Monday, July 30, 2012

Dry, Dry, Dry...

Following is the latest weekly report from Walt Geiger of GMD 1.  He says, statistically, the drier conditions for western Kansas and much of the central Plains could easily last through October, 2013:

As anticipated, the drought has expanded in both area and intensity over the United States during the past two weeks.  Locally, we find that 100% of Kansas now resides in at least severe (D2) drought according to the latest Drought Monitor valid July 24.  Characteristics of a severe drought include likely losses to crop and pasture, common water shortages and some imposed water restrictions.  More striking is the percent of Kansas that now resides in at least extreme (D3) drought.  Two weeks ago, only 28% of the state was in the extreme category.  Now, we find 73% of Kansas in extreme which is characterized by major losses to crop and pasture with widespread water shortages and restrictions.  Extreme drought covers all of western Kansas and extends east through primarily the central portion of the state all the way to Kansas City.  Lastly, we now have the highest level of drought, exceptional (D4) drought, covering about 9% of Kansas.  Exceptional drought covers portions of Greeley, Wichita, Scott, Lane, Logan, Gove, Sheridan, Graham [GMD4 Counties; emphasis is mine], Trego, Ness, Finney, Haskell, Grant, Kearny and Hamilton counties.  Characteristics of exceptional drought include exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses, shortages of water in reservoirs, streams and wells creating water emergencies.  This time last year, exceptional drought covered about 11.5% of Kansas in the southwest, central and south-central portions of the state. 

In Colorado, we find that 74% of the state resides in at least extreme (D3) drought while exceptional (D4) drought covers 3% in portions of Lincoln, Crowley, Otaro, Bent and Kiowa counties. Concerning the contiguous U.S., dryness and/or drought now covers 80% of the country while at least moderate (D1) drought covers approximately 64% and extreme (D3) covering 21%.  States where exceptional (D4) drought covers the highest percentage of the state are Arkansas (34%), Georgia (23%), Indiana (19%), Kentucky (13%), and Kansas (9%).  Elsewhere, smaller pockets of exceptional drought are found in Nebraska, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee, Alabama, and South Carolina.  According to USDA statistics valid July 22, over 90 percent of topsoil was short or very short of moisture in Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio with virtually all (99 percent) short or very short Missouri and Illinois.  The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) forecast for the period July 31 – August 8th call for dry weather to dominate from the West Coast to Northern Rockies, and from the Central to Southern Plains.  Above-normal temperatures are expected for much of the country, especially the Rockies and Plains states.  Long-term, drought is expected to persist at current levels or intensify over nearly all of the central U.S., including western Kansas, through at least October 31 according to the latest U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook.  Unfortunately, there is little confidence of significant “drought busting” precipitation through the entire long-range forecasts that extend all the way out to October 2013.  Hopefully, the long-range forecast will change through time but right now there is simply an equal chance of below normal, near normal or above normal precipitation chances expected in the central U.S. through October of next year.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Groundwater Levels - Thomas County Index Well

This is the graph starting on June 17, 2008 of the Thomas County Index well.  This well has a data logger installed that collects a water level measurement every hour and uplinks that measurement to the Kansas Geological Survey.  The index well is a dedicated monitoring well that sits about 1/2 mile away from any operating wells.  I've blogged about this program before, so if interested, check out the other articles - generally under the "Index Wells" or "Thomas County Index Well" labels (right side of blog page).

The point I'd like to make today is on the right side of the graph.  The last reading shown happens to be 219.78 feet below land surface on July 26, 2012, and represents the lowest level this well has ever been since monitoring began and until today as this post is being written.  I know 4 years is not much of a data set, but the fact that this level has been achieved as early as July 26 is telling.  All the previous lows were reached in late August or early September - just as irrigation was concluding for the year.  Immediately following irrigation season the water levels always begin their dramatic rise and return toward recovery - until the next irrigation season begins.  This being the pattern, it appears that this year's low is going to go significantly lower yet as irrigation season likely has at least another 3-4 weeks to go.  

Another telling fact is that 10 water rights have been retired in the general area of this index well over the past 4 years through the state's Water Transition and Assistance Program (WTAP) - within 8 or 9 miles of this index well.  These retirements total just over 1,000 AF of irrigation water that had been pumped annually but are no longer being withdrawn.  Had these 10 water rights been also competing for this region's groundwater this year, it's likely the groundwater level on July 26 would have been even lower.

You can look at this data anyway you want to, but clearly it represents some degree of a problem at some time in the future.  Should you chalk it up to the extreme drought and argue that things will look much better when normal weather returns?; or, Should you start thinking about slowing the decline rate in the hopes of extending the economic life of the groundwater supply?

That brings me back to the Local Enhanced Management Area (LEMA) process.  This index well sits very close to the middle of the TH-5 High Priority Area - one of the 6 designated enhanced management areas of GMD 4.  This area held stakeholder meetings back in late 2008 and early 2009 on addressing their declines, but haven't yet sustained enough momentum to go any further.  Perhaps this is the data that might get them more interested and involved.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

A New Approach To Enhanced Management in Kansas

I'm very happy to announce that our year long effort to pass new legislation in Kansas regarding enhanced management has been successful.  Immediately following the 2012 session, Governor Brownback signed SB 310 - also known as the LEMA Bill - for Local Enhanced Management Areas.

This bill went through the Legislature with only 1 minor hiccup, and was eventually passed unamended - unanimously in the Senate and with only one "nay" vote in the entire House.  I was always confident the bill was well constructed and would pass, but I didn't expect the overwhelming support we got from all the other "water" players in Kansas, the Governor's office and the Legislature.

Basically, the bill authorizes a GMD board to submit an enhanced management plan to the state engineer.  "That doesn't sound too revolutionary to me", you might say.  However, once the absolutely local plan is received, the state engineer gets to reject it outright if it does not pass a set of minimum standards.  The full LEMA process is fairly involved, so this first test is needed by the state to weed out the insincere and/or inadequate proposals.

Assuming the local plan passes initial muster, two hearing processes take place next - the first by an independent hearing officer, and the second, more detailed hearing, by the state engineer.  By law, the hearings are focused solely on the proposed local plan - an important element that insures that local desires are not derailed.  And finally, the state engineer makes one of 4 possible decisions - approve the local plan as presented; reject the plan entirely; return the plan with unconstitutional or illegal elements identified; or return the plan with state suggested amendments that improve the proposal.  In this last option, the state suggested amendments can only be offered if they came up during the hearing process, are not more restrictive than initially proposed, and can be rejected by the GMD 4 board to halt the process.

This approach by no means insures that the locals will get exactly what they want, but it does guarantee they won't get what they don't want.  The fear of unwanted outcomes has, prior to the LEMA approach, prevented many local requests for enhanced management from being started.  It also pretty much requires that the locals, GMD and state engineer to work closely together in culminating any local approach put forward. Finally, the previous approach of using Intensive Groundwater Use Control Areas (IGUCAs), which is significantly more of a state-directed enhanced management approach,  has been retained in its entirety.  With the LEMA authority, the locals now have the first choice of tools to use, but not exclusive command of the enhanced management process.

The GMD 4 board just approved our first LEMA request (SD-6 High Priority Area) which was submitted to the state engineer on July 16.  We're all in uncharted waters, now.  More later.