Friday, August 31, 2012

Georgia Worried About Water

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) as of July 30 has installed a 1-year moratorium on new ground and surface water diversions in much of the SW quadrant of the state.  The Lower Flint and Chattahoochee River basins are where the 17 partial and full Counties that are affected reside.  Most of this area is both a groundwater and surface water moratorium.

According to some in the state, the high price of corn along with the droughty conditions have got many producers wanting to expand irrigated acres. The Tifton EPD office that issues irrigation permits for Southwest Georgia has received six times the number of new permits in the first six months of 2012 than it did in the same period in 2011.

The EPD feels everyone will be at risk if new permits are not better controlled, with director Jud Turner going on record as saying  “The water resources affected by the suspension are a significant source of water for irrigation.  A continued increase in withdrawals from these resources may ultimately lead to unacceptable impacts to existing users or compromise the sustainable capacities of these resources.”

The reason for the 1-year moratorium is to study the water systems more.  While they know the groundwater levels are dropping and the stream base flows are being reduced, they are not sure how much of these impacts are due to increased water development versus the drier natural conditions.  They suspect both are at fault, but want to understand to what extent each is responsible.

You can read more here.  And here is the state's Press Release.  Just for comparison, we've had the equivalent of this moratorium on new development here in NW Kansas since about 1986.  As responsible as this action may appear, my guess is that with the reported declining groundwater levels they're going to ultimately discover that they too are behind the water development policy curve.  The delayed effect of groundwater development may be claiming another victim.  I hope I'm wrong.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Great Man-Made River? I Suspect Groundwater!

The Great Man-Made River resides in Libya and is one of the late Muammar Gaddafi's pet projects.  It is an enormous network of wells, pipes, reservoirs and other infrastructure that supplies groundwater from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System in SE Libya northward to the cities of Tripoli, Benghazi, Sirte and other metropolitan areas, and to various irrigation projects along the way.  Some consider it the largest irrigation project in the world.  According to their website, it's a network of pipes and aqueducts over 1,600 miles long being fed by more than 1,300 deep wells in 6 wellfields.  This system is reported to withdraw and transport 1.921 million AF per year.   

Efforts to find oil in southern Libya in the early 1950's led to the discovery of the groundwater being tapped. The project itself was originally proposed in the late 1960s - just before Gaddafi became the Ruler of Libya in 1969, but actual work didn't begin until 1984 with the construction of the first of five phases.  The total cost of the project is projected at more than $25 billion.
The groundwater supplying this system is from the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System which accumulated during the last ice age and is not currently being replenished.  It is a hard sandstone aquifer covering parts of four African nations - Egypt, Libya, Chad and Sudan.  It ranges in thickness from 400-700 feet thick, but can reach 1500 feet thick in areas.  According to Wikipedia it contains fairly good quality water - from fresh to slightly brackish.

There is a bit of a disagreement on the longevity of the supply, however.  The project claims supplies will last 1,000 years at the 2007 withdrawal rates, while independent analysts project a more modest 60-100 year lifespan.  I wonder who is right?  And perhaps more importantly, I wonder who Egypt, Chad and Sudan are more prone to believe?


Friday, August 24, 2012

Let The Games Begin!

The first Mississippian zone horizontal oil well in our GMD started drilling operations Wednesday in Gove County by Apache Corp.  While approved for 6 individual wells on the same drilling pad, the company says it will start with just 1 well to see how the formation looks.  No mention of whether or not hydraulic fracturing will take place, but I'm certain that it will based on the water right filed - 4 million gallons of fresh Ogallala groundwater.  While the water right information is available for this well, the approved Intent to Drill (ITD) from the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC) is nowhere in sight.  Since this is all very new, I'm going to give Apache and the KCC the benefit of the doubt on this oversight - probably just not posted on the KCC website yet.  I personally don't think any oil well should be drilled until the ITD and water right information are available to the public. 

Incidentally, the second horizontal oil well - also by Apache, Corp. - is also slated to begin soon.  I was able to find a copy of this well's ITD but not any paperwork on its water right.  In Kansas the ITD's are issued by the KCC while the water rights are issued by the Division of Water Resources (DWR). So, in our first two oil wells, each agency is one for two.  Of course, neither well shows up in the national website - an issue I've discussed before.  This is supposed to be the site where fracking information is voluntarily registered - well locations, chemicals used, etc., etc. - but is a year and a half behind in their postings.  Supposedly Kansas has made it a requirement that fracking activities get posted here, but I'm not holding my breath.  As of this post, there are only 67 wells listed on this site for the entire state of Kansas with only 2 of them located in the NW quadrant of the state that I'm interested in.

My intention is to track these wells and monitor the activities on them.  If nobody gets any local groundwater quality samples, maybe this can be a GMD activity - creating a baseline quality data set.  If the board wants to do this, we're going to need to know where all the wells are, and start collecting groundwater samples soon.  At the very least we can watch the construction of these wells and any subsequent plugging activities.  Let's hope all goes well.


Monday, August 20, 2012

Water and Morals and Dogmas

As I may have mentioned before, my wife and I bought an older home in Colby that came with a stocked library of many eclectic titles.  I've blogged before about my copy of the 1892 Snow White Cookbook and its recipes and remedies (mostly water-related).

At this time I'm trudging through a 1950's reprinted edition of "Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry" that was originally published in 1871 by the pen of Albert Pike.  This 861-page tome (which also has a 218-page Digest-Index stuffed in at the end) covers all 32 degrees of this order.  Oddly enough Albert Pike and the Supreme Council profess to be 33 degree members.  Can't do much better than that!

Anyway, in the 32nd degree script, there is a wonderful description of water - even describing groundwater quite eloquently.  From the book:  "Two invisible gases, combined by the action of a force of God, and compressed, become and remain the water that fills the great basins of the seas, flows in the rivers and rivulets, leaps forth from the rocks or springs, drops upon the earth in rains, or whitens it with snows, and bridges the Danubes with ice, or gathers in vast reservoirs in the earth's bosom."

Just a page later the text turns its attention to the weather cycle:  Incessantly the great currents and rivers of air flow and rush and roll from the equator to the frozen polar regions, and back from these to the torrid equatorial realms. Necessarily incident to these great, immense, equilibriated and beneficient movements, caused by the antagonism of equatorial heat and polar cold, are the typhoons, tornadoes, and cyclones that result from the conflicts between rushing currents."

It's too bad they didn't reverse these two descriptions to better describe the integrated water cycle, but hey, this is 32 degree stuff, which, incidentally sports the title of:  "Master of the Royal Secret".

Much of the book is brimstone and fire type of preaching as far as I'm concerned, but what I'm most worried about is the large printed NOTICE prominently placed on the inside Title Page:


I had really planned on leaving these books for the next owner of this fine old library collection, but now I'm severely torn!  Any advice from the Freemasonry members out there?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Water Soon to Get the Photo Spotlight

Edward Burtynsky is a contemporary photographer making a name for himself by doing photography series – some of which take as long as 6 years to complete.  His earlier works include photographic series on QUARRIES – shot from China, to the US, to India, Portugal, Canada and Italy - MINES, RAILCUTS, HOMESTEADS, SHIPS, AUSTRALIA, and his latest series OIL - shooting this resource from cradle to grave, as they say – from extraction to its various uses to the inevitable aftermath.
His current venture is WATER, and is due for completion in 2013 after a 5-year commitment.  This should be interesting.  If he stays true to form, there should be an environmental element to his series, but one that stops short of promoting any specific agenda of any kind.  I’d like to see how he’s going to accomplish that in the world of water!
There are a few hints as to what will come up in his water series.  He has already shot the Three Gorges Dam Project in China – having had to use a drone to capture the high views since, according to Burtynsky, there is no civil aviation space in the skies of China.  The next item mentioned is “irrigation circles”.  Again, this should be interesting.  I hope he does something different than more aerial shots of pivots neatly patterned across the plains.  It’s then off to Niagara Falls I assume since he mentions that after 3 years he’s still contemplating how to shoot the falls without being “postcard-y”.  There is also a hint that he’ll cross over his oil segment with water by using some of the BP oil spill shots in the Gulf of Mexico.
He was asked if there is any aspect of the water shoot that he has found particularly challenging to capture?  His answer was “the source – where water comes from”.  I often cruise Google Images looking for groundwater pictures and I certainly sympathize with him on this one - assuming he's going to include groundwater in his series at all! 

For a peek of what this photographer has been up to you can visit his web site here.  

Monday, August 13, 2012

More on Water Levels

Kansas maintains an observation well network that it measures each year to track changes in the water level depths across the state in its major aquifers.  The annual measurements vary, usually between 1,200 and 1,500 wells, based on how many wells can be accessed each year, but a solid attempt is made to return to the same wells each year.  The 2012 measurements were taken from 1,327 wells, for example.

The statewide average change in water levels between January, 2011 and January, 2012 was a 2.28' decline.  The overall range was from a 13.63' rise to a 23.68' decline.  Keep in mind that 2011 was a very dry year for the southern half of Kansas.

An interesting look at the January, 2012 data (January, 2011 to January, 2012 change) is by GMD.  The GMDs in Kansas do not cover the entire state, but do cover 85% of the groundwater producing areas.

  GMD 1 (West Central):  1.58' decline (range: 4.85' rise to 15.57' decline)
  GMD 2 (South Central):  3.12' decline (range:  2.91' rise to 11.67' decline)
  GMD 3 (Southwest):  4.05' decline (range:  13.63' rise to 23.68' decline)
  GMD 4 (Northwest):  .57' decline (range:  4.6' rise to 5.48' decline)
  GMD 5 (South Central):  2.96' decline (range:  5.28' rise to 9.72' decline)

While I'd like GMD 4 management programs to take full credit for the state's lowest (by far) average decline rate in 2011, the truth is that our area had way more rainfall than the other areas.  We were still below average (a bit on the dry side) but not near as dry as the other GMDs.

Another way to look at the relative impacts might be to focus on the lone Index wells for each of the western GMDs.  From the 2011 calendar year pumpage, our GMD 4 (Thomas County) Index well dropped 6.69' - from a recovered level of 212.40' on March 17, 2011 to a low of 219.09' on September 4, 2011.

As of August 5, 2012, this same well has dropped 6.95' - from a recovered level of 213.70' on April 27, 2012 to a new low of 220.65' on August 5.  And the irrigation season might have another 3 weeks to go, so we expect additional declines to come.

All this to say that the GMD 4 average annual decline rate of somewhere around .5' per year may get blown out of the water this drought year of 2012.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Water and Greensburg, KS

At 9:45 P.M. on May 4, 2007 Greensburg Kansas was close to obliterated by an EF5 tornado reported to be 1.7 miles wide.  Depending on the report, 90% to 95% of the entire town of 1,600 people was literally swept away.  Eleven people perished in the storm, which is a remarkably low number considering the near-total devastation.  

Greensburg, KS following 2007 Tornado
The town has been rebuilding, and true to their name, they are rebuilding "green" - environmentally green, that is.  Water and energy efficiency are hallmarks in most of the towns replacement buildings.  The school - a consolidated school of grades pre-K through 12 - has been awarded a LEED Platinum rating and sports waterless urinals, a whole roof rainwater collection system, native landscaping, closed-loop groundwater heating and cooling systems, many reclaimed building materials, recycled plastic seating and storage sectionals, and so much more it makes your head spin. 

I particularly like the school's very open and visible rainfall collection system.  It is built so that the rainwater coming off the roof can be seen by the students entering the transfer troughs and being moved by gravity to the above-ground water collection tanks.  Its 21,000 gallon collection and transfer capacity is used as a teaching element and can handle up to an inch of rainfall.  The water collected is used mainly for outside irrigation of the very native landscape plants.  

We next toured the hospital, which was also LEED certified and had a remarkably small water and energy use footprint.  Their wind generator was very visible just out the back door and was one of three individual generators lined up along the highway from West to East - very hard to miss as you approach the town.  

Many other facilities are LEED certified as well, including some private businesses like the John Deere Dealership.  The John Deere owners didn't have to build to this standard, but they embraced the vision of the community and did.  My hat is off to them.

Today the town's population is about 800, and there are plenty of vacant lots in town.  The mayor and everyone we talked to fully understand that while the progress made has been remarkable, and very well designed, there is still a long way to go in enticing former homeowners and businesses and/or new folks to return or make the move.  That's a shame because their vision is a good one.

Oh, I almost forgot - Greensburg is also home to the world's largest hand dug well (a short, but very cool link to the well's history).  Having been dug in 1887 and 1888, it survived the tornado - all 32' of it's diameter and 109' of its depth. While not used today for a public water supply well, it had been used as such up to 1932.  It's now a museum and a pretty cool place to peer down into. Yes, there is still water in the bottom of the well, and with all the water use efficiency being implemented in town, there should be water available for many years to come.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

State's First LEMA Hearing Set

Local Interest in Sheridan and Thomas Counties

TOPEKA – The Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Water Resources has scheduled an initial hearing to consider a proposal that would establish a new water conservation plan in portions of Sheridan and Thomas counties.

The 2012 Kansas Legislature, through Senate Bill 310, gave Groundwater Management Districts, or GMDs, the authority to initiate a public hearing process to consider specific water conservation plans that would meet local goals. The plans are known as Local Enhanced Management Areas (LEMAs).

The Sheridan 6 application, which was developed in GMD 4 high-priority area number 6 in Sheridan and Thomas counties, is the first LEMA plan received by the division. GMD 4 recommended approval of the Sheridan 6 LEMA plan and the DWR chief engineer found the plan acceptable for consideration. This initial formal public hearing is the next step in the process.

The hearing will take place at 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 13, 2012, at the Sheridan County Courthouse, 925 9th Street, in Hoxie.

The initial hearing will consider whether the local area is experiencing water management concerns requiring enhanced management allowed under statute. If the initial hearing determines a management area is needed, a second hearing will be held to determine if the plan should be adopted as proposed.

The public is welcome to submit written or oral statements to be included in the hearing record. Oral statements will only be accepted at the initial hearing, but written statements may be submitted at the initial hearing or may be sent to the Sheridan 6 LEMA Hearing Officer, c/o Leslie Garner, 109 SW 9th St, 4th Floor, Topeka, KS 66612. Statements can also be faxed to (785) 368-6668. Written statements must be postmarked on or before Sept. 17, 2012.

For copies of the LEMA proposal and notice of hearing, click here.

Monday, August 6, 2012

MYFA Impacts in Kansas?

There is a debate ongoing in Kansas over the most likely outcome the new, multi-year flex account (MYFA) option is going to have on water use patterns.  Will it conserve water; be neutral; or increase water use? 
The new MYFA authority allows a water right owner to convert their current annual water right to a 5-year total, and to use the 5-year total in any manner.  The 5-year total is the greater of two calculations (both based on past reported water use) and does not necessarily equal the maximum annual amount times 5, although it can.

The two calculations are:   1)  Average reported 2000-2009 water use (X) 5; or 2) 50% net irrigation requirement (NIR) for the county (X) maximum 2000-2009 acres reported irrigated (X) 1.1 (X) 5.  Both calculations are limited to legally used water and capped at 5 times the authorized annual quantity.   Generally water rights with a low AF to acre ratio having used close to their maximum annual quantities each year and those that have been stretching their irrigation water right over higher than normal acres calculate out the best and end up with a 5-year total allocation that approaches or equals 5 times the authorized annual amount.  For these rights, the MYFA is an attractive option.  For other rights the 5-year total calculates out to less than their annually authorized amount times 5.  It should be noted here that the system was designed to provide users more flexibility in their annual use decisions, based on weather, etc., while being historically “use-neutral” – not reducing or increasing past water use patterns.

In any event, for those who take the MYFA option, the question is will they end up using less, the same, or more water than if they had continued on with their annually limited water right?
One camp says having a 5-year total water right will cause users to be frugal in the early years to make sure they don’t come up short in the last years – in other words, that some water conservation is likely to occur.  Another camp says the system will more likely insure that all the 5-year totals will get used in every 5-year period, thus conserving no water at all, and since some of the calculations are actually a bit higher than past historical use (those using the second calculation), this will actually increase water use a bit.  The third camp says they don’t know, but let’s try it and find out.

I guess one could also ask:  Will the added water use flexibility increase the economic returns from the water that is used?  If so, does it really matter if a bit more water is used or conservation occurs?  These MYFAs also raise other questions as well, like, how might they affect federal drought crop insurance program where these producers now have the legal right to use as much water as is needed to stave off drought – at least in the early years of the 5-year allocation?  Will $9.00 corn (or higher) influence corn acreage planting during any MYFA period?

Any guesses/predictions/thoughts on the debate?   BTW, I personally am in the camp that predicts full allocation use (no conservation).  I think these producers are generally astute enough water managers and business people that full resource use will more likely occur than not.  But I have to say I’m not going to bet my annual salary on it.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Water on Mars

Hydrated Mars of Old
Anyone ever wonder how they search for water in space?  With NASA’s newest Mars rover - Curiosity - due to land on Mars on August 6 this is a timely topic as this rover will be looking for water.

It turns out there are actually a number of ways to look for or detect water on moons and planets we have begun to explore. These include spectroscopic measurements, radar, regular old photography, the presence of minerals known to retain water, direct observation and the latest way going to be used by Curiosity – employing the dynamic albedo of neutrons. 
This approach will shoot millions of neutrons into the soil in microbursts of energy.  The neutrally-charged neutrons when they hit hydrogen atoms will slow to a near stop because of their similar sizes, and by catching the returning signals the presence and amount of water can be determined.  The tests are also designed to learn more about the water cycle of Mars, it’s near ground climate and whether seasonal soil moisture patterns exist – all in about 20 minutes of pulsing neutrons.  This had better work well, because where they intend to land, in the vicinity of the Gale Crater, there are only clays and sulphates - hydrated minerals.

I was surprised to learn that this is not the first foray to Mars looking for water.  It began with the Mariner 9 mission in 1971, and has since then included the Viking program, the Mars Global surveyor, Mars Pathfinder, Mars Odyssey, Phoenix, the Mars Rovers, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Express and the Mars Opportunity Rover.  You’d think we’d already have had a pipeline headed toward California by now.

Anyway, I wish the Curiosity the best of luck and I hope it takes along enough neutrons to get the job done.