Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How About Horizontal Water Wells?

We've heard incessant comments and rants about horizontal gas wells (yep, fracking) but what about water wells? Is the technology used here, too? Turns out it is used for water.

It's usually called a "radial collector well" in the public water supply world, but it's the same thing. In the water world a caisson, or large water tight concrete vertical tube, is usually constructed from the surface down into the groundwater aquifer and then from 4 to eight radial wells (or more) are drilled out of the base of the caisson. The wells flow into the caisson where a large pump is used withdraw the water. When pumping, the lowered water level in the caisson induces more supply from the radial wells in the aquifer, which is very quickly recharged by the surface water in the river when the well is adjacent to a river, which is most of the time.

One huge difference is that the public supply wells are not fracked. These are typically sand and gravel (alluvial) wells that need no propping or chemical treatments to produce water. How could anyone think of fracking a public water supply well, anyway?  But they do tend to produce copious amounts of water.  The newest such well in Kansas is for Olathe, KS and has been approved for 7,300 AF per year from a single radial well.

In Kansas there are currently 10 radial collector wells - most of them supplying Kansas City and Overland Park water needs from the Kansas and Missouri River alluviums. I found it interesting that the newest well (Olathe, KS) has been issued two water rights - a groundwater right and a surface water right. Turns out the modeling of this well has concluded that 96% of the total water produced will be coming from surface water recharge while the remaining 4% will be coming from the groundwater aquifer. Novel idea.

I found a 2008 BoR report on the technology that has quite a few facts and figures - although they genericize the process by including angled well drilling and HDD - Horizontal Directionally Drilled Wells. This report was done for the Municipal Water District of Orange County, CA. It states that 220 radial wells were in use the US as of 2002. Most of these are located in relatively larger cities including Mankato, MN; Lincoln and Omaha, NE; Des Moines, IA; Sonoma County, CA and the like, but smaller cities like Pella, IA; Dardanelle, AR; and Bennett, CO also claim usage.

The technology was invented in the 1920's for the oil industry, but the first public water supply use was in 1933 in London, England of all places. The first US application was in 1936.  With such enormous amounts of water being produced, I keep wondering when the irrigation industry is going to express their interest.  Probably when crop prices rise high enough to cover the significant cost of these hydro-engineering marvels.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Moving a GMD 4 Water Right

I want it way over there
There are a number of regulations involved in moving a water right in Kansas, and likewise in GMD 4.  Mostly they insure that the new location will not affect other water users; that the historical consumptive water use will not increase, and that the new diversion point is within the same source of supply as the original.  It is the idea of "local source of supply" that this post covers.

Things used to be pretty loose when it came to local source of supply in the early days (1945 - 1970's).  It was somewhere between a nominal 1320 feet (1/4 mile) and 2640 feet (1/2 mile) - depending on where the water right was located.  In the early 1980's GMD 4 felt that the local source of supply should be largely independent of distance, and more related to specific well performance.  When the dust settled on our new regulation it was a combination of the two methods.  By this I mean we have a nominal 1/2 mile maximum move distance that everyone gets access to.  However, if the well owner wants to move farther than this, the GMD can use a Theis analysis to estimate the cone of influence developed by his or her well over a pumping season that equals the time it takes to pump the authorized water right quantity at the current tested rate of diversion.  The radial distance from the well where its cone of influence is .5 feet or more drawn down is now considered it's local source of supply.  To make sure these calculations are as accurate as possible, we require a well log from within 300 feet of the original well location from which the aquifer parameters (transmissivity and storage coefficient) are determined, or, a time drawdown aquifer pump test to estimate these same parameters.

The state of Kansas has never been a fan of long water right moves, so on top of all this they insisted on a maximum move distance of 3960 feet (3/4 mile) - regardless of what the Theis analysis reveals.  And the new location must meet well spacing from all other wells, too.

All in all, this regulation has worked out well for us.  There have been a number of people use the regulation to move a well over the 1/2 mile limit, but there have also been cases where the longer move they wanted has not been supported.  Our GMD is the only area in the state at this time where a well can be moved farther than 1/2 mile - if supported by the area hydrology.  For the larger wells that influence wider areas, this new regulation seems more fair than a guesstimated distance.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

My Blogging Experience Thus Far..

I've been blogging on water issues (focusing most on groundwater) since June, 2009.  To date I've posted 237 items (this is my 238th).  These posts range far and wide - probably farther and wider than just about any blog I know of thus far (in terms of water that is).  However, it's time to stand back and assess what this experience has meant to me and the GMD I work for. 

On one hand, the creation of our blog has caused me to follow other water-related blogs from around the world.  I follow 30 such blogs from all around the world - well, mostly from the US with one each from Australia, Netherlands and New Zealand.  The world-wide perspective has been very much worth all the effort.  I'm amazed that while we call them different things, the problems are pretty much universal.

I've also become casual acquaintances with a half a dozen of these fellow bloggers.  While we've never met, I have conversed with several of them and have been able to get more informed on both their issues and mine through this dialog.  While most of these people are also involved in Twitter, blog to blog discussion and comments are far more complete and effective - a real plus.  However, even this medium is constrained by the amount of time each player decides to invest in the discourse.  I can tell most of the discussion is still abbreviated, but it rarely shuts the door after a single response.

My biggest disappointment thus far has been the ability to discuss sensitive issues within the blogsphere.  I had hoped - actually initially designed this blog - to be a public bellwether of our developing "enhanced management" effort here in GMD 4.  Since a few involved in this effort have stated their intent to file suit if the GMD tries to implement it, all such discussion is ill advised.  In fact, all the early posts I did on this topic I have removed.  Not only that, but I'm finding very few of the local GMD 4 members are involved in either Twitter or the blogsphere. As such, these discussions would never involve them anyway.  While I'd appreciate the viewpoints of many water-related perspectives if I continued posting on this topic, it was the local public perspective that I had hoped to involve directly. 

All in all, the benefits I think are enough to continue for a while longer.  While my stats accounting appears to be sufficient (and even growing a bit over time) the followers I am amassing is a bit embarrassing.  Take away my family and personal friends, I have two followers. HA!  Seems everyone is strapped for time.

Anyway, If you read my blog at all, you may have noticed the change in my profile - to an effort toward my own learning experience.  If anyone wants to tag along with me, they are welcome, but from now on I think I'm going to do this more for myself than for anyone else.  Maybe that's the way it should have been all along.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

NGWA Groundwater Summit - 2012

The National Ground Water Association (NGWA) holds various affairs each year, like the upcoming Groundwater Expo (Nov 29 - Dec 2) in Las Vegas.  But I'm partial to their groundwater summits where a lot more focused information regarding groundwater happens.

The 2012 event is more precisely called:  "2012 NGWA Ground Water Summit - Innovate and Integrate:  Succeeding as a Groundwater Professional in a Water-Short World."

May 6-10, 2012 in Garden Grove, CA at the Hyatt Regency Orange County will be this years venue, and the program looks jam packed.  All the way from the keynote speaker (Pat Mulroy, Las Vegas Valley Water District, Southern Nevada Water Authority) to the 30 already accepted session proposals, this looks like an interesting and well rounded event.   Use the link above to see all the session details.

As the event gets closer, I'll do another post on it - as I'm sure will others in the water community.  BTW, you should note that the submission deadline for abstracts is still a few days away (11:59 P.M. November 30, 2011) so if you are inclined, submit away. 

While the looming abstract submission deadline is the main reason I'm so early with this announcement, the other reason is a burning desire to finally get something water-related announced before @WaterWired does!  There you have it.  (Just kidding Michael.  I'm certain you will do the subject a thorough and much more professional rendering when the more appropriate time comes - and I'll look forward to it!  You are not only an institution, but an inspiration as well!)  More later.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Can A Report Be Too Technical?

The EPA released the report, PAVILLION AREA GROUNDWATER INVESTIGATION Pavillion, Fremont County, Wyoming on August 30, 2010 which concludes groundwater contamination in the production area from hydraulic fracturing. You can read the report at the link just provided.  What caught my attention more than anything in picking up this report to read is the over the top use of acronyms in the introduction.
Using only the acronyms, the first introductory paragraph reads:

This ARR for the ESI at the Pavillion Area GW Investigation site (CERCLIS ID# WYN000802735) in Fremont County, Wyoming, has been prepared to satisfy the requirements of TDD No. 0901-01 issued to UOS under the EPA Region 8 START 3 Contract No. EP-W-05-050....Field activities were conducted from January 18 to January 22, 2010, in Pavillion, Wyoming. Field activities followed the SI format during the ESI, applicable UOS TSOPs, and the QAPP (UOS 2005b; UOS 2005a). This ARR is intended to be used in conjunction with the FSP (UOS 2010).
Got it?  I'll give copious props to anyone who can translate this paragraph by completing all the abbreviations.  Well I know no one can do it, so I'm going to provide them for you - just so you fully understand this report.

They are:

ARR = Analytical Results Report
ESI = Expanded Site Inspection
GW = Groundwater
CERCLIS = Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Information System
TDD = Technical Direction Document
UOS = URS Operating Services, Inc.  (clever - using an acronym inside an acronym)
EPA = Environmental Protection Agency  (or perhaps Extraordinary Participation of Acronyms)
START 3 = Superfund Technical Assessment and Response Team 3
SI = Site Inspection
TSOPs = Technical Standard Operating Procedures
QAPP = Generic Quality Assurance Project Plan  (they obviously tried to trip us up on this one)
FSP = Field Sampling Plan

After suffering through the introduction, quite frankly I didn't care a whole lot about what they found in the way of fracking impacts, and I still haven't read the rest of the report yet.  I'm guessing these EPA report writers must have completed a special Rosetta Stone course before this assignment.  Just haven't figured out which one yet.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What Is Your H2O Score?

I was contacted Friday by David Snopek regarding a project he and fellow students are working on which is called What is your H2O score?  The H20Score effort is a social enterprise designed to empower water consumers (both business and residential) to become more water efficient by helping them understand their water usage.  Basically you enter your home or business address and how many people are at the location and it puts that location's per capita water use on a nifty Water-Use-O-Meter for contemplation.  The idea is presumably to get those users thinking about their water use compared to other similar sized households, and more importantly, how they can use even less water.

The project is in the last few days of a fund-raising campaign - trying to raise enough capital to obtain the data from 100 additional cities in the final 100 days of 2011.  The data base runs from individual addressed water use data obtained by the project through freedom of information requests or being provided by the cities voluntarily.  This data is then processed and put out there for the world to see - as long as you enter a valid address within a city contained in the database.

I don't know what to think.  The effort probably doesn't hurt anything and should get some users thinking about water conservation in their municipal setting.  While I'm comfortable with the H2OScore's motives I'm not completely convinced of everyone else's motives.  For example, the group just added the City of Wheeling, IL to their data base, and they say on their blog:  "Recently, Wheeling has been planning development centered around its Metra ties with Chicago."  You follow Wheeling's "development plan" link provided by the blog, and read: "Each design....functions as a step toward a final goal, bringing the village a flexible framework to guide future development."

I have to ask... Does asking everyone in Wheeling to cinch up their belts and conserve water to promote future development constitute a true water use conservation paradigm?  Or a planned growth and development program based on the cheapest source of new water available that is more likely to increase water use in the long run?  Of course, there are personal benefits to conserving water, too (namely lower water bills) regardless of what motives your city might have.

I guess it all depends on why you want to conserve water in the first place and who wants it done.  If Wheeling is currently sustainable in their water use and wants more growth, then they'll want to conserve water use hoping to stay sustainable after the new growth.  If they're not sustainable any longer and need conservation to regain sustainability, then new development should be off the table.  If H2OScore wants to bring about water use conservation for the sake of using less water, then I'm guessing this may not be the best way to achieve it unless the city has this goal as well.  All this means in some cases H2OScore will be helping the cause for water conservation, and in some cases could be assisting in creating more growth and water use demand.  However, in either case it could be the individual water users themselves who get a more clear picture of the realities of water use - both their own and of their city fathers.  This would be beneficial.

I don't know if the Water-Use-O-Meter comparisons are exactly correct yet, but I like very much the fact that they will eventually expand the comparisons to make them much more meaningful - hence more individually useful. The triple comparison is a very good idea.

To the extent that cities really want to develop a water use conservation ethic in their water users - for the sake of using less water - I applaud the efforts of the H2O group.  To the extent that individual water users can use this tool to become aware of their use in relation to the total water supply, and what decisions are being made about all these elements, I think this effort can be positive as well. 

If you're interested, visit their webpage (linked, above) and consider a donation.  I thank David Snopek for his dialog in helping me understand this interesting effort of empowering individuals to eventually get the water conservation they expect and want.  Pay them a visit.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Western States Water Council & Local Control

The Western States Water Council (WSWC) is the "water" committee of the Western Governors' Association (WGA) - an affiliation of 19 western states of the US and 3 Pacific islands under the US flag. 

The WSWC has been busy of late dealing with the issue of water needs and strategies for a sustainable future in the western US.  I found it interesting that their 2008 report on this very subject focuses pretty heavy on the issue of local control and an appropriate state posture to facilitate local actions.  More specifically the report says:

1)  States should not overtake local planning, but should set state policies that facilitate information flow from the state to the local entities and which also require local governments to adopt comprehensive plans that include water resources.  Wait a minute. States are not to overtake local plans - but require comprehensive water resource planning?

2)  States should offer technical/financial support for groups dealing with growth-related water issues.  Wait another minute. How can many local groups achieve sustainable use in the face of growth patterns and policies?

3)  States should work with locals to find innovative ways of allowing ag water transfers to urban uses while avoiding economic damage to the ag economies or the environment.  Sounds good where both uses exist, but what about in agricultural rural areas where urban uses are so insignificant as to be non-existant?

Then we find out that the WSWC is also working with 11 federal agencies on issues of better integration of land use and water supply planning - a group they call WestFAST (Western States Federal Agency Support Team).  Wonder if there are any local stakeholders on this team?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Finally, A Federal Fracking Foray...Phooey?

On May 5, 2011, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu asked the Natural Gas Subcommittee of his Energy Advisory Board to make recommendations on improving the safety and environmental performance of natural gas hydraulic fracturing from shale formations.  Good.  But note it was not a directive of "Should this be done or not?' but one of "It's going to be done, now, how can we do it responsibly?"

This request is part of President Obama's "Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future" - crafting a comprehensive plan to reduce America's oil dependence while saving consumers money and making the US a world leader in clean energy. The Subcommittee's task is:

" to identify, within 90 days, any immediate steps that can be taken to improve the safety and environmental performance of fracking and to develop, within six months, consensus recommended advice to the agencies on practices for shale extraction to ensure the protection of public health and the environment." (Blueprint, page 13)

The Subcommittee met for the first time on May 18, 2011 and held 5 additional meetings on June 1-2, June 13, June 28, July 13 and October 31 - all discussing issues and gathering information on the good, bad and ugly of hydraulic fracturing operations.  They report that they have received "a tremendous amount of public input" since their first meeting, and have provided a website for the review of all these comments, but it's not a working link as of today when I visited.   I wonder how many of these comments asked that it not be done at all?

They also released the first draft of their obligatory 90-day report on August 11, 2011 and took public comments until August 17, 2011 - receiving 163 comments on this specific document.  Of the 163 comments, 16 were detailed responses, 10 provided by environemtal groups or persons and six by oil and gas interests.  Their own summary of these comments states:  "These comments include complaints about the limited time for reviewing the report and objections to the Subcommittee makeup. Numerous respondents oppose hydraulic fracturing, recommend additional regulation of natural gas operations, and oppose development of non-renewable energy sources."  And most of us are just now hearing of this entire effort. 

Anyway, the Subcommittee just released its second and final ninety-day report which is dated November 18, 2011, in which they review the progress that has been made in implementing the 20 recommendations in its initial report of August 18, 2011.  Nice, It sounds like the entire public process didn't add, delete or change a single recommendation they originally came up with.  Moreover, even though most opposed the practice altogether, it is clear that some vestige of the current efforts will be assured of continuing.  I guess it's also possible that every issue identified by the public was already in the 20 initial recommendations.

You can read the November 18 draft report here.

The full committee was supposed to convene a public meeting on November 14, 2011 (via conference call) to discuss this report.  We were all duly noticed because they put the announcement in the Federal Register. Gad!  I missed it!  Again!  But don't worry, that notice included the following message:  "In order for public comments to be most useful to the Committee, they must be submitted by noon on November 14, 2011."  Makes me feel right on top of things as I read all of this process today.

And finally, from the November 18, 2011 report:  "The Subcommittee has the impression that its initial report stimulated interest in taking action to reduce the environmental impact of shale gas production by the administration, state governments, industry, and public interest groups.  However, the progress to date is less than the Subcommittee hoped and it is not clear how to catalyze action at a time when everyone’s attention is focused on economic issues, the press of daily business, and an upcoming election.  The Subcommittee cautions that whether its approach is followed or not, some concerted and sustained action is needed to avoid excessive environmental impacts of shale gas production and the consequent risk of public opposition to its continuation and expansion."

Yikes, is this entire effort simply a request by this committee for each individual oil and gas operator involved in fracking to step up to the plate and "do the right thing"?  Kumbaya?

Oddly enough, most of my suggestions are loosely included in the committee's suggestions, so maybe there is a glimmer of hope for these items yet.  It will be interesting to see how much of it survives this process.

Fracking Without Water

OK, so the oil companies have finally figured out a way to do their fracking operations without water - using essentially propane, or liquified natural gas instead.  This solves one of the main problems (what to do with the fracking fluid flowback) but as far as I can tell does nothing for the other main problems - leaking gas production - either through up hole leaks or via fracturing that may penetrate overlying formations in addition to the target formation.  Some contend these other problems, at least the up-hole leaks, are the larger problems by far.

I'm beginning to feel that hydraulic fracking commands a new and well-thought out set of regulations.  I'd like to see each state address this issue, or collaborate on one set for all states, but I'm afraid the industry is far too influential in all the major producing states to get very far down that road.  Looks like there is much work to be done in convincing the Kansas Legislature that special regulations should be developed in the interest of groundwater quality protection.  (Heck, maybe there is a local GMD role that can be explored here as we have groundwater quality responsibilities as well.)

I've said before that we need at least:  1) assurances that production well integrity is checked more often and carefully maintained; 2) ditto for injection wells; 3) engineering plans for the target zone fracturing are made a matter of record; 4) ditto for fracking chemicals used; and 5) there should be an adequate fund established for fixing problems that is readily accessible by state regulators. 

For debate, I'd also like to see the industry do a moderate level of groundwater sampling (if usable groundwater exists in the immediate area) before operations begin; and submit production samples as fingerprint items for future reference; and be required to use non-fresh water for all their operations whenever possible. Might as well ask - Christmas is just around the corner.

As far as I see it, without more industry accountability we're going to continue arguing over mistakes, accidents and natural occurrences forever, and as long as this situation continues as it is organized now, the oil and gas industry is going to win 99 times out of a hundred.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Crystal's Cave - A Watery Beginning

In the Mexican State of Chihuahua there exists the Naica Project - a mining operation principally for lead. The major operation uses huge pumping units to de-water sections of the mine for lead mining. In 1910 within this complex a 250 foot long chamber was discovered which contained beautiful selenite crystals up to 6 feet long - easily the largest and finest gypsum crystals ever found.  In fact, at a depth of about 360 feet, the walls were covered with them.  This site was named the Swords' Cave.

In April of 2000, at 1000 feet below ground level, three more such chambers were discovered. These locations were named the Queen's Eye Cave, Candle's Cave and the most spectacular of them all, Crystal's Cave, where selenite crystals in some cases 30 feet long and as much a 4 feet in diameter are scattered around like common pick-up-sticks.  What has water got to do with this you say?

It's in the formation.  According to the website:

"These macro crystals formed underwater in the area where sulphide saturated phreatic thermal waters (52°C), came in contact with oxygen-rich cold waters, naturally infiltrating from the exterior.  The surface and subsurface waters could not mix due to the density of the phreatic mineralized water; oxygen diffused into the lower layer, resulting in the oxidation of sulphide ions to sulphate which caused an extremely light over-saturation of gypsum and therefore a slow deposit. These singular conditions prevailing for hundreds of thousands of years created a mineral wonderland, a site of scientific interest and an extraordinary phenomenon."

Another amazing story of the wonders of water.  And speaking of water, the clime inside this cave is brutal on humans.  It remains about 45-50 degrees C and close to 100% humidity.  People can only tolerate these conditions for 10-15 minutes at a time normally - and up to about 30 minutes with special clothing and gear.  Kind of sounds like Texas in the Summer, if you ask me!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Memory of Water

S. Hahnemann - 1841
Does water have memory?  If it does, we as mankind seem to have trouble remembering it, because it keeps coming up from time to time.

It started in about 1790 when German physician Samuel Hahnemann proposed the homeopathic theory of medicine - basically that less is more.  By diluting common medicinal elements into water he reportedly discovered that they were equally effective in relieving the same symptoms in patients - no matter how diluted - as long as they were diluted using his specific method called succussion (agitation).  He deduced, therefore, that water had the ability to retain the original "essence" of whatever was being diluted, no matter how diluted it became.

In the late 1980's a French doctor, Jacques Benveniste, was studying allergies when he happened onto this same line of doctoring.  He could dilute an antibody in water time after time after time, even until he couldn't find the antibody any more (chemically) and yet it still appeared to have the same effect as it had full strength.  After researching it for several years, he deduced the only explanation was that water had the ability to remember the chemical properties of the original solution diluted in it.  But it only worked if the water was agitated during the dilution process.  Well the stuff hit the fan when he tried to bully the esteemed English science journal, Nature, into publishing his work.  They resisted for quite a while based on how many laws of physics, science and nature would have to be re-done if he was correct.  But they eventually relented - under one caveat - that they have unfettered access to his lab and data and could attempt to replicate the finding themselves.

Long story short, Nature could not replicate his labwork (nor could anyone else) and ended up debunking the entire idea.  But would Benveniste stop?  Nope.  He kept researching and later claimed that water memory could be transmitted through telephone lines, and later via the internet.  Yet the legend lives on via the thousands who practice and swear by Homeopathic medicine even today.

As it turns out, water does remember correlations of its molecular bonding patterns, but not for very long.  Recent research (Cowan, 2005) finds that liquid water loses the memory of persistent correlations in its structure within 50 fs.  If you're not aware, a fs is a femtosecond - 1 quadrillionth of a second.  Water, much like myself, is very efficient at not remembering what it's supposed to be doing.  Now, if only they'd work at transporting WATER over the internet...

Friday, November 11, 2011

Let's Take A Step Back And Look Long Term

This hydrograph is from the long term monitoring well located on the Kansas State University Experiment Station just west of Colby, Kansas.  It has been measured since the late 1940's with much of the record having a continuous water level chart available.  When you look closely, you see a pretty steady decline rate since 1959 except for a slight, but noticeable bump starting in 1990 and lasting until 2000.

You should be aware that from 1977 through about 2000 this region went through a remarkable conversion of the irrigation systems used to irrigate local crops - from the traditional flood systems to center pivot systems.  These new systems reported pumping reductions - sometimes up to 30%.

If pumping dropped so significantly, why didn't the water level decline rate slow accordingly?  It only slowed during the 1990's because every year of this decade but for one was above average rainfall.  Pumpage in the 90's was down even more and recharge was up a bit.  As soon as rainfall returned to normal, the decline rate did so as well.

The answer is that the water table decline rate is related solely to consumptive water use, not pumpage.  The high pumpage rates under the older, less-efficient flood irrigation systems also meant more deep percolation - recharge.  When the more efficient irrigation systems came in, less water was pumped, but less water was also recharged - the higher system efficiencies meant that a higher percentage of the pumped water went to crop production and healthier crop canopies.  With slightly higher ET use on slightly reduced irrigated acres, total ET stayed about level.  All this means that consumptive crop water use during this transition was staying about the same - thus the decline rates stayed the same.

The only way in our neck of the woods to slow the decline rate is to reduce consumptive water use - meaning crop ET.  The only way to do this is to grow lower ET crops on the same acres, reduce acres, start deficit irrigating the same acres or some combination of all these things.  As the declines continue and eventually well yields drop off, irrigators will start making these decisions by default and the economic engine of the region will begin to slide down - over time.  This is especially true since all wells will not drop off at the same rate or over the entire region at the same time.  It doesn't make it any better, but the notion that one morning the entire Ogallala will be dewatered and stop producing agricultural irrigation water is far fetched.

This is what the HPA process is all about - allowing local water users to decide to reduce CU earlier in this scenario to extend the economic life of the aquifer as they see fit.  I don't see strongly "right" or "wrong" answers here, just local preferences - IF the locals can publicly make these decisions. Let's hope they can discuss these issues in earnest and chart their best course.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Norovirus In Groundwater

All over the news of late is research from Emery University that is declaring the longevity of the norovirus in groundwater.  This virus is responsible for gastroenteritis in humans which is not a pleasant condition by any means.  They actually human tested it up to 61 days finding that it was still fully infectious.  The report says they also kept it at room temperature in the dark and after 622 days there was enough viral RNA present to conclude that it was still fully infectious after that long.  Even after 1,266 days it was barely diminished.  They conclude this is proof of the need to further treat groundwater from wells that could be affected by leaking or faulty sewer lines or septic systems.

But wait a minute, in digging deeper, the report divulges that the norovirus in this study was put into groundwater taken from the well and kept in the lab for the entire study. This is a far cry from placing the norovirus in the groundwater and letting it transmit through the aquifer to be withdrawn from a well and then consumed.  Keep in mind, that groundwater is largely an anaerobic environment at a constant temperature usually somewhere between 50 and 60 degrees F.  This is a much different environment than water sitting in a lab at room temperature.  And also groundwater quality, depth of occurrence and virtually every other condition you can think of is so varied from place to place that these results can't possibly be transferable.

I don't doubt that the norovirus may last a longer time in the groundwater than we may have suspected to date, but shouldn't we demand a real experiment to test its longevity?  Come on Emery.  And don't forget this is Georgia groundwater to boot!  Now in the Ogallala, I doubt the nasty norovirus could even last three hours.  I've never seen any.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Two Kansas Sinkholes of Interest

Crawford Sink, Kansas
The two-lane Highway 24 used to be the East/West travel route through NW Kansas from Kansas City to Denver.  But in the mid 1960's a new 4-lane, Interstate I-70, was finally under construction. As with all highway construction in Kansas, it began with a geology survey.  As the records have it, the geology survey found a fairly large pond sitting just on the South side of the interstate right-of-way about six miles West of Russell, KS.  Asking around, the highway geologists were told that the pond had always been there - at least as long as the oldest oldtimers in the areas could remember.  So the construction continued by filling in the pond, final grading of the roadbed and constructing an overpass just to the West of the pond.

Immediately thereafter the subgrade kept sinking right where the old pond had been.  Engineers thought this was just fill material settling but soon discovered they were building the interstate right over an active sinkhole. While this discovery was being further considered and evaluated, paving continued.  Just afterwards, geologists checked older aerial photos from the early 1950's and found no such pond.  It was now confirmed that it was a very problematic sinkhole having been caused by an improperly plugged oil well - part of the very active Gorham Oil Field.  This is when it gets named the Crawford Sinkhole, for the oil lease name causing the problem.  Through significant study, it was determined that fresh and brackish groundwater contained in the Dakota, Cheyenne and Cedar Hills sandstones was moving down the abandoned oil well and dissolving the subsurface Hutchinson Salt Member as oil operations continuously remove oil and salt water from the deeper target zone - the Lansing-Kansas City oil member. As the 270 feet thick Hutchinson Salt dissolves, cavities are created and the overburden slumps in, eventually translating the slump all the way to the surface.

Through much work, the entities involved determined there was no risk of a catastrophic collapse, so to date Interstate 70 gets built up 5-6 feet whenever it needs it.  In the 1970's there was thought to re-routing I-70, but the Gorham Oil Field goes several miles in each direction with no assurances that other sinkholes wouldn't be discovered later.  And then the Witt Sinkhole showed up just 1/2 mile to the West.  It too  begun to sink - actually a bit faster than the Crawford Sink - and by now the overpass bridge between these two holes was being affected as well - being torqued a couple of feet with the East curb being 2 feet lower than the West curb.

By 1984 attention was being applied to the Witt Sink and an attempt to stop the subsidence was launched.  A hole was drilled next to the old suspected abandoned well and drillers pumped 30 cubic yards of cement down the new hole, until pressure built up, hoping to plug the mess and stop the flow of water.  It worked for about 6 months, but then water got around the plug and the highway quickly resumed its pre-plugging subsidence rate of 5 to 6 inches a year.  In 1988 they tried again, this time pumping 200 sacks of bentonite mud and 100 cubic yards of cement into the problem.  This attempt also stopped the sinking for another short period of time before it resumed.  Is it prophetic that rearranging the letters in "Crawford Sinkhole" yields the phrase:  "A cork hinders flow"?

For now the plan is to continue re-grading the Witt Sink as needed to make it safe for traffic, but the Crawford sinkhole may be getting too deep to continue this plan much longer.  The good news is that the overpass was removed about 5 years ago, so it no longer is interfering with the possibilities.  Meanwhile, the oil production from the Gorham Field continues with everyone aware that until it ceases, the sink will continue to work it's magic.  I've been driving over these two sinkholes about 20 times a year for the past 35 years, and I still try not to drive through them when a semi or two are down there with me!   Fair warning, if I suddenly stop blogging it's possible one of these two sinks finally got me!  And is it also coincidence that another anagram for "Crawford Sinkhole" happens to be:  "Drain. Flow. Shocker!"

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Water Wells and Accidents

Most people don't think of water wells as accidents waiting to happen, but they CAN be if they're not properly cared for.

Between January 1, 2011 and today, a rather cursory Google search counts 93 men, women, children, leopards, lions, cows, horses, elephants, hogs, tigers and deer have slipped, fell, been pushed, jumped, drove, were driven or otherwise ended up in active or abandoned water wells in only 9 Countries around the world.  Unfortunately, only about half were able to be rescued alive, and, these incidences appear to be very under-reported.

These accidents - all of them - should never have happened.  If you have a water well, please take care of it!  If it's an active well, seal it securely.  If it's abandoned, get it filled in and reclaimed properly.  If you think you might have a well on your place, find it, evaluate it and take the appropriate steps to make it completely safe - of course, being careful that when looking or caring for it you don't end up in the well yourself.  There should be plenty of technical help around to guide you in proper procedures, but if you're not comfortable in this regard, hire a well driller to de-commission it. Thanks for listening.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Kansas Oil & Gas Information

The Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) regulates the oil and gas industry in the state, along with the other more traditional responsibilities like motor carriers, telecom issues and utility rates.  Many don't realize how much information is available on the web concerning oil and gas wells in the state.

For one, all the Intents to Drill oil and/or gas wells are posted and searchable here - Kansas Intents to Drill.  At least for the past year.  The Intent to Drill form has much information about the proposed well - including who are involved, what kind of a well it is, the intended pay zone information, whether it is a vertical or horizontal well, location, and much, much more.  These are pdf files.  The site also has monthly plugging reports on all plugged oil and gas wells and a lot of other information.

What does not seem to be available are the well completion reports showing how the well was completed - pipe used, cementing regimes, mudding data, etc., etc.  While the intents are useful in tracking new wells likely to be drilled, and the plugging reports are useful for finding out what wells were plugged, it is the completion reports that are so valuable for assessing if the wells are being completed correctly.  This is likely just an oversight by the KCC (cough, cough) that I'm sure will be remedied soon.

And the Kansas Geological Survey (KGS) also has oil and gas industry information, including maps of all the oil and gas producing zones in the state, annual production reports, and much much more.  Use this link for the KGS oil and gas pages.  If you can't find something after visiting these two pages, call the agency.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Qanat - Persian Water Systems of Old

The qanat is basically a groundwater collection and distribution system all in one.  Attributed originally to the Persians, the technology was heavily used in the middle east (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, etc.) and ended up being used in many other parts of the world including India, northern Africa, China, Indonesia, Peru, northern Chile and even Mexico.  The picture at right is the basic layout, but as you can imagine, the actual look of each qanat will vary according to the geology and hydrology present.  In one respect, these were the first horizontally drilled wells in the world.

Construction was basically by hand with a few basic tools - plumb bobs, leather buckets, shovels, hatchets, ropes, reels and lights.  The first step was to find the water source - usually associated with (upgradient from) an alluvial fan meeting the mountain or foothill.  A test well was dug, which if successful, became the mother well.  This information on water supply elevation, yield and quality were needed to design the rest of the system.  The main channel could not be too flat (reduced yield) or too steep (erosional problems).  A typical gradient would be 1 foot in 1000 feet of distance, but the longer qanats would require less gradient than that.  In some cases original qanats were expanded with side channels. They were at times re-routed to provide cooling for ice houses and residences.  Even retrofitted with power devices.  They were community systems in every respect of the word.

The vertical shafts were multipurposed.  They provided air, a transport avenue for the cuttings and maintenance access over time.  They were typically spaced every 100 feet or so, but this distance would vary depending on the depth of the main channel and the material being excavated.  Typically work began at the bottom (where the water was to be delivered) and worked back to the mother well, but in the longer systems, work could be started from both ends toward the middle.  One needed very accurate plumb bobs in these cases.

The typical qanat would be on the order of two miles or so in length, but some have been measured to be 35 miles long.  The shafts would range from 50 feet to in some cases 600 feet deep.  Quite a construction job in that day and time.  In fact, typically making 100 to 150 feet per day on the main channel, many qanats took years to build.

In antiquity, the job was hired out to specialized workers called muqannis, who not only built the systems, but maintained them too. These were important jobs - usually handed down from father to son - which paid reasonably well.  It was also a dangerous job.  Air quality and cave-ins were the main hazards.  The entire community was responsible for the qanat's O&M - whether that be a do-it-yourself job or hire the muqannis.

How many qanats are there?  It's hard to say, but it is estimated that as many as 50,000 were at one time in use in Iran alone.  Today, only half of those are still in use.  UNESCO reports 3,000 currently in use in Oman.  One of the oldest and largest qanats is in the Iranian city of Gonabad.  It is 2,700 years old and still provides water to 40,000 people - both domestic and limited irrigation.  It's about 25 miles long, and the mother well at the end is just over 1,100 feet deep.

There is no question as to the importance of these early watering systems.  I'm amazed at how many there were, how big they can be, how sophisticated they are and how long they have been in use. This had to be difficult work, but as has been said many times before, there is no substitute for water.