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 These retirements total just over 1,000 AF of irrigation water that had been pumped annually but are no longer being withdrawn.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.