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.