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.