Friday, January 25, 2013

Wells & Accidents - The Bungled Burgle

It was March, 2011 in Boothtown, a suburb of Halifax, West Yorkshire, England.  It was also very early in the morning - 5:15 A.M. to be precise - when a call came into the local police station regarding a burglary on Bell Street.  Seemed a neighbor took to chasing two men suspected of the burglary, but gave up and called police instead.

Before the police could even get organized another call came in from nearby Claremount Road from a young man who was reporting that he'd fallen down into a well and needed emergency help.  The police started putting two and two together, and you guessed it.  From the paper reporting on the situation:

"It would appear the man who fell down the well was one of the burglars who was fleeing the scene.  He was chased by a neighbour.  He climbed a small wall and dropped down a banking of  approximately 20ft before then falling down a 30ft deep well.   It appears it was uncovered and hidden from view to the fleeing suspect.  A technical rescue team from Cleckheaton Fire Station was drafted in to save the man and brought him up in what firefighters dubbed "a giant nappy" - a support linked to two ropes.  Watch Manager Trevor McDonald from Cleckheaton Fire Station said: "It was quite a  complex technical rescue as it was only around 3ft wide at the bottom of the well with  only enough room to get one firefighter down there.  The man was face down when we found him, but conscious throughout and was talking  to us.""

This 21 year old ill-fated man was arrested on suspicion of burglary when he got to the top of the well and was taken to the hospital where he was found to have a broken vertebrae.  Can you imagine lying face down in a 3-foot shaft at the bottom of a well with a broken back?  And having to call the police for help under these circumstances? 

Once again, we see clearly that not only does "crime not pay", but also that abandoned wells are accidents waiting to happen.  About the only good news is that he survived and we all now know that in Boothtown a good cell phone works from 30' underground.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

GMD4 - 38th Annual Meeting Slated

Can you believe it – the 38th annual meeting of the Northwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 4 is upon us.  The meeting is set for:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013; 1:30 P.M.; Hoxie Elks Lodge, Hoxie, KS. 

The basic agenda (business items) is the same as usual.  It is:

1.  Approval of the 37th annual meeting minutes;

2.  Adoption of the 2014 proposed operating budget;

3.  Presentation of the 2012 annual audit;

4.  Election of 4 board positions:  Sheridan County Position #8; Graham County #9; Logan County Position #10; and Gove County Position #11.

Since this annual meeting happens to closely coincide (in space and time) with the issuance of the SD-6 LEMA Order, a special section of the annual meeting will be dedicated to explaining, discussing and taking questions on this process.  We want everyone involved in the LEMA to fully understand it and be successful in operating within it.

The board will also be conducting its regular February Board meeting immediately prior to the annual meeting – beginning at 10:00 AM in the same location.  This is an open meeting as well with any members of the public invited.  This meeting will also continue after the annual meeting to install any new board members (if necessary), elect new officers and finish up any business remaining from the morning session. As always, let staff or a board member know if you have questions or concerns.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Groundwater Critters & Creepy Crawlers

Groundwater critters, you say?  Have you lost your mind?  Well, it's actually true that animals can and do live in many aquifers around the world.  The little creature to the right is one such critter - called by the generic name of Stygofauna, which are small animals that live in groundwater environs.  Yes, actually within the aquifer itself.  They are very small and tend to be colorless and blind, but their variations can be amazing.  In Australia a research group has discovered 850 new species of these kinds of invertebrates.

Actually, the groundwater creatures are called Stygofauna while the cave and micro-cavern critters are called troglofauna.  Leave it up to the Aussies to make this distinction!

Here are two links that can be used for a bit more detail:  Waiology Blog; and  Both these blog articles are interesting and very well done.

There has also been quite a bit of work in Italy looking at these Stygofauna in wells connected to deeper aquifers that have been receiving municipal wastewater disposal injections for twenty years or so.  The conclusion is that Stygofauna are extremely sensitive to environmental changes in water chemistry and temperature.

This field, often called Groundwater Ecology, or something similar, seems to be one of the newer fields developing in the groundwater and hydrologic sciences.  The first references I can easily find are pointing to a late 1980's origin, but I'm sure a few folks have been well aware of these animals for quite some time before that.

Stygofauna are said to be vestiges or relics of former surface-water system animals and are very old in their lineage.  They do best in well-functioning groundwater systems, which are described as those transferring the most water and energy throughout the system.  Karst systems and very transmissive aquifers in communication with surface water systems certainly meet this criteria, but the literature I read did not quantify these parameters beyond this general statement. 

For me, unless I stick my toe in the well and get bitten or hauled in, I'm probably going to miss this issue altogether!  Can't wait for EPA to start listing these guys as endangered!  Anyway, if you have never heard of Stygofauna before, now you know just enough to be dangerous!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Water Is Power - Or Soon May Be

Polypyrrole Polymer
MIT engineers have created a polymer, they call it a film, that generates electrical energy by the flexing motion (mechanical movement) of the film as absorbs and evaporates water vapor.  The article, called "New Material Harvests Energy From Water Vapor" has all the details.

As it turns out, the polymer called polypyrrole has been used before, but resulted in too weak a response to generate much electricity at all.  The new approach interlocks another, more rigid polymer, called polyol-borate, into the polypyrrole.  Interweaving both materials gives the film a much larger displacement motion as the water vapor is absorbed and then evaporated.   It is this displacement motion that is converted to electrical energy.

I wouldn't look for this new stuff to be lifting cars for chassis repair anytime soon, but the developers think the power will be sufficient to run a whole host of micro-electrical devices.  Just goes to show you, there is more power in water than just the hydrogen and oxygen.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Fracking in Kansas - Part 3

1947 Gas Well Fracturing Operation
For hydraulic fracturing info in Kansas a great source has been put together by the Kansas Geological Survey (KGS) at this location:

The picture provided is from the linked KGS circular and is the first experimental fracturing job done in 1947 by the Stanolind Oil company.  It was done on a gas well in the Hugoton Gas Field in Grant County, in southwest Kansas.  There is more information on this operation in the link provided.

Technically the KGS material is very good.  They talk about the real need to oversee and regulate the activity very closely, and  mention areas of the US where problems have occurred due to less-than-aggressive state oversight attention.  Pennsylvania is mentioned as a state too lax in return flow oversight, with Colorado, Wyoming and Texas also missing effective oversight in other parts of the production process.  In the end they state:  

"For the most part, Kansas has not encountered the problems some other states have, and no documented cases of ground-water contamination by hydraulic fracturing have been reported in the state." 

The entire circular to me implies that:  1) Kansas oversight is effective;  2) geologically we're different enough that the same activities that have been problems elsewhere are working OK here;  and 3) we can continue on - business as usual. 

Well, I'm not so sure.  I have to believe there is a huge difference in vertical fracturing of old and horizontal fracturing being done today.  We in Kansas don't yet have the well numbers and longer-term experience in the horizontal fracturing being done in the Marcellus Shale of Appalachian Basin in the NE, or the Bakken in the Dakotas and Montana, or the Barnett in Texas.  What if it takes 15 years for migration paths to translate to the surface?  Just because we haven't seen any yet doesn't mean it's not happening.  And one of those potential conduits has to be all the un- and improperly plugged oil and gas wells of the past in our state.  Nobody yet has gone on record saying these relics are of no consequence.

The water supply needs for fracking are also handled curiously in the KGS circular.  They are compared to irrigation use in quantity and characterized as a single (one-time only) use of 2-4 million gallons of water.  Sounds like not much to worry about.  But keep in mind that there have been 244,000 oil and gas wells drilled in Kansas since 1947.  This past use, at 3 million gallons per well, is a supply need of 732,000 acrefeet of water - all consumptively used and never to be used again.  In the 50 years ahead of us, this could easily reach another 900,000 or 1,000,000 acrefeet due to the accelerated drilling trends - and all of this water is being and will be used outside of the water rights system currently in place.  Don't get me wrong, irrigation uses a lot of water in Kansas, but my point is that oil and gas water needs are not insignificant.

I love the KGS and the work they do, but I'm not completely sold on their assessment of HF in Kansas, yet.  I can only hope they're right on the money... 


Friday, January 11, 2013

Wells & Accidents - Little Randy

Typical abandoned irrigation well
Little Randy, just a three-year old at the time, was visiting his grandfather with his family in a small Texas town in the far west of the state.  The kids were out playing near an abandoned irrigation well that simply had a barrel sitting on top of the open, 16-inch casing.  Kids being kids, they moved the barrel to peer down the 300 foot hole.  Kids also being kids, Little Randy managed to step into the well and went feet first down the hole.  He hit water at 68 feet, but was able to keep enough pressure on the sides of the casing to keep his head above water.

Somebody was looking out for Little Randy that day because Manuel Corral just happened to be there working on the farm, and he quickly suggested that they lower him down the well - headfirst with arms outstretched.  He'd grab onto Little Randy and they could haul them both back out.  He argued there was no time for other actions.  Manuel also happened to be of very slight build - a mere 125 pounds.

So it was decided.  They tied a rope to his ankles and down the well he went.  The description from the local newspaper coverage says it best:  "..and he started the 68-foot head-first decent into the small dark well shaft.  He became lodged several times and had to claw himself free.  He became dizzy from the inverted position of his body.  The foul smell of the long unused well, the pain inflicted to his ankles by the rope and the thought that he might become stuck in the well undoubtedly caused Corral to approach a point of panic many times during the long 15-minute period it required to reach the boy.  Only the thought of little Randy in the water below kept him squirming and inching his way steadily closer to the end of his mission.  Finally, Corral reached the cold and crying lad after Randy had been in the well about an hour.  Both were pulled back to the surface."

Are you kidding me?!  What a story.  Manuel may have been slight of build, but in my book he had the heart and guts to match any man alive.  And this all took place the day before Christmas, 1959, so he gave the entire family quite a Christmas present.  Little Randy today still lives in Texas - about 500 miles from that fateful site.

As I've said before, abandoned wells are accidents waiting to happen, so please get them properly taken care of as soon as possible. This situation had an incredible and amazingly happy ending, but many do not. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Water Conservation?

I read a recent article by a Texas journalist on the state's discussions about improving water conservation.  It is titled:  Water Conservation Ideas Offered for Texas Legislature.  Interesting read. 

Most people read "water conservation" in their own context, and get a warm and fuzzy feeling about this motherhood-and-apple-pie notion.  How can conservation be a bad thing they say?  It means there'll be more for us - at least for a longer period of time.  And this is true.  But it can also mean more water so more people can partake - thus putting us right back in the soup again just a few years down the road.  

From the article: 

"Texas has passed water-conservation bills in the past. In fact, Texas and California rank first among all states in water efficiency.... Texas accumulated points for laws such as requiring water utilities to audit their water losses and limiting the amount of water that toilets and urinals can use. The Legislature created the Water Conservation Advisory Council in 2007; last month it produced a report filled with recommendations for the Legislature."   

And the very next sentence reads:  "But Texas, with its fast-growing population, needs to do more, water experts say."

OK, so it seems that in Texas' case water conservation is being promoted simply to provide water for more water users (i.e. that "fast-growing population").  Keep in mind it takes 8 people conserving 10% of their current use to support 1 new citizen - and that's if that new person starts out using water as conservatively as those who tightened their belts to provide it.  Otherwise the current use actually increases with that single new arrival, or the many others who were not planned for.  This of course also means that the water supply planners must have a very clear picture of how much and when to restrict new growth based on the conserved water they have created.  If not, they need an equally clear picture of when to start and how aggressively to promote their next water conservation campaign.  Eventually, there can be no more water conservation gains without economically stressing the host.

Anyone know such a group of water planners?  Or such a group who have the ear and support of the city council or governing body responsible for the economic progress of the city?  

The other approach is not to rely on conservation and seek new water "..somewhere over the next divide..".  Those that have already conserved to the max, or understand that conservation is not a reasonable solution (because it pretty quickly stops new growth) opt for this approach.  Is anyone thinking a certain desert city in Nevada?

Neither choice is necessarily a good or bad one, but I think it should be a conscious, informed choice by an involved public.  I wonder how many water planners are couching their plans of spurring growth by promoting conservation?  Nowhere in the Texas article do I read specifically what the state's intentions are in this regard, but reading in between the lines...     

Anyone have some thoughts on this topic?

Monday, January 7, 2013

50 Ways to Leave Your Groundwater (Safe)

I recently ran across a neat compilation of 50 ways farmers can protect their groundwater.  In fact that's the name of the publication - 50 Ways Farmers Can Protect Their Groundwater.  It's a bit dated (1993) but this University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service book has lots of good ideas.  It was written by Michael Hirschi, F. William Simmons, Doug Peterson and Ed Giles.

The 50 ways are each covered in a short (1 to 2 page) description.  There are also 10 featured farmers who share their stories and experience concerning a selection of these suggestions.  It's organized into sections dealing with the following issues:  Fertilizers; Scouting crops; Insecticides; Herbicides; Pesticides; Site conditions, wells and septic systems; Water testing and treatment; and Miscellaneous.

To be honest, it's almost exclusively aimed at groundwater quality, with only a precious few pieces on groundwater quantity, but, hey, quality is pretty important too.  I guess the biggest thing here is that groundwater is being recognized and thought of as important enough to do a compendium on.  I think so too, of course. 

In closing, it caught my eye because I'm a pretty big Paul Simon fan, and I thought I had run across an Extension publication on 50 ways to leave your lover.  Wouldn't that be a first!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Kansas' First LEMA Order Signed

LEMA Bill Signing - Colby, KS, 2012

The 2012 Legislature passed a new law authorizing the implementation of local enhanced management areas (LEMAs).  The accompanying picture is of the LEMA bill signing in Colby follwing the Governor's ceremonial signing.  Chief engineer David Barfield is addressing the crowd, while Governor Brownback looks on (in the blue shirt over the speaker's right shoulder).

Basically, if a groundwater management district (GMD) works with local stakeholders, they can submit an enhanced management plan to the chief engineer for consideration.  If the proposal meets certain basic criteria, the chief engineer can call for public hearings on the exclusively local proposal, with the hearing process focused ONLY on the local proposal.  Following the hearings, the chief engineer has only three basic options:  1)  Approve the proposal as submitted; 2) reject the proposal in its entirety; or 3) return it with suggestions that have come up in the hearing process and must have local approval to be included.  In other words, outside ideas can't find their way into the state's final implementation order without local approval.  As I've said before, the locals may not get what they want, but they are assured of not getting what they don't want once the process gets under way.

The special management area we call SD-6 has gone through this entire process and on December 31, 2012 the chief engineer signed the state's first LEMA Order - designating this 99 square-mile area as a LEMA.  The order ended up being issued under option 1) above - it was exactly as locally proposed.

There were some anxious moments in this process.  We weren't sure the proposal would be accepted from the start based on its 5-year life span.  There are those who argued that a sunsetted LEMA may not be worth the effort.  The locals argued that the review process was flexible enough to continue the proposal, but that a 5-year trial spin was all that could be locally acceptable.  Besides, 5 years of reduced water use is better than no conservation should the plan be rejected out of the gate.

We also had some opposition to the flexibility of moving water use around within the LEMA area.  Some felt that the unrestricted movement of water use across the 20 or so miles of this area could be problematic.  We argued that only judicious amounts of water are likely to be transferred around via the flexibility we've provided, so there will not be huge supply problems created.  Moreover, we agreed to look at this issue every year in the required annual LEMA review.  If any problems crop up, we've left a mechanism to address them.

The boundaries were also contentious.  Many expressed the feeling that the entire County, or the entire GMD should have been included.  The fact that the entire County and the entire GMD are not experiencing the same degree of problematic declines seemed to have prevailed. 

We're excited to try this out and see how effective it will be for the local water users.  The total 5-year pumping cap imposed will reduce historical pumpage by about 18-20% per year for 5 years.  This should help slow the groundwater decline rate and thus extend the economic life of this portion of the Ogallala Aquifer.

About the only trepidation we have now is the specter of a lawsuit, as not everyone was equally as enthused about the design of this LEMA.  Since it's new, I guess it's possible that the law is in fact unconstitutional, or that we've applied the process improperly.  But I have bigger concerns regarding a law suit.  This new authority was consistently hailed as being the most promising local approach to groundwater problem solving in Kansas in a long time.  If we locals can't make it work, I'm afraid that the very idea of "local control" in Kansas may become questioned by State pundits more seriously than many of us would be comfortable with.  The loss of local control and serious input into groundwater issues I think will be lamented very much.  'nuff said.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

More On The Work of Groundwater

As I've blogged before, groundwater works a number of ways on and within the earth to change the landscape over time.  Stream bank erosion and possibly caves are the most visible and obvious examples.  But groundwater can work in other ways as well. 

Recently a group of geologists from Brigham Young University studied the dissolution of basalt by groundwater on the picturesque island of Oahu in the Hawaiian island chain.  Yes, you heard right - Oahu is dissolving due to the movement of groundwater through its rocks.  In fact, the dissolution rate via groundwater movement is reported to be faster than the erosional rate of surface materials being carried away by the streams and rivers.  The highest hills of the Koolau and Waianea Mountain ranges are projected to eventually become flat plains - comparable to the Pacific Island of Midway. 

The study says this isn't going to happen too soon, though, perhaps taking one and a half million years before the flattening effects start to happen noticeably.  So, you don't need to cancel your vacation reservations on account of this.  Besides, they also found that Oahu is at the same time being pushed upward ever so slowly by tectonic plate action, so things (elevations, anyway) may actually stay pretty much the same.  But it was interesting to find out that the basalt rock of the Hawaiian Islands will literally dissolve over time.  I didn't know that.