit in in these conditions that they are going to share.  (click to see an earlier blog post on these tools)

In overview, a recent KDA press release says it this way:  "...the Kansas Department of Agriculture offered water right holders two alternatives to allow for additional pumping authority in 2011, the 2011 Drought Emergency Term Permit and Multi-Year Flex Account (MYFA) Permits.  The Emergency Term Permit allows water right holders to borrow from their 2012 water allocation in 2011.  The MYFA allows for water right allocations to be spread out across a 5-year period.  These options and how they work will be discussed in detail at the meetings. This discussion will include potential enhancements to MYFAs that the department is drafting for the consideration of the 2012 legislative session."

As a bonus, a brief overview of water right law in Kansas under the Kansas Water Appropriation Act will be covered, with emphasis on what needs to be understood as these limited water right irrigators get into next years pumping plans.  This segment basically lets you know why these tools were needed in the first place.

KSU Water Resources Engineer Norman Klocke and KSU Professor and Extension Agricultural Engineer Danny Rogers will also discuss topics affecting producers’ crop and irrigation decisions including expected yield from irrigation, year-to-year yield variability and risk, profitability potential of possible crop rotations for 2012 and potential yield outcomes for 2012.

The 4 scheduled meetings are:

November 15, 2011:  Larned, KS; 9 a.m. to 12 noon; Pawnee County Fairgrounds; J.A. Haas Building; 400 E. 18th St.

November 15, 2011:  Pratt, KS 2 to 5 p.m.; Pratt Area 4H Center; 81 Lake Road.

November 16, 2011:  Garden City, KS; 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.; Southwest Area Extension Office, 4500 E. Mary St.

November 16, 2011:  Hugoton, KS; 2 to 5 p.m.; Stevens County Memorial Hall, 200 E. 6th St.

All of the meetings are open to the public and there is no cost to attend and no need to RSVP.  These meetings have been concentrated in the drought area where the large majority of 2011 pumping was affected.  For additional information, contact the Kansas Department of Agriculture Division of Water Resources field offices in Stafford at 620-234-5311, Stockton at 785-425-6787 or Garden City at 620-276-2901.

Friday, October 21, 2011

KSU and Some Irrigation Tools

"Many irrigators are facing challenges because of declining water yields from their wells. To optimize water applications with reduced irrigation capacity, irrigators are considering shifts in cropping patterns. Irrigators who have declining well capacities, need to know what crop combinations would most likely result in the most net return. This may require them to allocate both land and water to multiple crops. With powerful personal computers common to consumers in the recent years, producers can evaluate different crop mixes to determine the most probable best allocation of resource by the use of compter models, such as the Crop Water Allocator (CWA).  The CWA is a seasonal planning tool to find the optimum net return from all of the combinations of crops, irrigation amounts, and land allocations that the program user wants to examine."

Even without being motivated by reduced water capabilities, this tool is a very interesting exercise at looking into various combinations of crops and acreages that may surprise you with their profitability - or lack thereof.  There are a lot of operation-specific values, rates and numbers you must input as you set up your fields, but the "what-if" capabilities are well worth it.  While the current version is a downloadable item, KSU is working on a web-based version that should be even better.  If you're a crop producer, and especially if you have limited water, you may want to give this free program a look-see.  All the background data (rainfall, ET reference values, etc.) are geared for Kansas, but these data from any region in the world can be manually input as well.
KSU also has a related program called Crop Yield Predictor which is also handy, but for a different aspect of a producer's operation.  This program helps predict crop yields with limited irrigation.  This program can also be used to determine some of the inputs into the crop water allocator program.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Water & the Feds

It's nothing new - the tug of war over who has what say over water.

One recent foray has been the Clean Water Restoration Act (earlier blog post) where Congress had been debating a seemingly small amendment to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act - that of merely changing the phrase "navigable waters" to "waters of the United States". To some, this small change would have significantly broadened EPA's regulatory control over water, and this is why EPA wanted it so bad.  It was a direct assault on the right of the states to control and manage their waters.  The other side argued the amendment simply corrected what had always been intended by Congress, so it wasn't really any expansion of EPA authority at all.  This bill had been a lightning rod in 2009 and 2010, and according to Thomas, it did not survive the 111th Congress.  Moreover, I haven't been able to find any version of this bill in the 112th Congress either.  It was introduced in 2009 by Senator Feingold, who did not survive the 2010 elections.

I have also been wary of other more subtle Federal activities regarding, not the direct control of water, but the direction of water policy at the federal level.  It almost appears as if the feds have taken the position that if you can't get control of the water itself, the next best thing is to tell everyone what the water policy is going to be.  Take a close look at the federally organized and appointed Water Information Coordination Program (WICP) (earlier blog post).  This is by no means a direct foray into water control, but seems headed toward being a subtle process to direct and impose various aspects of a desired federal water policy on the states.  The specific element I looked at related to a sustainable water use policy.  Warning, this is a very intricate arrangement of committees, subcommittees and programs reporting to programs, so it's really hard to follow.  One sub group sanctioned by WICP is the Advisory Committee on Water Information (ACWI), which is organized into 8 sub committees - one of which is the sub committee on Sustainable Water - whose mission statement is:

"Serve as a forum to share information and perspectives that will promote better decision making in the U.S. regarding the sustainability of our nation's water resources."

Notice how this federally led group starts out their mission statement with a respectable and appropriate federal responsibility - that of discussing and sharing perspectives to promote better decision making - then seals the statement with what they think that policy should be - sustainable water resources.  If no one questions the mission statement this group simply has to point the train.  It's the classic approach of "hearts and minds", which eventually changes policy and law.  No federal group should be telling Kansas or any other state what their water policy should be, or is to be - even if it is a good policy.  My second post on this process.  If Kansans want a sustainable water resources policy, they'll make that happen.

The final example goes back to February, 1942 when the Republican River Compact was being debated by Congress as H.R. 5945.  By this time all three states (Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska) had ratified the compact.  Up steps the Federal Power Commission, who had not been party to the compact to date, with Compact amendments that were disturbing to at least Colorado.  Clifford Stone, Director of the Colorado Conservation Board was updating his board on the Legislative process and put it this way in his February 19, 1942 memo:
Apparently, the Federal Power Commission desires to reserve the right some time in the future to declare the river navigable in law, although not navigable in fact, in order that federal control and regulation may be interposed to prevent the control of consumptive uses for irrigation and other beneficial purposes under state law. This we do not believe to be the proper nor acceptable position toward western states which control water for irrigation under state laws. It represents the activity on the part of some federal bureaus and departments to disregard state laws under the fiction of "navigability in law".  If such a policy is carried too far, it will threaten the water rights on many streams of the West which, as you know, constitute property rights.
As it turned out, Congress did not adopt any of the Power Commission's amendments.  But, as a result, is it any wonder why non-federal entities cast wary eyes upon Washington?  I'd guess there must be hundreds of these kinds of activities if one had the time to research it enough.  But that takes a lot of effort and stamina. And it takes an almost equal effort to keep keeping up the vigil.

Sometimes I wish the federal government and its agencies would quit scheming and conniving over the control of water and introduce a clear and direct bill in Congress to take full control of the waters of the US, or mandate a sustainable water resource policy on all states and territories, or whatever it is they really want to do.  Then Congress can settle the water control issues once and for all and we can all get some productive work done.  Hey, that gives me an idea....

Monday, October 17, 2011

Back to Water and the Olden Days

A little on the lighter side today.  You all know how important water is, but you probably never realized how vital it was to homemakers in the Victorian Era - as captured in the 1892 Snow White Cook Book. In addition to recipes, there is a section on "Cosmetiques", and the first entry is for a "Complexion Wash".  It explains:
Put in a vial one drachm of benzoin gum in powder, one drachm nutmeg oil, six drops of orange-blossom tea, or apple blossoms put in a half pint of rain-water and boiled down to one teaspoonful and strained, one pint of sherry wine.  Bathe the face morning and night; will remove all flesh worms and freckles, and give a beautiful complexion. 
I just have to wonder if the flesh worms and freckles would continue in evidence if tap water was used instead of rain-water.

It goes on to alternatively recommend:
...put one ounce of powdered gum of benzoin in a pint of whiskey; to use, put in water in wash-bowl till it is milky, allowing it to dry without wiping. This is perfectly harmless.
Yeah, harmless, right!  As long as Pa doesn't miss his whiskey!

I'm surprised how often rain-water is specified in these pages.  I guess that's some kind of testament to either the source of most water in 1892, or it was simply perceived to be more pure.  I'm guessing it had to do with a softness issue, but the book never really says one way or the other.

Here are the first two Snow White Cook Book posts (in case you missed them):  September 29, 2010   and  October 28, 2010.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

All-In Auction for SD-6?

I've been working some on the design of an all-in auction (AiA - click here for a rudimentary rundown) - as a different way of reallocating a reduced water supply for any particular area, but clearly looking toward consideration by the SD-6 High Priority Area where we need to take some 28,000 AF down to 22,000 AF to meet the locally stated goals.

The simple model I'm ginning up as a test (fake auction) is:  19 water right owners, in priority, owning between 3 and 15 units of water each (1 unit equaling 20 AF).  Total pre-auction units total 150 (3000 AF) and the goal is to auction off a reduced 112 units (2240 AF).  My model is an annual auction format, which would allow a new restricted amount in any (or every) year.

Basically everyone places their units into the auction (thus the name "all-in") and proceeds to bid at least once for every unit they've put in. They can bid as many times as they like and at any dollar value.  Ideally they would value each unit of water within their operation and bid that value or somewhere close to it.  Once all the bids are placed (my scaled down model found the 19 owners of 150 units making just over 220 bids) the awarding process begins.

The bids are sorted from highest to lowest.  The 112 highest bids are awarded and these successful bidders get to use the 112 units next year. Depending on how all the bids go down, some may get more units than placed in, some may get less, some will get the same number and some may not get any at all.  The idea is that those who value the water the highest and can translate their water use into production valued higher than others, will get the water.  In this scheme, the reduced 112 units of water should end up producing more value than if the 112 units were divvied up any other way.  The final step is the accounting.

The unit price of water is fixed at the first, non-successful bid price, and everyone uses this price - be they seller, or buyer.  In my fake auction, the bids ranged from $36,000 to $200 per unit.  The 113th bid price was $11,201 per unit, so this became the unit price.  Those ending up with more units than they put into the auction, pay the auction $11,201 for every extra unit they came away with, while everyone ending up with fewer units received the same amount for each reduced unit.  In the end, the auction will always be revenue neutral.

If you've been reading anything at all about these kinds of auctions you may recognize this as the current work of David Zetland - from Wageningen University in the Netherlands and perhaps others.  (The link above actually takes you to Zetland's blog where he explains the ideas in a helpful video).  Since we must reduce water use in the SD-6 high priority area, I wanted to see if an AiA might be a workable methodology.

While my spreadsheet ran just fine, I have concerns - or perhaps second-level questions - about the concepts.  They are:

1)  I wonder how easy it will be to get 100% of the water right holders in an area to agree to such an auction. It's not that everyone won't be able to determine their unit values in preparation for the bidding, but I fear many will just not want to take the time and effort to do so, so will decide not to agree.

2)  Our wells and water rights in these special areas are pretty well physically maxed out.  I'm afraid most will not have the capability to pump the extra water they may be awarded, so the owners will not tend to bid beyond their own units.  Now, if the wells would go to the successful bidders, too....

3)  We'd likely have to develop special bidding protocols as our water rights are for maximum annual quantities, and would have to be annually restructured for some if not most of the net positive bidders.  We also have variations of annual water rights, like 5-year allocations and term and temporary permits, that would need special bidding rules.  These issues are not insurmountable, but would take extra attention.  A decision to run a 5-year auction time frame might help, but our 5-year allocations are not all the same 5-years.

4)  Seems to me in a groundwater only setting (like ours) the auction area should be small enough to prevent the possibility of an unusually large slug of buyers being able to grossly over pump a specific area. This could cause impairment problems as a result of the different withdrawal patterns.

5)  Our model was restricted only to the current water right owners. This arrangement would be the most likely to be locally acceptable, but I wonder if a better model would be to open up the auction completely.  Maybe the Kansas Wildlife agency would want to bid in order to supply water to enhance stream baseflows or wildlife habitat.  The outside uses of water are potentially endless - but the local users may deeply resent their participation.  (Update (October 17, 2011):  David Zetland recommended initially limiting participation to only the original unit holders, but , suggested that outside participation could be allowed if desired.  It could also be controlled by being limited to a specified percentage of the total auction units. Both good suggestions.) 

6)  Also, not knowing what the unit price is going to be until after the auction runs I think will confound those bidders who are interested in foregoing irrigation and taking the cash instead.  They're going to be very disappointed if the unit price ends up being half or less of what they valued their water at and would have bid if they wanted to retain their own units.  Eventually the market will settle on some fairly narrow values and more people will have a better idea of what to expect, but initially this could be an issue.  Also, I guess it'd be possible to have subsequent bidding rounds to fine tune this situation, but I'm not sure most folks will stay with the process that long.

7)  With water rights in Kansas being property rights to the use of the state's water that can always be bought, sold, leased, traded or whatever, it may be easier for water users in Kansas, once they are required to reduce pumpage, to lease or trade their water among themselves from year to year rather than subscribe to the formality of an AiA.  This arrangement won't necessarily address the production efficiency issues that the AiA does, but it'd be far more familiar to the users.

I do like some elements of this approach, however, like addressing the production efficiencies and the flexibility of changing the goals from timestep to timestep and even the timesteps.  All in all, our planned SD-6 approach of a regulated allocation system (reducing everyone to 55 acreinches per acre over a 5-year period) gets to the same goal with more of a "sharing the pain" flavor than would a fiscally competitive AiA.  There are some operators that simply seem to have more money than others, and I fear will be perceived as having a leg up in an auction setting.  

I think the AiA concept is interesting enough that it should be at least looked at as an alternative reduced water use, enhanced management plan for any area seeking to, or having to reduce water use.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Use of Freshwater for Oil & Gas in Kansas

Wow, I find of late that I actually misspoke in an earlier post on this issue.  Recall that on February 2, 2011 I said in my coverage of hydraulic fracking in Kansas:  "...the state is not allowed to approve any water right for fresh water when other, lesser quality waters are available to be used. Presumably this would find very small (if any) amounts of fresh water being used for fracking, or any other oil & gas purpose, in Kansas."

Turns out this is not exactly the case.  KSA 82a-711 actually says:  "...except that the chief engineer shall not approve any application submitted [for a water right] for the proposed use of freshwater in any case where other waters are available for such use and the use thereof is technologically and economically feasible."  And this same language shows up in KSA 82a-727 dealing with approvals by the chief engineer of temporary permits - most often used by the oil & gas industry for well drilling purposes.  So, seems the operable words are "technologically and economically feasible".

I then did a quick search of my temporary and term permits for their water sources.  (Yeah, I know, I should have done this back in February!)  From January 1, 2011 to September 21, 2011, within GMD 4, I found 32 oil & gas permits issued.  Thirty-one were for groundwater and one was for surface water.  All were for freshwater.  I didn't expect to see this.  I called the division of water resources to ask:  Had they issued a blanket ruling that Dakota Aquifer waters (and all other waters below the Ogallala Aquifer) were too difficult to use?; or, Were they not aware of the lesser quality water requirement?; or, What?  Moreover, the small number of permits issued thus far in 2011 in our area has me wondering what percentage of drilling activity is even bothering to secure the water rights required by law.  I'll look into this later (and likely blog about it as well).

Anyway, I don't think the industry can argue that Dakota, Cheyenne, Cedar Hills or other brackish waters below the Ogallala are technologically out of reach - as they drill through them routinely on every well completion.  This only leaves the possibility of these waters being economically challenging.  Comforting, isn't it?  The good news is all 32 permits were for drilling wells - a relatively small amount of water.  There were no water flood projects or the kind of operations that use huge quantities of water over many years.
Turns out the state was aware of the rule, and indicated that it was an aspect of their regulatory duties that needed, and was slated for, more attention and broader discussions in the near future.  And they promised my question and comments would be included in these discussions.  While use of freshwater in some oil and gas operations is probably justified, we just need to have the smarts to determine which operations are justified and which are not, and then the guts to enforce this law more closely.  My prediction is that the oil and gas industry in Kansas may want to start preparing to better justify their water use needs and start planning on the use of more brackish waters.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Exempt Wells - Exasperating Exceptions

OK, let's try our hand at exempt wells in the West.  Kansas has them, as does virtually every other western state.  Should we keep them or not?  First some background. 

In Kansas every water use requires a water right - except domestic.  And every water right is in a priority system - the first in time is the first in right - otherwise called a senior water right.  The question is:  Do new water rights that are exempt from the normal water right review process pose a hydrologic problem to existing, senior, water rights?

The early thinking was that domestic use was too small to regulate and should not be burdened with the formality of a formal water right filing system that is best reserved to the larger wells that had potential to impair or negatively affect earlier (senior) water rights.  Besides, having the ability to regulate domestic wells could provide the regulators a direct opportunity to control or prevent population growth by developing restrictive domestic water right rules.  Can't have that!

However, I don't think that anyone can argue that more and more exempt domestic wells can and will eventually overdevelop any water supply and cause water right problems.  You know...there comes a time when one last sequin ruins the dress.  This has been the issue at hand in many recent discussions, and is the precise issue behind a law suit filed in New Mexico by a senior water right owner named Horace Bounds, Jr. who is claiming that subsequent exempt well development in his area is now impairing his senior water right.  This case is now in the New Mexico Supreme Court.

It is here that I have to admit that Kansas actually has two exempt well issues.  Not only has the state specifically excluded domestic wells from the filing requirements of its water appropriation act, but certain small-use, non-domestic uses have also been exempted by both the state and the local GMDs.  It's a subtle distinction I admit, but whereas just about everyone seems to be OK with domestic uses being exempt, at least initially, why would Kansas compound the issue by exempting ANY non-domestic use?
I've heard the justification for the Kansas system posed this way:  Since every exempt water use has a water right and a priority date (even with the state's exemption) they are subject to waste of water and impairment issues just like every other water right in the state.  As such, the water rights administration process can adequately handle their impacts on existing wells, so why go through the tedious filing procedure for the tens (or hundreds) of thousands of these exempt wells?  In other words, just because they're exempt from the filing requirements doesn't mean they're exempt from impairing senior water users. 

The Kansas impairment process will pull any exempt water user into the priority system if and when there is ever a supply problem.  The issue for me now becomes:  If I'm going to put down new roots or build my new house, farm headquarters, business or whatever, I'm pretty sure I want to know more about my water supply than "I hope my unrecorded priority date and quantity can survive an impairment action".  This is taken care of in Kansas as well, because while domestic water uses are currently exempted from filing, they are allowed to file and come into the priority system if they choose to.  A much better choice for many.

Now, do you still think exempt wells are a problem?

If you do, how should they be addressed?

Should the state grandfather in all existing exempt wells and then require, as of a date certain, every future water use to meet the state's development criteria?  New uses would always have access to the market to purchase or lease small portions of existing water rights if no new appropriations can be approved.  When that time comes, would there be willing sellers?  At what price?

Should all currently exempt wells be located and retroactively brought into the current water rights system - knowing that in many locations the most junior of these may not survive an administrative action?  Keep in mind the sheer number of these kinds of wells.  Do you give abandoned wells priority too?
Should we let the courts decide - like is about to happen in New Mexico? Will that decision, whatever it is, spill over eventually to other western states?

While we still have the exempt well issue even here in GMD 4, I'm glad to report that we have addressed one aspect of this dilemma - that of exempt, non-domestic wells.  I have blogged about this earlier here:  small-use exemptions.  We no longer have any non-domestic, exempt water rights. 

Anyone that has solved this problem in mid-stream, I'd like to hear how you went about it.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Robert Glennon Coming to Colby

Dr. Robert Glennon is the Morris K. Udall Professor of Law and Public Policy in the Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona.  He also is a published author including Water Follies: Groundwater Pumping and the Fate of America's Fresh Waters in 2002 and Unquenchable: America's Water Crisis and What To Do About It (2009).

By invitation of the Max Pickerill Lecture Series, Dr. Glennon will be visiting the Colby Community College campus (Frahm Theater) on October 27, beginning at 7:00 P.M. to present on water issues of interest.  The public is invited to this free lecture.  That means you are invited if you can make it to Colby by that time.  I hope some of you can attend.

I am almost finished reading Unquenchable so maybe I'll have a question or two for him.  I also plan on getting my copy of his book autographed.  Maybe I should ask for the authograph BEFORE I ask the questions...

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Kansas Irrigation Water Use by System

I've said from the outset that I didn't think subsurface drip irrigation systems were going to save that much water - consumptive water use anyway.  I gave the industry folks the benefit of the doubt who were arguing that at least the users would pump less water.  This I said was likely, but held firm that these systems would not significantly reduce CU in our hydrologic setting.

I now read the Kansas Water Office's latest irrigation statistics report (Kansas Irrigation Water Use 2008) and notice Table 8 - Irrigation water use by system by location.  By the way, Kansas does have an excellent annual water use reporting system that is driven by a high percentage of metered water use.  The 2008 metered wells comprised 89% of all the irrigation wells in the state.  Anyway, looking at GMD areas, the reported subsurface drip system water use in 2008 was:

GMD 1:  1.09 Acft/Ac;
GMD 2:  .55 Acft/Ac; 
GMD 3:  1.41 Acft/Ac; 
GMD 4:  1.10 Acft/Ac;
GMD 5:  .86 Acft/Ac.

These reported SDI water use quantities were higher than both the flood and pivot system values for most of the 5 GMDs in Kansas.  Only in GMD 2 were the SDI values lower than the flood and pivot system numbers, and in GMD 5 lower than only the pivot irrigated acres.  This means these reported numbers were higher for some 85% of the total 12,923 SDI acres reported irrigated in the state in 2008.  I didn't expect to see this, but it seems to clearly confirm my prediction that consumptive use has not been reduced by conversion to SDI systems. 

However, it is a small sample (12,923 acres of the total 3.03 million irrigated acres) and only a single year, so I'm not going to get too excited.  Besides, when brought up before, the SDI proponents are always quick to say that it takes a little time to learn how to use the system properly, and many users over-apply in the first year or two.  Maybe, but by the time the next Irrigation Report comes out, this possible cause of higher reported water use should no longer be available.

And my new prediction is:  Even if the next report numbers show lower SDI use in Acft/Ac than the flood and pivot acres, we'll still argue about the real benchmark - what has the consumptive water use done as a result of these conversions?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Trouble for the Taj - Water Woes to Blame

Taj Mahal, Agra, India
I added an entry in my "movies including wells" listing a while back on a Smithsonian Channel documentary on the famed Taj Mahal, in Agra, India.  It's well-related factoid is that basically the entire foundation of the tomb-part of the structure was built on a grid of groundwater wells dug and filled with material for adequate support.

There is now much angst within India over the structural problems of the iconic Taj Mahal since the adjacent Yamuna River is far over-used, polluted, and drying up along with local groundwater levels dropping far too quickly - reported at 5 feet per year in the immediate vicinity.  It is the dropping groundwater levels that are drying out the 358+-year old mahogany piles used inside the lattice of wells to support the structure.  In the drying out process these posts become brittle and start to disintegrate.  Recent reports claim cracks have appeared in the tomb over the past year and that the 4 minarets are showing signs of excessive tilting - a structural collapse looming, according to some, in as few as 5 years.  A group has been set up to deal with the preservation, but claim a lack of funding is why nothing has been done since 2003.

They must have known something was afoot all along, because according to the Smithsonian Channel, one of the foundation wells was left open purposely for an observation well.  A 350-some year old record of on-site water levels should be a pretty good data set I'd think.  Groundwater declines always seem to be a problem - first it's land subsidence, drying up of wells and water supplies, loss of wetlands, river baseflows and deep rooted flora.  Now it's dessication of monument foundations. 

Here's hoping the government can solve this problem.  The Taj Majal is indeed in the top 3 list of the most architecturally beautiful buildings in the world - ever. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

FY 2012 WTAP Signup Open Now

Konza Prairie
The Kansas Water Transition and Assistance Program (WTAP) has just opened another year by announcing the FY 2012 signup period of October 1 - November 15, 2011.  This program is for persons in specified areas of the state (including the six, GMD 4 high priority areas) who are looking into retiring their water rights for a payment.

This program is based on past usage, so one's historical reported water use is important in determining the eligible acres that can receive payments under the program.  The historical reported water use is the reported AF of water diverted under the water right during the years 2005-2010 (inclusive) - eliminating the high and low year and averaging the remaining 4 years.  These are the AF that will have a retirement bid placed on them - not exceeding $2000.00 per AF.  The applicants are ranked by bid price and acccepted as long as the funding holds out.  This year, the program has about $820,000.00 available.

WTAP can be used even with an EQIP or AWEP contract from NRCS.  In fact, either of these two federal programs should allow a person to reduce his or her bid for WTAP and thus compete better for the limited WTAP funds.  If you are in a GMD 4 HPA, or Prairie Dog Creek, or Rattlesnake Creek and are interested in this program, contact the Division of Conservation in Topeka, or your appropriate GMD office to work up the numbers - you may want to take a look at them in order to finally decide.  There is actually much more to this program, but all the details can't be covered in this short post.

BTW, WTAP is a pilot program and if not retained by the 2012 Legislature, it will sunset after this final year.  The best way to keep it active is to use it.  Questions?  Let me know.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Biodegradable Polymers

Some mid-western irrigators have been touting the benefits of starch-based polymers that are added to the soil to help conserve water.  The particular application I was reading was about potato crops growing in sandy, hilltop areas which used to be less productive and require about 15% more water than other areas of the fields.   The polymers are not only water retention materials, but are biodegradable and break down in about a years time.

According to one grower the users "..want to change the irrigation schedule to reduce the environment for disease. Now they can irrigate on the dry side and still keep the plant healthy."  In fact, one product's initial testing indicated that 25% deficit irrigation with the polymer will provide the same yield as full irrigation without it.  This could save quite a bit of water - what with the ability to deficit irrigate every acre by no less than 25%.

I wonder if the polymers are capturing erstwhile recharge waters and resulting in a higher percentage of the pumped and naturally provided water available to the crop rather than returning it to the groundwater system?  Reports of it "increasing yields" and "helping to keep plants healthy" seems to imply the plants are getting more water than before.  If this is true, I wonder how many users are subsequently using their extra water on newly irrigated acres?  I wonder if they can alternatively plant higher planting rates for increased production on the same acres?  Or how many are switching to a more water intensive crop to grow?  For those who don't do any of the above, I wonder if they can or will be able to market their saved water to some other grower on other acres, or, for some other consumptive use altogether?  Of course, if any of these things happen to any degree there is no real water conservation (water use reduction) occurring at all.  In fact, more water gets used.  It's clearly a more efficient use of water, but not any real reduction in consumptive water use.

But on the positive side, I gotta believe some fertilizer and ag chemical is being prevented from leaching into the groundwater by reducing or eliminating the deep percolation.  And you'd have to also believe there would be an energy savings too - so long as the saved water isn't being pumped and used elsewhere.  And it'd have to be good for the economy regardless of whether these users grow the same production with less water and inputs, or, increase production with the same water and inputs.  All in all, though, it's hard to imagine increased yields and production and healthier crops without more water being available to the plants - one way or another.  Any detailed water use studies out there on these polymers?