Monday, December 31, 2012

Kansas Thinks Drought Will Continue

The state water planners, the Governor included, are thinking the 2011-2012 drought in Kansas is more likely to continue for another year as to end. As such, they are starting to notify water users of this possibility. I guess maybe "prepare water users" might be a more accurate way to phrase their activity.

The Governor has just released a letter to all public water suppliers in Kansas asking for drought plans to be developed if not already done, reviewed if already in place, and evaluated and updated in all cases. Here is his letter:

Dear Public Water Supplier,

The persistent drought in which we find ourselves is not expected to end in the near term. In the mean time, I have asked all Kansans to take steps to reduce water usage.

As a public water supplier, you can take some specific steps in the next couple weeks. If you have your own source of supply, whether ground or surface, make an assessment of the current quantity of water available. What is the depth to groundwater in your well and how does it compare to historic levels; what capacity remains in your lake? If you purchase water, check with your supplier to see if they have measured the supply.

Another step you can take is to review your conservation plan and drought response triggers and actions. Evaluate your experience from this past year. Plan to update those plans if needed to be prepared to address water supply needs should the drought continue as predicted. If you purchase treated water, contact your seller to coordinate conservation efforts with them. If you are a seller of treated water, contact those systems you sell to and ensure they have the ability to invoke conservation measures in their systems.

We have all seen news reports of large cities and small towns across the nation that have run out, or nearly run out of water due to lack of planning and monitoring. Let’s make sure that others look to Kansas and our public water suppliers as an example of how to deal with drought rather than what happens when you don’t prepare. 

If you need assistance with your drought plan update or evaluating your water supply, please contact the Kansas Water Office at 1-888-KAN-WATER (1-888-526-9283). I would like you to report to KWO by January 8, 2013 the results of your water supply evaluation.

Thank you for your timely attention to this matter as this will better prepare us all to deal with the continuing drought. We are all in this together and will work collectively to weather the challenges.

It is interesting to me that he is asking for a definitive action (a water supply evaluation) on behalf of every public water supplier in the state.  This has never happened before - at least not since early 1977 when I came to Kansas.  But he clearly stops short of making this exercise a directive.  Either way, it is probably sound advice.  I also have to wonder if and when a similar call for action will be requested of the irrigation folks of the state who use by far the most water. 

Friday, December 28, 2012

Groundwater Management Districts Association

GMDA is about to convene its 38th Annual Conference in Austin, Texas on January 9, 2013.  The venue headquarters will be the Crowne Plaza Austin.

The theme this year is "Local Water Planning" and is being hosted by the YMD Joint Water Management District in Stoneville, MS.  You can always count on YMD's Dean Pennington and Judith McGaugh to put on a great conference with interesting tours and talks.  We expect no less this year in Texas.

From the conference brochure:  "Speakers from Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Mississippi will discuss local water planning.  How do we work within each state's water laws and water resources to find solutions for water supply?  Among others, the program will include:  

Wayne Bossert, Northwest Kansas GMD4, will describe a new Local Enhanced Management Area in Kansas.  

Ron Bishop, Central Platte NRD, will tell about integrated Management Plans used in Nebraska.  

Robert Mace, Texas Water Development Board, will give an overview of the role the Board plays in planning.  

Jeannie Barlow, USGS in Mississippi, will describe the characteristics of the alluvial aquifers to help us understand how they are different from other aquifers."

And of course there will be other presentations and discussions as well, and don't forget the networking - worth the price of admission by anyone's account.  For more information, visit the GMDA website.  You can also give me a call.

I'm just wondering what kind of competition Dean and Judith might have ginned up this year.  Whatever it is, I hope I'm not a contestant again!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Texas District Initiates On-line Meter Reporting

The High Plains Underground Water Conservation District No. 1 (HPWD) developed an on-line reporting system for meter readings which their new regulations now require annually.  Actually, the district requires either a meter reading or an "alternative measuring method reading" each year between December 15 and January 15 of the following year.  It's a pretty cool system whereby each well owner creates his or her own user account and then logs into that account to post their year-ending reading.  The previous year's ending reading serves as the current year's starting number.

There are provisions to customize the accounts in a number of ways - you can associate others to your account, like an operator, co-owner, etc., or associate other well locations, or can associate a meter installer who will be able to update your account by adding a meter, but won't be able to post meter readings. 

One is also able to easily add property and/or meter data to their account by two methods - either by name or by map locations using lat/long coordinates.  I'm sure there'll be some glitches, but kudos to the district for undertaking this important task.  Visit the HPWD website for more information.

Kansas has been working on and off for about 4 years now to create an on-line water use reporting system for its water right owners.  It is considerably more complex of an undertaking than simply capturing meter readings, but, nevertheless just as convenient for the regulated public.  We may have something for the 2013 water use reports due in early 2014 - but then again, it may take several more years - who knows.  The real angst I have is that Texas got a good idea done before we did it here in Kansas!!  Something's got to be done about that!!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Climate & Energy Project

I was contacted a few months ago about participating in a new effort being developed by the Climate and Energy Project - a group interested in water and energy conservation in the Midwest.

Their effort involves promoting on-farm water and energy efficiency.  Their plan is to work with all the influential agriculture, water organizations and progressive coops in the state to identify best practices in water and energy conservation on farms and in agriculture businesses.  They then want to highlight the best practices in a highly publicized report (and videos) at a recognition event and share them across the state for others to emulate.  

The steering committee members - myself included - are to scour our areas to find examples of energy and water conservation that meet the criteria of:  1)  replicable, scalable and appropriate for diverse Kansas farms; 2) preserves and enhances water quality; 3) reduces greenhouse gas emissions; 4) represents an affordable approach; 5) saves money; and 6) preserves or enhances soil quality. When these specific cases are identified, we'll all decide which are the best of the best, then the CEP folks will seek to contact and interview the user for all the detail that will help others implement their great ideas.

As we move forward on this, I'm wondering if anyone out in the blog-o-sphere has any superlative ideas or examples that they'd like to share.  Not so much people, but practices.  If it's being done elsewhere, I'm pretty sure someone in Kansas is trying it too.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wells & Accidents - Kathy Fiscus

Kathy Fiscus rescue scene - 1949
One of the more famous abandoned well tragedies took place in California in April, 1949.  It was early evening and Kathy Fiscus was playing in a field with her sister and a cousin when she fell into a 14 inch open water well casing.  The ensuing rescue held the nation captive for the next three days as efforts to save her involved digging, drilling, derricks, trucks, cranes, floodlights and at one time an estimated 10,000 onlookers praying for her quick and successful rescue.  When finally reached, Kathy was found to have succumbed to the lack of air soon after falling into the well.  Such a sad event.

In a twist of fate perhaps, her father worked for the California Water and Telephone Company, which drilled the well some 45 years earlier.  Even more ironic is that he had been involved in testifying to the California State Legislature for a law requiring the plugging of abandoned wells.

This event was also marked as a watershed moment for live radio and TV coverage of events of this nature.  It was covered by TV station KTLA which apparently set the standard for events and TV coverage.  Jessica McClure's well accident was covered in 1987 in much the same way.

This event seemed to leave a mark on America.  Jimmie Osborne, a country singer, wrote and recorded a song in 1949 called "The Death of Little Kathy Fiscus".  His lyrics are simple, but quite accurate.

On April the 8th, the year forty-nine
Death claimed a little child, so pure and so fine
Kathy they called her, met her doom that day
I know it was God, that called her away

Playmates of Kathy, were all havin' fun 
The story was told, they all started to run
And as they looked back, she wasn't there
It's so sad to think of this tragic affair

Just like a beast in a forest that day 
The abandoned well, took Kathy away
For over two days, the well was her tomb
Everyone kept prayin' they'd get her out soon

Thousands were there, from far and from near
Work men they struggled, against sadness and tears 
But after two days, their hopes grew so weak
They called down to Kathy but she never did speak

After working so hard, both day and night 
Digging for hours, she came into sight
The little darlin' was dead, her life it was gone
Now in San Merino, there's a heart broken home

I'm sure she's an angel, in God's peaceful fold 
Playing with children, in a mansion of gold 
As I stand alone, humbly I bow
I know Kathy's happy, up there with God now.

The 1951 movie "Ace in the Hole" was also reported to be inspired by this tragedy, as was one of the vignettes in Woody Allen's 1987 movie "Radio Days" - where a young girl named Polly falls into a well in Pennsylvania.

There is no doubt about it, abandoned wells of any kind are accidents waiting to happen and need to be plugged properly.  Not only are they physical dangers but can also pose water quality problems.  Please do your part if you run across one. Contact your state water agency, a local water agency, your county commissioners, or someone who can effect a timely and safe remediation.

Monday, December 17, 2012

AG, NRCS, GMD4 and Water

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced last Friday a new pilot program administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Kansas and Colorado to remove sediments from ponds to help provide more water for livestock or for irrigation.  This effort will be part of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and is largely in response to the on-going drought.  According to the press release it's to "..provide an additional conservation option for producers who face drought-related issues on their agricultural operations." 

The press release goes on to cover another water conservation program that was implemented from within the recently expired Farm Bill - that being The Ogallala Aquifer Initiative.  NRCS claims that through the Farm Program at least 860,000 acre feet of water was not withdrawn from the Ogallala due to all its conservation programs, representing 1.1% of the entire irrigation use over the same time frame.  Their calculations say that the 1.1% extension translates into $82 million of ag sales at today's value, and, saved the equivalent of 18 million gallons of diesel in energy savings.  They state that just over 25% of these numbers were attributed directly to the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative.

GMD 4 is proud to report that we were a significant recipient of Ogallala Aquifer Initiative funds in which we set aside and/or retired irrigation water use in our six designated High Priority Areas.  Of course, one of these six areas may soon become a formal Local Enhanced Management Area (LEMA) under new Kansas law which will continue the water savings on into the future.

I don't know about saving 860,000 acre feet of water through these programs, but they have been positive for sure.  Suffice it to say that the federal accounting for water savings can be quite different than how we'd account for a water savings.  We've managed to retire (save) just over 2,000 acre feet of real water between the federal AWEP (through NRCS) and the Kansas Water Transition Assistance Program.  This is measured, historical use of water independent of water right authorizations or any other numbers that can look quite impressive.  And they were in relatively small, hydrologic areas where the reductions in use are more likely to have a noticeable effect.

Anyway, nice to see the Department of Agriculture helping out in the drought areas through programs and assistance.

Friday, December 14, 2012

2013 Legislature To Deal With Water - Again

The Kansas Legislature will be dealing with water again this coming session.  The good news is that none of their deliberations will be directly affecting water issues critical to our local groundwater management district - at least that we know about at this time.  The games will begin January 14 when this esteemed body convenes for its 2013 Session.

The Local Enhanced Management Area (LEMA) legislation passed last year as a bright and shiny new authority for locals within GMDs to address groundwater supply problems is going to be looked at for expansion over the rest of the state.  It seems we crafted something that has utility beyond the GMD boundaries.  Our concern was that the current LEMA statute resides in the Groundwater Management District Act, so opening up this act to provide for LEMAs outside GMDs seemed risky.  We are told that the state thinking is a completely separate bill located some other place than the GMD Act.  This is an acceptable arrangement.  Now the only worry is that the Legislature agrees and doesn't try to blend the two after getting the separate bill introduced.

Another issue will be amending the current Multi-year Flex Account (MYFA) law to make it more attractive for use - by allowing end-of-the-5-year-account balances to be carried forward into the next 5-year MYFA period.  My only concern is that the more ability there is to use the full MYFA account, the less water conservation that will be achieved.  I'm OK with some carry-over allowance, but not unreasonable quantities for too-lengthy of time-frames.

The last water issue to be considered is water for oil and gas operations.  There are two schools of thought on this issue:  1) allow these as exempted water uses and hope they collectively don't break the local supply bank; or 2) require them to be obtained from existing water uses (in closed or over-appropriated areas) on the market (by offset) - so as to insure the local supply problems are not exacerbated by these new uses.  The first is a state give-away while the second will be a little more expensive (money and time) for the industry.  Perhaps both can be done by allowing a limited number of exempted rights in carefully defined areas, then requiring all subsequent needs to be offset through the market.  Somehow I think the oil and gas industry will have a say in the approach settled on.

Well, these are the water issues that we feel fairly certain will be dealt with this year.  As usual, there could be others as well. Heck, I'd not be surprised if they take up Missouri River transfers to Denver while they're at it.  Of course, a terminus in Colby, Kansas seems MUCH more reasonable, affordable, politically do-able and a heck of a better idea!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Republican River Compact Proposal Heard

In a special meeting of the Republican River Compact Administration (RRCA) held telephonically on December 11, 2012, the three commissioners (Dick Wolfe, Colorado; Brian Dunnigan, Nebraska; and David Barfield, Kansas) considered an augmentation proposal at the request of Nebraska Commissioner Dunnigan.

The Nebraska group laid out the proposal in conceptual form and asked if the other commissioners had any concerns at this early juncture - before much more time and effort is spent on the rest of the proposal.  They were clear to announce that the concepts being presented yesterday had already included all the concerns expressed by Kansas months ago as the concept was being prepped to place on paper.

The proposal included converting 15,800 acres of irrigated land (all but 800 acres or so of which lay in the Republican River basin indicated by the yellow basin boundary line) and then pumping some amount of groundwater into Medicine Creek to flow directly into the Republican River and on to Harland Reservoir - a key element of the entire compact accounting scheme.  Nebraska claimed this proposal was a water transfer solution bringing Platte River water into the basin, which is authorized by the Final Settlement Stipulation (FSS), while Kansas kept characterizing it as an augmentation plan since 95% of the donor land, and likely all the donor wells, are and would be in the Republican basin.

It will be interesting how this gets resolved, because the project area sits clearly within the recognized groundwater "mound" area created by long-term surface irrigation in the Republican and Platte River basins by Platte River water.

Kansas and Colorado both asked for more clarification on why Nebraska feels this solution is authorized by the FSS, and lamented that the proposal was just received the day before the meeting.  Kansas also didn't believe it had addressed all the concerns expressed months ago.  Both states asked for more time which seemed to disappoint Nebraska who kept stating that "..time was of the essence.." as they needed to get the project completed in the next 6-8 months.

Things were left as many of the issues regarding this contentious compact have been left before - too little agreement on the important issues and very cautious approaches on everything else.  I suppose this issue will get settled one of these days.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Seniority of Water Rights in Kansas

Kansas is a prior appropriation state as far as water law goes, which means basically that the first in time is the first in right.  This system of water appropriation also means that every water right is in a seniority system.  It is only when the supply becomes insufficient to satisfy all the uses that the seniority system comes into play seriously.

Many people are confused a bit about prior appropriation and water right seniority.  Most think that a low number is a senior water right - just because it has a low number.

In Kansas, seniority is more accurately relative to the area of concern (where the supply is insufficient) and to all the water rights in that specific area of concern. 

The picture provided is two different cases where seniority would come into play in Kansas.  Area 1 is representative of an 8,042 acre area  (2-mile radial area) with 11 water rights included - each for 100 AF - and each with its priority number.  The priority number actually relates to the date and time that the application was received in the office of the chief engineer.  The number itself, for example water right number 5,852 shown, is the 5,852nd water right filed in the state under the 1945 Kansas Water Appropriation Act.  It may have reached DWR's office on July 22, 1956 at 2:45 P.M.

If DWR (or in some cases it could be the court) decides that 300 AF is all the supply that can be used in this area, then water rights 3,276; 3,499 and 5,852 are the senior rights in this specific case.  If the decision is that 400 AF can be withdrawn, then water right 7,934 becomes a senior right as well.  It is entirely possible that water right 3,275 in a different area ends up being the most junior right.  Again, its all relative to the specific circumstances in the designated area and the water rights included.

Area 2 is a section of land with only two water rights.  If these two wells impair each other, the senior well in this case is 31,234.

Just to be a tad more complete, Kansas also has Vested Water Rights, which are all the recognized water uses that pre-existed the Kansas Water Appropriation Act.  Vested rights all have the same priority, and all are senior to every appropriation right - even water right number 1.

There you have it - a cursory look at the meaning of seniority in the Kansas priority system.  For more information, visit the DWR website here.  There is not a specific rendering of this issue on the DWR website, but these concepts are embodied in the Kansas Water Appropriation Act.  You may want to talk to a DWR representative for additional insights.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Spate Irrigation? A New One On Me

Cruising the web I ran across the term "spate irrigation" and wondered what it was.  Yes, there is a web site for this type of irrigation - which is essentially using flood flows beneficially in a desert (or near desert) environment.  It's a fairly low-tech irrigation system that uses gabions and/or low head dam structures in and near the river beds to divert flood flows onto adjacent lands desiring to be irrigated.  As you might expect, the irrigation opportunities are hit and miss from year to year, and the system maintenance can be an on-going endeavor.

This is another of those very old technologies utilized in the Middle East for several thousand years now.  The listed benefits include groundwater recharge along with all the usual suspects, which caught my eye.  I guess every little bit helps.  I also like the philosophy of getting a little unexpected benefit from the flood flows rather than trying to completely master not only them, but the entire river system as well - 24/7. 

I think the reason I've never heard of this type of irrigation is because Colby and Northwest Kansas is not yet considered a desert - although it's sure feeling like one of late.  Then again, maybe I just don't get out enough.  In any event, running across this type of irrigation system is clearly another reason to keep exploring our water world and writing these fresh-to-me, blog posts.  I hope you've learned something new, as well.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

$10.00's Best (Heaviest) Buy

I ran across a Reddit thread the other day that was discussing the query:  "What's the heaviest thing I can buy for $10.00?"

The ensuing discussion was quite entertaining with all the suggestions - from potatoes, to lead to sand.  It even got more philosophical in the suggestion that $10.00 would easily buy you 218 square feet of land (at $2,000/acre).  Owning this 218 square feet of land to the center of the earth would give you a hefty weight.  But the discussion degenerated into whether the mineral rights went with the land or not.  And of course, some land is considerably cheaper.

Next came the concept of valueless, or even negative value items.  With some work you could own all the garbage you wanted for free, or even make money taking it.  But most of the engaged folks stood fast on the fact that you had to "buy" the material.  The one suggesting this stood fast as well and retorted that he'd offer them $1.00 to take the garbage - thus buying it.  The rest didn't buy that at all.

There were some other interesting suggestions, but in the end the consensus correct answer was "tap water".  At $1.50 per 1000 gallons (offered as the average price for tap water) you would be buying some 55,600 pounds of material.  Here in Colby, our household rates for the 1" supply line or less is $1.05 per 1,000 gallons.  We'd get 79,492 lbs of water for $10.00!  BUT, Colby has a minimum monthly $20 charge (for the first 3,000 thousand gallons) so you couldn't actually buy any water here for $10.00.  Most places also have minimum charges.

But all this rhetoric really isn't the point that I've decided to make.  This point is that tap water is pretty darn inexpensive, and you can get a lot of product for not very much money.  And this discussion thread will undoubtedly lead us off in many different directions...   

Monday, December 3, 2012

Yet Another Ban on Fracking

The City of Longmont, Colorado, or rather the voters therein, just passed a ban on not only the use of hydraulic fracturing for the recovery of oil and gas within the city limits, but also on open storage pits and the disposal of solid or liquid wastes associated with oil and gas drilling and/or production.  The vote was 59% for the ban. 

The City of Longmont had earlier placed a moratorium on such operations as it developed its own regulations - based on citizen opposition.  The council eventually developed its own regulations and then lifted the moratorium as those new regs took effect.  Poor Longmont, they then got it from both sides.  The state of Colorado sued in July claiming that only the state Oil & Gas Commission can regulate the industry, and a green citizens' group named “Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont” placed an initiative on the November 6 ballot called Question 300 - which would actually ban the procedure if passed, because they didn't think the regulations went far enough in protecting their health and environment.  Well it passed, and now it seems, no one is happy but for the pro-Question 300 folks.

This approach to oppose fracking - township or city or county governments regulating it out of business or outright banning it - has been tried many, many times in the past, and has most of the time been challenged in court by the pro-energy development forces - either the governing bodies wanting to cash in on the development, or by the oil and gas industry, or the individual oil and gas companies themselves.  Everyone, including the folks of “Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont” expect such a legal challenge in the Longmont case as well.  I guess that's how the system works.

I'm sorry to say that I'm not up on how most of the industry challenges have turned out in the other cases of government controls or bans.  I do know that a 2-year moratorium on drilling instituted by the City of Binghampton, NY was recently struck down by a state judge. In this case, the court said that not sufficient "emergency need" was demonstrated by the city since there was still a statewide moratorium in effect in NY State.

Does anyone have some specific case results they'd like to share?  I'm guessing it's going to be a mixed bag, some failing and some successful.  As with many resource issues, it seems, "who" gets to say what the rules are is just as important, if not more so, as the rules are themselves.  And there is always a higher level of government wanting to be that rule-maker in the really important issues.


December 11, 2012 Update:  Colorado Governor Hickenlooper has announced that the state of Colorado will not sue Longmont over its recent fracking ban, but that the state will support oil and gas companies that do file suit.  See his comments here.  He says he thinks the ban is a regulatory takings of mineral rights from private owners, but doesn't feel comfortable with the state filing suit since the state doesn't own any such rights.

December 18, 2012 Update:  Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) has filed suit against the City of Longmont asking the courts to invalidate the recent voter's ban on fracking operations.  COGA says the ban denies property owners the right to develop their property and also prohibits a private activity that is allowed by state law.  The City of Longmont says it will vigorously defend the voters' action.  This will get interesting.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Beware of the Kappa

Here we go again - another folklore venture into scary water creatures.  This time it's Japan and the ever frightful Kappa.  Translated as "river-child", the Kappa are quite similar to the Nakki of Finland, the Slavian Vodnik and the Scottish Kelpie - all which have been used by these cultures to keep children very wary of the dangers of water bodies.

Leave it to the Japanese to provide so much detail that the creature can seem very real indeed.  From Wikipedia"Kappa are typically depicted as roughly humanoid in form, and about the size of a child. Their scaly, reptilian skin ranges in color from green to yellow or blue. Kappa supposedly inhabit the ponds and rivers of Japan and have various features to aid them in this environment, such as webbed hands and feet. They are sometimes said to smell like fish, and they can certainly swim like them.  Although their appearance varies from region to region, the most consistent features are a carapace, a beak for a mouth, and the sara, an indentation on the top of their head that holds water which is regarded as the source of their power. This cavity must be full whenever a kappa is away from the water; if it spills, the kappa will be unable to move or even die in some legends.  Another notable feature in some stories, is that the kappa's arms are said to be connected to each other through the torso and able to slide from one side to the other. While they are primarily water creatures, they do on occasion venture on to land. When they do, the sara can be covered with a metal cap for protection."

Use the Wikipedia link provided to read the rest of their description, traits, powers, vulnerabilities, locations, alternative names, etc. You'll also find that they are not always scary and evil, but can be benevolent when approached respectfully and provided foodstuffs or other gifts.  I don't know about you, but I plan to carry cucumbers with me if I ever visit Japan - the Kappa's all-time favorite food - better even than kids!  Some Japanese are known to write the names of their children on cucumbers and toss them into the river before swimming or bathing.  The jury is still out as to whether this protects, or marks, the kids, though.

I especially liked the water references related to the Kappa.  Not only is the water in their sara so important, but the single example of their sometimes helpful nature to man is that once befriended, they'd perform tasks for humans such as helping irrigate their fields.  Yep, come to think about it, we could use some of these guys around here, too.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

State's Second LEMA Hearing Set

The second hearing (required by law) for the state's first local enhanced management area (LEMA) has been set for November 28, 2012 in Hoxie, KS beginning at 10:30 A.M.  For those who may not know, a LEMA is a pretty big deal in Kansas.  It is a process whereby the local water users can suggest an enhanced management program for their area - as long as it is designed to slow the groundwater table decline rate in a legal manner.

The Kansas chief engineer accepts the local proposal, conducts two hearings, and then decides to implement the plan as proposed, reject it, or offer changes that must be locally approved in order to get implemented.  This arrangement does not guarantee that the locals will get the enhanced management plan they want, but it does guarantee they won't get a plan they don't agree with.

The heart of the proposed plan for the SD-6 high priority area being heard is based on a 55 acre-inch per acre allocation for every irrigation water right over the proposed 5-year period of January 1, 2013 through December 31, 2017.  The allocations for the few other types of water rights that exist in the area are different, but are also as requested.

There is flexibility built into the proposal that allows each water right owner to use the 55-acre inch allocation as they desire, and to trade allocation amounts freely.  These elements will help insure that the maximum economic value of the restricted water use can be achieved.

Overall, the design of this proposal expects to result in an 18-20% reduction in actual historic pumpage from the area.  While designed to last ONLY the 5-year period, there will be a review near the end that will decide if a subsequent LEMA will be sought, and what the conditions of that LEMA will entail.  For more information, visit the Northwest Kansas GMD 4 website.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Wells of a Different Nature

When we speak of wells, most people immediately think of a water well, be it a windmill, an irrigation well or a domestic well.  But there are other types of wells in use through the ingenuity of man.

Many people don't realize that along many buried pipelines there are a series of wells that are used to keep the buried pipes from rusting/corroding/deteriorating.  In the industry these are generally referred to "cathodic protection wells" although there are other names for them.  They are installed to minimize electrolytic corrosion of metallic objects (pipelines, tanks, etc.) that are in contact with the ground.  The natural corrosion process at work without this protection is by electrochemical reaction of the metal object with the environment - soil, air and water.

Basically a set of anodes are dropped down the well, set in with granular coke or some other electrically conductive material and connected to the underground pipeline or tank.  With a negative charge running to the item needing protection, the anodes become the target of the corrosive electrochemical activity.  They erode away instead of the pipeline or tank.  It's a slow process and most are designed to last about 20 years before the anodes need to be replaced or new cathodic wells need to be completed and hooked up.

These anodes can be in the groundwater or not.  Typically in eastern Kansas they are in the groundwater table.  In all cases in Kansas cathodic protection wells are required for all pipelines installed after 1971 (except for a few specific cases), and must be constructed to protect the usable groundwater - whether they're in the usable groundwater directly or just penetrating through it to deeper formations.

In any event, just to alert you that not all wells are for the purpose of securing groundwater.  For more information, search for "cathodic protection wells", or for Kansas information, contact the Kansas Corporation Commission who regulates these kinds of wells.

Friday, November 16, 2012

More On The Work of Groundwater

Jewell Cave, South Dakota
For us groundwater folks there is nothing more important than...groundwater.  After all, in sheer volume, our under-the-earth resource dwarfs the amount of fresh water in all the lakes, rivers, streams, swales, bayous, creeks and whatever else holds fresh water on top of the land.  It also does a yeoman's job of supplying fresh water for humanity - from drinking water to irrigation to industrial and every other use there is.

So what other work does groundwater do?  The extra job I'm going to talk about today is forming caves - not all of them, but groundwater plays an integral part in the formation and/or existence of many caves around the world.  One of the more interesting jobs in this line is the work groundwater did in the Jewell and Wind Caves in the Black Hills region of Southwest South Dakota around the town of Custer.

To make a very long story short (pardon the pun) the Black Hills uplift some 70-40 million years ago thrust the largely igneous basement rocks up through the overlying sedimentary rocks - including the two major regional formations known as the Madison Limestone (300-450 feet thick) and the Minnelusa Sandstone lying on top of the Madison.  The central dome has since been eroded away exposing the igneous and metamorphic rock which is completely ringed by the sedimentary formations that dip gently away in all directions.  It is in the Madison Limestone where these vast caves exist.  Jewel Cave is the second longest series of cave passages in the world - some 160 miles of currently mapped passageways.  There are undoubtedly more, but mapping this extremely complex labyrinth has not been completed. 

The real story of the role groundwater has played is also still undetermined for sure.  There are 4 theories as to how these were formed, and all of them involve groundwater, but no one knows for sure - yet.  They are:  (1) rising thermal waters through time; (2) confined groundwater moving down-dip to springs; (3) infiltration through the porous sandstone; and (4) relics of the 300-million-year-old paleokarst.

The fact that both caves exist in the middle area of the Madison is perplexing.  The passages don't extend down dip very far, they rarely reach up and connect with the overlying Minnelusa Sandstone, and they don't reach down to the base of the Madison limestone either.  In fact, in Jewell Cave, they don't even intersect the current groundwater table.  However, while the precise role groundwater has played is not known, few doubt that groundwater somehow did this over time.  For a much more technical rendering of these caves, click here.

I'd like to help map the rest of these caves, but I'm afraid my girth alone would prevent it in all but the largest passageways.  Besides, I don't like dinky dark dank dens - be they associated with groundwater or not.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thomas County Cat - August 20, 1885

Reading the early editions of the Thomas County Cat is really interesting.  Virtually all the news articles are 1 paragraph blurbs distinguished from all the other news blurbs simply by a new paragraph indentation.  For example, some page 1 news from the August 20, 1885 edition is presented as follows:

   Mrs. HELEN HUNT JACKSON, the well-
known authoress, died at San Francisco
recently of cancer of the stomach.
   The family of Daniel Ashbaugh, Jr.,
near New Philadelphia, O., were poisoned
recently by eating toadstools. One boy
died and the mother and a young child
were not expected to live. Two girls
named Richardson from the Dayton Or-
phan Home, who were visiting the fam-
ily, were also in a critical condition.
   Dr. Z. SIGMONDY, an experienced tourist
who recently published a book on the dan-
gers of Alpine climbing, has been killed by
falling over a precipice after climbing Pic
de la Ney, in the Upper Alps, which had
been considered an impossibility.
   The Social Purity Society, of London,
was agitating recently for a new trial of
Mrs. Jeffereys, for the purpose of securing
a public disclosure of the names of politicians
and nobelmen who frequented her house.

And so the articles go.  One thing about it, you got a lot of news in a 4-page, 6-column (and sometimes an 8-page) newspaper.   Of course, how much of it was relevant to your needs as a Thomas County resident was another story.  But you never know.  If I had just purchased a copy of Dr. Sigmondy's book, I'd at least know enough - thanks to the Cat - to request a refund!

Then there is this advertisement in the same edition for a means to withdraw that ever-important elixir - WATER - apparently with the god-forsaken wind that continually blows on the plains.  I wonder if the type setting job had just run out of the letter "m", or if it was actually a real Freudian slip.

There were also the usual stories of serious rain events and flooding and other mayhems, including the page one stories about an hour and a half hail and rain storm in Sherman County (next County West of Thomas) that killed birds and damaged the sod corn and filled the Sappa and Prairie Dog Creeks; and the brothers William and David Fruite (ages 20 and 26) who drowned crossing the Walnut River near Winfield; and the water-spout that struck Lone Tree Creek near Chadron, Dakota, flooding the valley and drowning 4 men, two children and a number of horses.  I guess a Plains paper couldn't resist these kinds of news events. 

Well, I'm ready to read another edition next week - and you can bet that as I continue to read, I'll be on the lookout for a continuation story on London's Social Purity Society!  I probably won't blog about it, though - I could have relations listed.

Monday, November 12, 2012

New Groundwater Management System - China Style

WaterWired (AKA Michael Campana) just did a blog article on a new groundwater management system instituted in Qinxu, a County in Shanxi Province in China - called the Qinxu Groundwater System.  His is a very good article, complete with a video spot from the Water Channel.  I recommend you take a look at these materials before reading the rest of this article, which will be a few comments on the new China approach.

Several things hit me as I was reading about the new management system.  First, as I've said since I became manager of GMD 4 in 1977 - Groundwater management is easy - just don't pump it.   If GMD 4 had full control of all the groundwater, we could have easily had a quota system set up many years ago. The sum of all quotas could have been set to achieve any outcome desired - all the way from restoring historic groundwater levels to increasing the current decline rates as much as we wanted to.  Our problem is that in Kansas, water rights are real property rights to the use of the State's water.  I can see where the government of China can at any time allot, reallocate or adjust any or all water, but not so in Kansas.  Of course, this doesn't make either system "right" or "wrong". 

Secondly, the story from Frank van Steenbergen (that was reported on by WaterWired) states the huge dependence China has on irrigation water currently being used - half the country's wheat and one third of its corn.  His conclusion is what a disaster it would be if this area of China were to run out of water and have to replace all that production on the world grain markets.  Well, if the new Qinxu quotas are correctly sized to achieve groundwater sustainability (so they never run out of water), some percentage of that production will be lost.  My point is that nowhere in the articles does anyone talk about the total quotas relative to the amount of water having been used before the new system.  This could be nothing more than a fancy accounting system to continue the current overdrafts.  I don't think it is, but then without this information, how can I agree that it is "the solution" they say it is?

Thirdly, the system clearly tries to use price to discourage overpumping ones quota, but it doesn't seem to prohibit over use.  As grain prices rise, the incentive to over use ones allocation (to increase production) goes up as well.  As more water is used, the quotas must be reduced further.  Yes, its the tragedy of the commons again.  I have no idea what .05 Euro per unit of water really means, and the fact that everyone's units can vary between 500 and 5000 liters per unit renders these values very hazy.  Of course, all these numbers and values can be adjusted to make them highly relevant - if there is the political will, or the outright power, to do so.  I should do the math to quantify the relevance of the price to the quotas - maybe tomorrow.

Fourthly, the marketability of the units is a great feature, but it'd be even more relevant if there was a prohibition to exceeding ones' quota. Also, with groundwater, I'm thinking that trades need to be spatially restricted to some degree.  Otherwise an inappropriate amount of groundwater could be used in too small an area - causing excessive declines or impairments.  Maybe this system addresses this, but it wasn't stated.    

Fifthly, there is mention of 60 telemetry observation wells that track groundwater levels, but no mention of how these are used.  Presumably the quotas would be adjusted periodically to reflect the water table responses shown by these 60 wells to the previous years pumpage??  It is awfully hard to efficiently operate production agriculture without knowing what all your inputs are.  Here in NW Kansas cropping rotations are often used to take advantage of nutrient inputs, fallowing periods and marketing plans, and they plan 3 to 5 years out.  Water quotas that might change within this time period would reduce the overall efficiency of these operations.  Of course, the quota system could be designed over longer periods to accommodate these needs - it's just not covered.

In conclusion, it might sound like I'm being critical of the new system, but I'm really not.  It could work, but it could easily fail as well.  As usual, the devil, and the real impacts, are always in the details.  The bottom line is that to slow the decline rates, consumptive water use must be reduced, and that reduction will mean less economic opportunity - always a touchy issue to attempt.  Comments?

Update (November 12, 2012):  I did the math on the prices and they are:  at .44 Yuan (the base rate per unit (.05 Euro / .06 $US) and the largest unit at 5000 liters, an AF of water will cost the user $14.81.  For the highest rate of .55 Yuan (assessed for those exceeding a quota) that same AF will cost $22.14.  Has price been appropriately applied in this system?

P.S.  If anyone would like to double check my prices math, please let me know if you find a different answer.  

Friday, November 9, 2012

Another Interesting Property of Water

Water is a pretty fantastic material when you stop to think about it.  Most of you know that it has some rather peculiar properties that other materials don't have - most notably that it expands just before freezing while just about everything else contracts as it cools.  Well as it turns out, it also can conduct electricity in an odd manner, too - under the right circumstances.

The link below takes you to the NewScientist TV website for a short (54 seconds) video of what I'm talking about.  Suspended in oil, a water drop is charged by a positively charged electrode.  It then is attracted to the negatively charged water drop just below it.  Normally it would just assimilate into the larger droplet and we'd be done.  But in this experiment, the electrode produces an electric field between itself and the negatively charged water drop below, that instead of assimilating, the smaller, positively charged drop "kisses" the larger, negatively charged drop - allowing the transfer of negatively charged ions to the positive drop and positive ions to the negative drop - and the smaller drop appears to bounce off the larger drop.  With the small drop now negatively charged, it is attracted again to the positive electrode and the pattern repeats itself. 

The suggestion is that this understanding might one day aid oil companies in separating water from oil in a more efficient way.  I don't know, but I'd be a little leery of putting too much electricity into a sizable pool of oil you've just pumped.  Anyway, take a look at this NewScienceTV video if I've confused you completely. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A New Spin on Crop Circles


This ad picture from an irrigation pivot company implies that this pattern of irrigation center pivots goes on for a while, and should be replicated everywhere possible.  Well, I don't know many places in the world where this kind of concentrated water use would be all that intelligent.  There probably are some, but not around my neck of the woods.  So, wherever this photo is, I'm guessing there is a local water supply under some level of stress.  Well managed irrigation development is a good thing, but limits to that development are exceeded more often than not, which stresses the water supply - be it ground or surface water.  I personally think the ad would have been just as effective if a more reasonable pattern of pivot development had been selected.  It would seem more intelligent to me, anyway.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Managing a Common Pool Resource

I attended this past week the Governor's Conference on the Future of Water in Kansas that was held in Manhattan, Kansas.  This event, billed as the Governor's first Conference on Water, was actually combined with the former Kansas State University Water and the Future of Kansas Conference which has been conducted every year for the past 28 years.  This event was renamed and reformatted a bit.  Nevertheless, just a tad over 500 other people attended as well.

The Governor's comments were heartening although daunting.  He said he wants to reduce water use in Kansas from the Ogallala Aquifer so as to extend its economic life, while also maintaining or even increasing the economic productivity of the lesser water used.  Much of the conference the first day was aimed at how should we be trying to get this done.

One of the talks was by Dr. Bill Blomquist from Indiana University on managing a common pool resource.  He said there are 8 more-or-less common, or universal elements to any successful, long-lived approach to managing common pool resources - be they fisheries, forests, fields or WATER. They are:

1.  Clearly defined boundaries.  Boundaries can be simple, or multi-layered and sophisticated, but they must be clear;

2.  Shared information.  All the participants must be able to understand, transfer and communicate data, goals, interests, current use levels and all the other parameters needed for understanding the situation.

3.  Leadership.  A consistent level of stakeholder group direction that is knowledgeable and has a commensurate level of expertise - both social and technical - is necessary.  This leadership must allow the group to realize the problem, dedicate to its solution, find and secure necessary resources and then address it.

4.   Development and articulation of rules.  Who can participate; Who sits at the table and who doesn't; how do decisions get made; all have to be defined and understood.

5.  Monitoring and enforcement processes.  Everyone must know the rules and know the consequences.

6.  Graduated penalties.  Arrangements must be made for conflict resolution and opportunities must be provided to complain, communicate and vent.  The penalties need to be fair, and graduated such that initial errors are not akin to taking one's firstborn.

7.  Nested institutions and creating an enabling work environment.  Local, regional and state entities should have a role and play a part in the solutions, but the locals need to play the most significant part as they are the affected ones.

8.  How do we know if it works?  Any effort should plan on getting evaluated and should retain sufficient flexibility.  Creating a process that can accept new data and knowledge and adjust, is important.

For those of us having gone through the SD-6 Enhanced Management Process (a mini common pool groundwater resource) it was like a very bright light bulb getting turned on in the night.  This was exactly how we approached the SD-6 effort.  Kind of makes one feel like we now have a chance at a successful, long-lived process.  We'll have to wait and see.

Probably the best informed readers will recognize this as primarily the work of Elinor Ostrom, the 2009 Nobel prize winning economist (shared with Oliver Williamson) most recently at Indiana University (Dr. Blomquist so credited his remarks).  As it turns out, Mrs. Ostrom was originally contacted  by the Kansas Water Office to make this presentation, but had to decline due to a conflict in the dates.  Sadly, Elinor Ostrom passed away soon thereafter, on June 12, 2012.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Missouri River Water Described

Missouri River
It was June 21, 1804 and the Lewis and Clark Expedition (Corps of Discovery) to explore a continental route to the Pacific Northwest was in Kansas.  It had begun on May 14, 1804 from Camp DuBois in Illinois territory. 

William Clark was taking notes that day and recorded the following words about the river water in his journal: "The water we drink or the Common water of the missourie at this time, contains a half a Comm Wine Glass of ooze or mud to every pint-"

You have to keep in mind that the Missouri River of this period was called affectionately the "Big Muddy".  It was a wild river that carried untold amounts of silt, clay, sand, trees, grass and who knows what else.  All this foreign material was in the river because it was cutting side channels and the currents contained chutes, eddies, boils, undercuts sandbars and backwaters.  And things got even worse when there was a big rain up-river somewhere - perhaps the case when William Clark saw it and made his notes.

Today the river is a quite different - with the channel being maintained for navigation and flood control through a system of dams and reservoirs up the river that provide water for irrigation, recreation and power generation.  It can still get turbid, but probably not like Clark described it.

There is actually a plaque marker at this site that was erected in 2004 by Kansas Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commission and the National Park Service.  It's in Atchison, KS at the Riverfront Park Pavilion. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Fractal Analysis of Rainfall Time Series

Fractal Rainfall

"Two-year series of 1-min rainfall intensities observed by rain gages at six different points are analyzed to obtain information about the fractal behavior of the rainfall distribution in time. First, the rainfall time series are investigated using a monodimensional fractal approach (simple scaling) by calculating the box and correlation dimensions, respectively. The results indicate scaling but with different dimensions for different time aggregation periods. The time periods where changes in dimension occur can be related to average rainfall event durations and average dry period lengths. Also, the dimension is shown to be a decreasing function of the rainfall intensity level. This suggests a multidimensional fractal behavior (multiscaling), and to test this hypothesis, the probability distribution/multiple scaling method was applied to the time series. The results confirm that the investigated rainfall time series display a multidimensional fractal behavior, at least within a significant part of the studied timescales, which indicates that the rainfall process can be described by a multiplicative cascade process."
The above comes from a study done by Jonas Olsson, Janusz Niemczynowicz and Ronny Berndtsson. with the Department of Water Resources Engineering, Lund Institute of Technology, Lund University, Lund, Sweden.  It was reported on in the WaterSISWEB site just as above - nothing else.

Can anyone tell me what this means and why it might be important?  John Fleck?  Is this up your alley?   I understand that fractals are patterns that exist at various scales so I'm guessing this report is saying that rainfall patterns are similar over various scales... of time?  Distance?  Intensities?

When I first read it I was sure it was an attempt by the Three Swedes to prove the 23 Enigma!  But I think now it's more sophisticated than that.  Now I'm thinking it's design is to expose the 6 degrees of separation from any of the 23 enigmas!  A mind-bender any way you look at it.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Water Poet - John Taylor

John Taylor Portrait from his 1630 Poetry Anthology
John Taylor lived in London in the late 1500's and died in 1653.  He dubbed himself "The Water Poet", but it's maybe not for the reasons you may be thinking - and certainly not for the reasons I read the explanation.

He didn't write incessantly about water and how spiritual it is, or anything like that.  No, that would have been a gold mine of information for this kind of blog.  The truth is he was a Thames waterman - a member of the boatman and ferry guild that transported people and products across the Thames River in a time when only 1 bridge - the London Bridge - spanned the great river. 

It is only through his writings that some of London's history relative to the ferry industry has been captured.  The best examples of this are his works: To the Right Honorable Assembly (Commons Petition); and The True Cause of the Watermen's Suit Concerning Players.  In these two works he describes how the workers try to change the leadership of the watermen's guild to more of a democratic operation, and the watermen disputes of 1641-42 when the theater companies moved all the theaters across the river to eliminate ferry charges - a move that did not sit well with the tightly organized ferrymen.

He was not a particularly refined writer, but he did know human nature and was a good observer of  people and social styles of the period, so was reasonably popular.

He did many works by subscription - suggesting a book, asking for subscriptions, and writing the book only after receiving enough support to cover the costs.  The Pennylesse Pilgrimage (The Moneylesse Perambulation of John Taylor, alias the Kings Magesties Water-Poet); and How He TRAVAILED on Foot from London to Edenborough in Scotland, Not Carrying any Money To or Fro, Neither Begging, Borrowing, or Asking Meate, Drinke, or Lodging are two such examplesAnyone who defaulted on their promised subscription would be roasted the following year, though, and remember, he was NOT a refined writer so the followups tended to be embarrassing.  

His only other "water" work was "The Praise of Hemp-Seed" - a tale of his journey traveling from London to Queenborough in a paper boat with two fish tied to canes for oars.  Incidentally, this work was one of the first to mention the passing of William Shakespeare (died in 1616).  It was written in 1620.

Two final tidbits just for added interest.  First, John Taylor is credited with the early palindrome "Lewd did I live & evil I did dwel.".  Being a ferryman I can actually believe this one.  Secondly, he also authored a new language called Barmoodan.  You have to wonder about someone who invents a new language when he is the only one in the world who can use it.  I can't find any examples of this language, but I'd like to believe John was influenced by the Eskimo and created 22 words for "water".  That would be fitting. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Groundwater: Too Much or Too Little - Earthquake!

Groundwater hydrologists have known for a long time that injecting water into the subsurface can change the hydrology enough to trigger small earthquakes.  Just listen to all the current rhetoric regarding hydraulic fracturing and the increased incidents of small regional tremblors in oil and gas producing areas.  The injections not only pressure up the local systems, but also lubricate the faults that slip and slide - releasing the stored energy of a mobile, but temporarily stuck crust.

But a recent study of the May 5, 2011 earthquake in Lorca, Spain has concluded that groundwater pumping was a significant factor in that earthquake.  First, this was a very shallow quake - only .6 miles below the land surface.  Such a shallow earthquake is unusual.  In this immediate area the groundwater declines have been extreme - on the order of 800+ feet over the past 50 years.  In essence, the dewatering was bounded by a geologic fault (the Alhama de Murcia fault), and, according to the study, the weight of the removed water actually increased the stresses on the fault in those specific areas. The researchers used satellite imagery and GPS stations to come to these conclusions. 

It was a surprise to the study scientists that the relatively small stress changes due to dewatering could have had sufficient impact on such a large scale fault system.  In fact, the calculated stress increases due to the dewatering were not much more than normal atmospheric pressure changes.  The study concluded that the energy released by the 5.1 quake actually included not only the increased stress due to dewatering, but also several centuries of normal stress buildup due to the much more common regional deformation. Kind of like the dewatering was the straw that broke the camel's back.

On the surface of it all, it would seem now that we can neither take out, nor put in, water underground without fearing earthquakes - at least in certain circumstances.  And perhaps even more importantly, had this quake happened in Italy, would the hydrologists have been tried for culpability along with the risk assessment scientists?

The report findings are detailed in the October 21, 2012 issue of the journal of Nature Geosciences.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Desalination - An Historical Note

I ran across a 1791 report by Thomas Jefferson (as the Secretary of State) concerning a petition by one Jacob Isaacks of Newport, Rhode Island who was trying to sell his invention of obtaining fresh water from salt water to the U.S. Government to aid in all pursuits maritime.  All he wanted was " convey to the Government of the United States a faithful account of his art, or secret, to be used by or within the United States, on their giving him a reward suitable to the importance of the discovery, and, in the opinion of the Government, adequate to his expenses and the time he has devoted to the bringing it into effect."

Jefferson's report is a classic.  He begins by noting that Sir Francis Bacon had already observed "...that, with a heat sufficient for distillation, salt would not rise in vapor, and that salt water distilled, is fresh. And it would seem that all mankind might have observed, that the earth is supplied with fresh water chiefly by exhalation from the sea, which is in fact an insensible distillation effected by the heat of the sun."  

Jefferson goes on to note that initially filtration and congelation were both tried - unsuccessfully.  So you're thinking there might be some hope for Mr. Isaacks.  He then notes that Sir Richard Hawkins in the 16th century, and Glauber, Hauton and Lister in the 17th century, and Hales, Appleby, Butler, Chapman, Hoffman and Dove in the 18th century had all been successful in producing fresh water from sea water - and with only common items normally found on virtually every ship on the high seas.

Jefferson notes that "With this apparatus of a pot, tea-kettle, and gun-barrel, the Dolphin, a twenty-gun 1761, from fifty-six gallons of sea water, and nine pounds of wood and sixty-nine pounds of pit-coal, made forty-two gallons of good fresh water, at a rate of eight gallons an hour."   He also notes the Dorsetshire's 19 quarts of pure water in four hours with 10 pounds of wood in 1769.  And the Slambal's 10 quarts from six gallons in 3 hours in 1773.  Finally mentioning Dr. Irvin and Dr. Franklin's experiments.

There were ultimately two killers for Mr. Isaacks.  First, Jefferson discovered that Dr. Irvin had actually obtained a premium of 5,000 pounds from the British parliament for advances in sea water distillation twenty years earlier in 1771, and, controlled experiments of Isaack's process - which included "a mixture, the composition of which he did not explain" actually yielded the same amount of fresh water, over a slightly longer period of time, but with slightly less fuel required.

Jefferson concluded that "On the whole, it was evident that Mr. Isaack's mixture produced no advantage, either in process or result of the distillation.".  He also wrote:  "The distilled water in all these instances was found, on experiment, to be as pure as the best pump water of the city.  Its taste, indeed, was not as agreeable, but it was not such as to produce any disgust.  In fact we drink, in common life, in many places, and under many circumstances, and almost always at sea, a worse tasted and probably a less wholesome water."

Out of all this research and experimentation, Jefferson discovered that far too few sailors were even aware of this potentially life-saving process, and as such, he recommended:  "Let the clearance for every vessel sailing from the ports of the United States be printed on paper, on the back whereof shall be a printed account of the essays which have been made for obtaining fresh from salt water, mentioning briefly those which were unsuccessful, and, more fully, those which have succeeded; describing the methods which have been found to answer for constructing extempore stills of such implements as are generally on board of every vessel, with a recommendation, in all cases where they shall have occasion to resort to this expedient for obtaining water, to publish the result of their trial in some gazette on their return to the United States, or communicate it for publication to the office of the Secretary of State, in order that others may, by their success, be encouraged to make similar trials, and be benefited by any improvements or new ideas which may occur to them in practice."

There you have it.  Don't try to fleece the U.S. Government on Thomas Jefferson's watch!  And I have to believe that given a few more years, he would have also been promoting such a process for all the less-than-pure groundwater sources, as well.  What a remarkable American!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Water Data as Art? Perhaps.

Winter 2011 rainfall versus consumption.
"Drawing Water"
David Wicks turns environmental data into art through computer software that he creates.  One of his latest projects has to do with rainfall data and is shown as this post's visual.  (Click to enlarge)  What looks like a cool rendering of the United States, is actually 2011 winter rainfall data by location, tweaked, and placed in reference to regional water consumption by cities. In other words, this is a visual rendering of the relationship of where water falls in the US to where it is used.  The numbers that make up the rendering are rainfall data from the NOAA/NWS and water consumption data from the USGS.  

In his own words.. "The final placement and color of each line are determined by the influence of urban water consumers. The more water a city uses, the stronger its pull on the rainfall. As rainfall is pulled farther from where it fell, it becomes desaturated, turning from blue to black in print and to white in the projected installation."   For more detail on the data and/or the process click here.

My personal take on the artwork is one of trending more toward the abstract.  I don't see the water use relationships that I think were intended to be seen.  I can only surmise that Colby, Kansas doesn't show up because either we don't use much rainfall in the winter, or, we use exclusively groundwater.  It does appear that most of our rainfall heads somewhere East of St. Louis, though.  (I'm only kidding - I never expected to see Colby's influence!)

But actually, that's not all.  His program also includes an interactive component that allows a user to select a smaller portion of the US and to look at the last few days of precipitation, or one of several other preselected time periods.  This could be cool, but I still don't think I'm going to see Colby patterns that will result in an "aha" moment.  However, all said, I applaud Mr. Wicks' interest in the political nature of water and in attempting to portray this critical resource in a new and innovative way.  And I guess I'll mention it before anyone else does - it doesn't seem to me like California or Texas are getting their fair share.  Or am I looking at the picture backwards?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Been Dying to Know This!

How many water molecules does it take to make the smallest possible ice crystal?

Alright, I've not actually been dying to know this, but, the explanation of the answer is pretty interesting none-the-less.

I can understand why 1 water molecule won't freeze since ice is after all a collection of water molecules rearranged in a different lattice pattern.  But you'd think that 2 molecules of water could freeze easier than 50, or a million, or the countless millions that would make up an ice cube.  Well, you'd be wrong if you thought that way.

Turns out the freezing process is related to the vibrational frequencies of both hydrogen and oxygen bonds, and that the intermolecular vibrational frequency of the hydrogen bonds are what hold water molecules together.  Science has known for some time that 50 molecules or less can't seem to stay together as an ice crystal, but counting and watching more than 50 molecules was a serious limitation, so they didn't really know how many molecules was the critical number.

The answer came when a process was designed to organize and count more than 50 water molecule clusters at a time.  Researchers at the Institute fur Physikalische Chemie (Gottingen, Germany) found a way to do this, and so the trials began.  It turns out that 275 water molecules is pretty close to the magic number - any fewer and ice crystals don't form.  Moreover, the freezing begins at the center of the 275-molecule cluster where a ring of six hydrogen-bonded water molecules forms in a tetrahedral configuration - the smallest ice crystal possible.

What good is this information one might ask?  It is expected to aid in climate modelling now that science better understands the extent and timing of the process of ice crystal formation from atmospheric water.  Knowing better how this process influences cloud formation will also give us more information on the earth's radiation budget.  Besides all that, it's just a piece of trivia that should be in every water-wonk's data base.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Water - Refreshing... (and more)

There really are few drinks as refreshing as a cold glass of water, but many don't realize what else is in that cool glass ready to get gulped.  There is energy in there, for one thing.

But you can bet the U.S. Navy knows this.  I read where they are exploring technologies to coax enough energy out of seawater to run their ships.  Think of the advantages they would have by not needing to refuel.  Not to mention the cost and time savings.

What they are looking into is extracting carbon dioxide and hydrogen from the seawater under the ship and turning these elements into J-5 jet fuel.  The trick is to do it at a rate that equals or exceeds their rate of usage in their critical operations modes.

As most know, it takes energy to do the extraction and then the conversion - a fact not lost on the Navy.  They report that the hydrogen production part of the process alone will take 60% of the total energy available in the produced product.  And where will this energy come from?    The two most likely sources are from ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) or nuclear power from onboard reactors. Before you get too excited, the Navy is expecting an 8-10 year time frame before any of this may even get tested.  And that's assuming funding can be found and a cost-effective process can be developed.

First it was NASA turning to water for future mission use, now it appears to be the U.S. Navy.  I suppose next we'll hear from Detroit?!  One thing is for sure, if all our energy needs are eventually going to come from water, I'll bet the water supply shortages are going to get worse.  Of course, if all our water needs are going to come from the ocean, that should help keep the sea-level rise in check.

Finally, for those who claim the Water/Energy Nexus is the next big thing, it sounds like you might be right.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Egyptian Groundwater Dated

Carbon-14 has been the tool of choice when dating old things, but it's not without its limits.  For starters, it is considered accurate only out to 9 half-lives - or around 50,000 years.  That'll catch most age-related things we're interested in, but certainly not all. For example, groundwater dating has some utility in ascertaining recharge rates, but some groundwaters can be very old indeed.

This is where krypton comes into play.  81Kr is a radioactive isotope that occurs when cosmic rays slam through the earth's upper atmosphere wreaking havoc with various particles in the process.  These then fall to earth where they get stored in ice layers, oceans, groundwater and similar places.  The great thing about 81Kr is that it has a half-life of about 230,000 years - allowing age dating on the scale of up to 1 million years old.

The actual process measures the capture rate of 81Kr and a close control isotope of 83Kr or 85Kr.  The ratio of the 81Kr and the control isotope is then compared to an atmospheric sample of 81Kr which reveals the sample's age.

One problem has been capturing enough 81Kr.  There is apparently a fairly low amount of the stuff around, and it is pretty soluble in water.  Previous attempts using this method required huge amounts of sample material - like 16 tons of water to get enough Kr to date.  But a new instrument - the Atom Trap Trace Analysis (ATTA) has changed the logistics. It now only requires two tons of groundwater to extract the required 81Kr.

Anyway, all this to tell you that the latest groundwater dating study on a well in western Egypt using the new ATTA equipment has dated that groundwater at 500,000 years old.  That's pretty old water and indicative of zero recharge from the surface - at least in the last half a million years.

I might add that the Kansas Geological Survey has dated some of our groundwater (in southern Thomas County) and reports that it is relatively recent - from 3,900 to 4,700 years old.  The KGS used multiple age determination methods, basically including Carbon-14 and an isotope of Tritium (3H).  For a complete explanation of their age-dating process, see their 2012 annual index well report (Page 48 once you get there).   I helped collect the samples and we only gathered up about a total of maybe 5 pounds of water for each of the 4 wells sampled.  Had they used ATTA, I'd have given them one solid ATTA-BOY - but definitely would NOT have been involved in collecting the 8 tons of water required!  Sure glad our groundwater was young enough to use Carbon-14!