Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bounds Vs. New Mexico and Kansas LEMAs

The New Mexico Supreme Court just rendered an interesting decision in the Bounds Vs. New Mexico court case relating to exempt wells.  By way of [brief...very brief] background, Horace Bounds back in 2006 challenged the constitutionality of the New Mexico Domestic Well Statute (DWS), which requires the state engineer to approve domestic water right applications - regardless of whether new water is available for appropriation.  Mr. Bounds has a very senior surface water right on the local river for irrigation, and argued that new appropriations - of any kind - were going to impair his senior water right. Therefore all water uses must be handled under the prior appropriation system.

The State Engineer argued that the DWS was a clear expression of legislative intent to treat certain necessary water uses differently, and in creating that distinction, they articulated a class of uses of public water that was to be exempt from (or outside) the scope of the general scheme of appropriations.

Long story short, the original court found for Bounds, the Appellate Court overturned the original finding and ruled for the State, and finally the State Supreme Court upheld the Appellate Court's decision.  As it stands now, the state engineer's argument is the correct one. 

The Court of Appeals concluded that the New Mexico priority doctrine is not a system of administration that dictates any particular manner of administration of appropriations and/or the use of water, or, how senior water rights are to be protected from junior users in time of shortages.  Also, because the Legislature determined that domestic well permits are to be issued upon application without prior evaluation of water availability or impairment, is not a violation of the priority doctrine or of the Legislature’s constitutional duty to assure that senior water rights are protected under that priority doctrine.  There is actually much more to the Bounds ruling, but this one point is the one I'm most interested in.

I find the main issue of this case interesting because our new LEMA legislation provided for a whole host of local groundwater supply shortage remedies, including some that do not use the prior appropriation system that is also so fundamental to Kansas water law.  In public discussions this issue comes up just about every time, so it's clear that a number of Kansas folks are thinking along the lines of Mr. Bounds.  We have always responded that the Legislature has decided it best to provide other solutions to supply shortages (other than administration by prior appropriation) so we are on solid legal ground. 

Of course, there are many differences between New Mexico water law and Kansas water law, and our State Supreme Courts are different, so there is no way to know if the same ruling would be rendered if our LEMA approach would be challenged.  But, I think we'd be making many of the same arguments, and, referencing the New Mexico Bound's case.   

Monday, July 29, 2013

Drought - Everyone Looking for Answers

Kate and I attended a drought workshop here in Colby last week that was hosted by the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) folks, and included the co-sponsors of the Kansas Water Office, NOAA Regional Climate Services and the National Drought Mitigation Center.  The Colby meeting is a clickable on the link just provided.

There were about 80 folks in attendance who I gathered were mostly there to get answers about drought responses that were available and effective.  It was a surprise to me when the NIDIS presentations were all geared to promote participant discussions about what might work to get everyone through this drought in as good a shape as possible.  They were there to get solutions from us while we were there to get solutions from them.  Seems everyone is seeking solutions to the current midwest drought that is quickly shaping up to be the new drought of record.

Don't get me wrong, the material provided was top-notch.  It characterized the drought to a "T" with data and analysis that was impressive.  In the end it was an excellent look into this drought with 20-20 hindsight.  I have to admit that the forward looking projections were not that good, but were delivered with the appropriate amount of "qualifications".  Seems that for our location (central US) there is always a slightly better or slightly worse chance of all the climate elements that spell wetter or drier or hotter or cooler conditions. 

The open discussion was better than most sessions of this type, though, and I'm glad I attended.  I now have a new, excellent location to get drought information. But for the future, I'm just going to hang around and see what develops - then peruse the NIDIS pages to see what happened.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Wells Are Dangers to Animals, Too

Most of my "wells and accidents" stories involve old, abandoned wells.  But these are not the only wells that are problems.  Take the case of a new well being constructed in Houston in October of 2011.  It was a concrete lined well and was still under construction when a horse happened by and fell into it.  The horse was found that evening at the bottom of the well - chest-high in water - and was a bit stressed.

In this case the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) was called.  The arriving investigator ended up lowering himself into the well and slipped a harness around the horse.  A forklift was then used to hoist it out.  Suffering minor cuts and bruises, the horse survived the affair - as did everyone else.

And who owned the horse?  The SPCA is not saying, but did note that it had been in a pasture on neighboring land the day before.  No one seemed to know how the horse managed to slip out onto the neighboring land where the well was being constructed.

So, we find that people are not the only ones in danger from old and/or improperly maintained wells.  And when we say animals, we don't always mean the family dog.  Bottom line, any well can be dangerous if not maintained in a safe and protected manner.  And when we say protected, we don't mean covered by a sheet of plastic, or plywood, or scrap of tin siding.  The covering needs to be air and water tight, and capable of holding at least 300 pounds of weight.  Of course, if your protecting cows and/or horses, you'll need a stouter covering!

Shoot, while your at it, why don't you just get a well driller to plug the well for you so no one ever has to worry about it again.  That's my advice.  But check with your state laws and regulations first.  Here in Kansas, you can plug your own well on your own property, but it must be done to state specifications, and the well plugging form must be submitted, too.  Again, hire a professional!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Kansas Water Congress to Meet

About 5 years ago some Kansas water folks had the notion to establish the Kansas Water Congress.  It was patterned fairly closely after the Colorado Water Congress which has been an influential consortium of water interests in that state for decades.  The Colorado Congress primarily weighs in on Colorado water legislation, and their success rate is impressively high - regardless of whether they are supporting a bill or opposing it.  The Colorado group is well heeled and includes many water interests from the private and public sectors.  They also dabble in water policy from time to time.  

The Kansas Water Congress is still getting it's feet on the ground, but is intended to become just as influential in water issues - both legislation and policy.  They meet several times a year, and do much of the behind-the-scenes work via committee.

Anyway, the Kansas Water Congress will be meeting August 1 and 2 in Garden City, Kansas.  The host will be the Garden City Community College - a great venue for this event.  The agenda includes:
  •  A session on drought and funding from Kansas Water Office director Tracy Streeter;
  • An update on the SD-6 LEMA by myself;
  • LEMA updates from the other 4 Kansas GMDs; 
  • Wheatland and Sunflower Electrics' acquisition of water from irrigation water rights for their power needs; 
  • A presentation by Mark Rude of GMD 3 on their Missouri River Aqueduct Proposal; 
  • A presentation by Rex Buchanan (KGS) on State trends and directions RE:  hydraulic fracturing; 
  • Updates from the Divisions of Conservation and Water Resources of the Kansas Department of Ag; 
  • A tour of Wheatland Ranch to see the effects of transitioning irrigated pivots to grass; 
  • An Arkansas River report by Randy Hayzlett; 
  • A panel on irrigation perspectives over the past 30 years – where we are now and where we're headed;
  • A Question and Answer session; and 
  • A summary of 2013 water legislation and what’s likely to be on tap for 2014.  
This is a lot of interesting and useful information, so you should consider attending.  More information is available here.  

I've been a member of this group from the outset, which has been a positive thing because I get to tell people in all seriousness that I'm a member of Congress.  Nah, they never buy it, but I know it's true! 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Chalk One Up For Groundwater

In 2008 when Iowa geologists were examining drill cuttings from a water well near Decorah, Iowa, they found a shale layer that shouldn't have been there, and didn't exist anywhere else in the region.  When the Iowa Geological Survey looked at the area closer, they discovered the shale deposit was not extensive - only a couple of miles wide - and, that it was nearly perfectly circular.  This was so intriguing that they brought in a geologist from the National Museum of Natural History to take a look.  He found definite signs of shocked quartz in the rocks just below the shale layer.  All these signs are indicative of an impact crater, and one that was previously unknown.

This all lead to a more recent examination of the area, and the crater possibility, by scientists from the USGS and the Iowa and Minnesota Geological Surveys.  They did a high-resolution geophysical survey and additional borehole investigations of the area specifically for the groundwater and mineral resources that might be available.  Their results showed a definite difference in rock density and more clearly revealed the circular nature of the geologic anomaly.     

Well, long story short, turns out there is a 470 million year old impact crater lying under Decorah, Iowa - confirmed now by three data sets that correlate extremely well.  All because someone wanted to assess the groundwater availability of the area by looking at drill cuttings from their water well.

And the shale layer that isn't supposed to exist but which started the whole inquiry?  Turns out the entire region had been covered by shale deposited by the intrusion of an inland sea after the impact event but has since been eroded away.  This shale just happened to get preserved inside the crater.

Next step is to assess if this crater is a unique event or might be related to three other known midwestern impact craters - in Ames, Oklahoma., Rock Elm, Wisconsin and the Slate Islands of Lake Superior in Ontario, Canada.  All four have been dated to roughly the same time period.
Just goes to show you - you never know what's beneath your feet until you look closely. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

Water in Pictures - by a Pro

Back in August, 2012 I wrote a brief article on Edward Burtynsky (see here), a Canadian photographer who did full blown photographic art shows.  It was anticipated then that his next series would be on WATER.  Well the wait will soon be over.  His WATER show will open October 5, 2013 in New Orleans and will include 60 photos depicting man's epic struggles with this vital resource.  See more details here.

It's kind of funny because back in August I (tongue in cheek) said that I hoped his depiction of Ogallala water use would NOT be the standard aerial photo of a collage of center pivot circles on the plains.  Well surprise, surprise!  He did include at least one Ogallala photo - from the air - of center pivot circles - on the plains - of Texas!   It is shown here, but it certainly is not by any means the standard photo I expected.  I'm pretty sure Mr. Burtynsky was struck by the very peculiar triangle shape left by the operation of the two intersecting pivots.  In fact, I'm pretty sure most folks will be struck as well, as I'm guessing there are only a few people in the world who actually know what's going on with these two pivots. 

Our office has been taking bets on the deeper meaning of it all.  The options thus far are:  1) The producer is a 12 degree Freemason and quite proud of it; 2) he's trying to communicate with terrestrials - most likely signaling for rain; 3) he's growing a nice patch of weed; or 4) it's the only way he can keep the two pivots from crashing into each other.  Any other guesses?

All joking aside, the Burtynsky WATER show is depicting the seriousness of our world's water situation and needs honest reflection by us all.  It runs through January 19, 2014, so if you're intrigued by WATER or want to reflect on it all, think about taking this one in.  I won't be able to make it, so I'm also hoping he'll post the series on his webpage following the initial show in New Orleans.  Everyone needs water...

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

2013 World Water Day - All 365 of Them!

Most folks in the water community know there is an annual World Water Day that comes around every year, and March 22, 2013 was the most current of these annual events.  But many are not aware that 2013 has been proclaimed the United Nations International Year of Water Cooperation - yep, the whole year!

The year kicked off with World Water day on March 22, but there are various other water events scheduled throughout the year, including selection of the "Water for Life" (UN-Water Best Practices) award - with nominations being accepted through September 15. There is also the Out of the Blue poetry competition for young people (in three age categories) which this year involves creating short water videos.  Submissions for this competitive judging event are open until October 30.

Anyway, while the material I've looked at is largely focused on surface water systems, there are a smattering of groundwater mentions as well.  Yes, groundwater always seems to be the stepchild in water resources.  One groundwater mention on these pages involves a reported decision by Saudi Arabia to offer incentives for Saudi corporations to lease large tracts of African agricultural lands for the importation of up to 12% of the country's cereal grains - thus being able to reduce their groundwater use (and groundwater depletion) by the same amount.  I don't know what this arrangement has to do with water cooperation, as it seems strictly a business proposition to me.

Yet the need for cooperation in surface water systems is undeniable.  According to the material there are 276 transboundary river basins in the world - 64 in Africa; 60 in Asia; 68 in Europe; 46 in North America and 38 in South America.  And over these basins, there are approaching 450 international agreements that have been negotiated and signed in the last 190 years or so (between 1820 and 2007).

That's a lot of cooperation it would seem, but it's only half the story.  Maintaining these agreements over time can be challenging at best.  You need only look to the Republican River Compact (Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado); the Arkansas River Compact (Kansas, Colorado and Oklahoma); the Platte River Agreement (Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska); the Colorado River Compact (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada; California and Mexico) and probably every other western US compact to see evidence of deteriorating cooperation.  Of course, there are rumblings of water discontent throughout Asia, the Middle East and Africa as well.

It seems to me that the model of cooperation might go to the Danube River Basin - which starts in Germany and courses through 18 (or 19) countries before it discharges to the Black Sea in Romania and Ukraine.  Kudos to these countries for developing the Danube River Basin District Management Plan - and for including related groundwater elements, too.

Anyway, 2013 has been designated the Year of Water Cooperation, for all the right reasons.  I hate to tell them, but they're going to need at least a decade.  Nah, that's not even enough time.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Free Water For the Public (Sometimes)

There is a move afoot in some of the larger cites to re-purpose their old, or outdated infrastructure.  If you think about it, the possibilities are endless.  I ran across this example from Lima, Peru - a free water station.

It had been an advertising billboard, but was designed and converted (re-purposed) by the University of Engineering and Technology into a fresh water collection facility - converting the moist air (very moist air at 98% relative humidity) into drinking water.  As the air moves through the contraption's reverse-osmosis collectors, it is condensed and filtered to produce as much as 25 gallons of water per day.  This bounty is kept in tanks along the old basewalk, and is dispensed by a faucet at the bottom of the old billboard.  Simple, but effective.

I guess it won't be long before someone wants to advertise on the unit once again, so this particular old infrastructure is almost surely going to go full circle soon.  And they'll probably start charging for the use of the faucet, too.

Of course, such a unit would do no good at all here in Colby, Kansas where our average humidity hovers somewhere around 14% - and that's only when all the corn is transpiring full bore.  We'd be lucky to produce a cup-full of water each week, I'm afraid.  And I'm also afraid it'd evaporate on the way down to the faucet.  Maybe we'd just better leave the water in the air!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Passing the Gavel

The board of directors of our groundwater management district have hired a new person who will be starting work next week.  The new position is a manager trainee slot which will assume the district manager duties when I retire in the next few months.  By way of introduction, the successful candidate is Katherine Wilkins-Wells.  She is a recent graduate of Colorado State University who will be moving to Colby from Fort Collins, CO.  I am pleased to have the chance to get her acclimated and trained over the next several months.  So much to do and so little time... 

One of the interesting questions I have is the fate of this Blog.  Will she want to continue it as part of her duties?  Or jettison it as soon as possible?  We didn't really discuss it during the interview process since the Blog has always been my personal contribution/diversion.  The board has always been aware of the fact that I have been doing it, but they never really formally sanctioned it.  I do know the blog medium well enough to know that it's certainly not for everyone.

Anyway, I'll offer it to her, but it will be her choice to keep it or not.  My guess is that I'll keep it up and running until I leave, but we'll just have to wait and see thereafter.  Regardless, it's been a pleasure scouring for water-topics and taking stabs at presenting them in interesting ways - at least as interesting as I could manage.  I tried to keep it varied, any way.

If you'd like to weigh in on the topic of continuing the Blog or not, please feel free to do so with an appropriate comment.  With a little bit of luck, the comments may give Katherine some helpful direction (and maybe even some encouragement).  In any event, stay tuned...