Thursday, August 29, 2013

KSU High Plains Aquifer Study Hits a Nerve?

David Steward, Paul Bruss, Xiaoying Yang, Scott Staggenborg, Stephen Welch and Michael Apley just released a special study report on the productivity of the High Plains Aquifer in Kansas over the next 100 years, or to the year 2110.  Their Executive Summary says:

"Groundwater provides a reliable tap to sustain agricultural production, yet persistent aquifer depletion threatens future sustainability. The High Plains Aquifer supplies 30% of the nation’s irrigated groundwater, and the Kansas portion supports the congressional district with the highest market value for agriculture in the nation. We project groundwater declines to assess when the study area might run out of water, and comprehensively forecast the impacts of reduced pumping on corn and cattle production. So far, 30% of the groundwater has been pumped and another 39% will be depleted over the next 50 y given existing trends. Recharge supplies 15% of current pumping and would take an average of 500–1,300 y to completely refill a depleted aquifer. Significant declines in the region’s pumping rates will occur over the next 15–20 y given current trends, yet irrigated agricultural production might increase through 2040 because of projected increases in water use efficiencies in corn production. Water use reductions of 20% today would cut agricultural production to the levels of 15–20 y ago, the time of peak agricultural production would extend to the 2070s, and production beyond 2070 would significantly exceed that projected without reduced pumping... Findings substantiate that saving more water today would result in increased net production due to projected future increases in crop water use efficiencies."

This 4-year study can be found within the National Academy of Sciences website, and was financially supported by the National Science Foundation, USDA Agricultural Research Service and US Department of Transportation through the Kansas State University Transportation Center. It has made quite a splash.  Within just a few days we have been contacted by National Public Radio (Washington, DC), the Kansas City Star (Kansas City), Matter Magazine (California?) the Farm Futures Magazine (Chicago) and several of our GMD members - and we're not even specifically mentioned in the study, although the SD-6 LEMA is. 

Anyway, the interesting thing about this study is its conclusion that local folks can make significant economic impacts by taking positive steps now to reduce current water use which will make the same water available later when production and returns are considerably higher.  Any thoughts?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Colorado State University - AWCC

I first heard of the Ag Water Conservation Clearinghouse (AWCC) website about 6-7 years ago - just as the pundits at Colorado State University were still conceiving its platform and ultimate function.  They had lofty goals then when they announced they'd like to eventually capture and make available all the irrigation literature in the midwest that dealt with irrigation water use conservation and efficient use.  I had some idea of the amount of material that was being generated on these topics by Kansas State University alone, so their goal I saw quickly would be quite enormous.

I see today, as I visited the site again, that they have expanded their focus worldwide - now encompassing many different climate regions, technologies, political and legal systems, etc., etc.  Impressive!

One thing I noticed on their website was the following, completely unqualified, comment on Ag Water Conservation:

What is Ag Water Conservation?
  • Increased crop water use efficiency
  • Improved irrigation application efficiency
  • Increased capture and utilization of precipitation
  • Decreased crop consumptive use
  • Increased irrigation water diversion and delivery efficiencies
  • Reduced water use through adoption of conservation measures and new technologies for water management
Without any explanation or point of reference on this list, I immediately started running it through my definitions, and quite frankly, not many of them were matching well with my list.  Until I came to "Decreased crop consumptive use", that is.  I don't know if the authors of this list meant for the answer to be "any of these" or "all of these", but if I get to vote, I'm voting that all of them need to occur before you get any real ag water conservation. 

Anyway, I'll check back in on the site a while later.  Maybe there'll be more information as to this listing.  And I wish them all the luck in the world in capturing the universe of ag water conservation materials.    

Friday, August 9, 2013

1885 Water Rules in Kansas

The August 13, 1885 edition of the Thomas County Cat (Colby’s first newspaper) contained a listing of Rules imposed by the Kansas State Board of Health – directing every county and Municipal Board of Health in the state to see that they are strictly enforced in their respective jurisdictions.  Rule 1 is:  “No privy vault, cesspool or reservoir into which a privy, water closet, stable or sink Is drained, except it be water-tight, shall be established or permitted within fifty feet of any well, spring or other source of water used for drinking or culinary purposes.”   The next six rules also deal with protection of drinking water, which I thought was pretty interesting.

I also found the later rules for disinfection pretty cool as well.    For example, Rule 19:  “The room into which a person sick with small-pox,  varioloid,  scarlet fever, or diphtheria Is placed, must previously be cleared of all carpets, needless clothing, drapery and all other articles likely to harbor the disease. After the death or recovery of the sick, the room, furniture and other contents not to be destroyed must be immediately thoroughly disinfected.  The paper on the walls and ceilings, if any, must be removed and completely burned. The floor, woodwork and wooden furniture must be painted over with a solution of corrosive sublimate made by dissolving one ounce of corrosive in six gallons of water; let it remain one hour, and wash off with clean water. The walls, if not papered, must be thoroughly scrubbed and whitewashed.  For the sick room, small pieces of rags should be substituted for handkerchiefs, and when once used must be immediately burned.

And Rule 22:  “Fumigation with brimstone is a good method for disinfecting the house. For this purpose the rooms to be disinfected must be vacated. Heavy clothing, blankets, bedding and other articles which cannot be treated with zinc solution, must be opened and exposed during fumigation. To disinfect an ordinary room with brimstone:  Having tightly closed all the openings of the room, place in an open earthen dish one pound of brimstone, and burn for twelve hours, being careful not to breathe the fumes. After fumigation, the rooms must be thoroughly aired by opening the doors and windows for several hours.”

And finally Rule 23:  “All articles which have been in contact with persons sick with contagious or infectious diseases, too valuable to be destroyed,  should be treated as follows: (a) Cotton, linen, flannel, blankets, etc., should be put in boiling hot zinc solution, introducing piece by piece; secure through wetting, and boil for at least one hour. (b) Heavy woolen clothing, silks, furs, stuffed bed covers, beds and other articles which cannot be  treated with the zinc solution, should be hung In the room during fumigation, their surfaces thoroughly exposed and pockets being turned inside out. Afterward they should be hung in the open air, beaten and shaken. Pillows, bed, stuffed mattresses, upholstered furniture, etc., should be cut open, the contents spread out and thoroughly fumigated. Carpets are best fumigated on the floor, but must afterward be removed to the open air and thoroughly beaten."
Seems like the Board of Health was pretty serious about halting the dreaded diseases of the era.  And Kudos to anyone who knew what “varioloid” means.  I didn’t, but looked it up – initially thinking it was some contagious form of varicose veins.  Nah, I didn’t really think that, but I didn’t know what it really was.  For those who don’t have the time to look it up, it’s a mild form of smallpox affecting people who have already had the disease or have been vaccinated against it.  Now, be sure to use it in a sentence at least once a day for the next three days!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Water + Energy - Kansas Style

There is little doubt that water and energy are related - especially here in western Kansas where so much energy is used to pump groundwater.  That's one of the main reasons I was so pleased to participate on the nomination committee within the Climate + Energy Project (CEP) to seek out innovative water and energy activities.  I've blogged about this group before - here.

As a result of all this work, the CEP has been planning a website to showcase the selected activities following a nomination and selection process, and field interviews with the principals.  The CEP has just announced that their website,, is now up and running.  

You'll have to be patient, though, as the CEP is going to unveil the selected activities one at a time - one each month.  I won't tell you what the selected innovations are, but they are wide-ranging in nature, and involve conservation approaches that should be achievable by most producers.  

According to project manager Rachel Myslivy, "The stories will contain links to research, funding opportunities, and supporting organizations. Digital farm tours, podcasts, and written materials will be used to tell the story of each successful innovation.  You can look forward to guest bloggers, event announcements, spotlights on research and all sorts of great information about innovations in agriculture."

The hope is to tell about and spur discussion and further conversation about the innovative activities in such a way that will encourage and bring about collaborative research, a strengthing of personal networks, and a continuation of innovative thinking across Kansas.

That's a tall order, but an important one, none-the-less.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Wallace County Sinkhole

WOW!  a new sinkhole just opened up in Wallace County Kansas - just a dozen miles or so south of our southern GMD border.  The picture here is of this new feature. It was a catastrophic collapse estimated at 200-250 feet wide and 80-90 feet deep.  There is no water in the bottom and the exposed dirt all appears dry and friable.

There are no oil and gas wells or high capacity water wells in the vicinity, so many are wondering what the heck happened.  I was in a meeting in Garden City, KS when the news broke, and just so happens the director of the Kansas Geological Survey, Rex Buchanan, was in attendance as well.  During the break, Rex showed me the pictures he had been emailed by the Kansas Secretary of Health and Environment, who was asking for some explanation of this not-so-common event.  Rex  explained that the most accepted explanation was the slow dissolution of carbonate minerals (mainly chalk) from the underlying Niobrara Formation.  Eventually the dissolution cavity collapses.  Rex continued by saying it's not the first time this has happened in Wallace County as there are at least two named sinks in the County that were formed in the early 1900's - Old Maid's Pool, and the Smoky Basin Cave-in which happened on March 9, 1926.

Anyway, this is an interesting development for sure.  What cracked me up is the TV news report I saw on the evening news when I returned home.  The reporter, on camera, was making the point that there were large, concentric fissures in the ground surrounding the sinkhole and that these chunks of ground could at any moment slough off into the sinkhole as it expands.  The thing was, he was standing INSIDE the first and largest fissure as he was making these points!  Not 15 feet from the current rim.  I hope there's not a new reporter on the beat tomorrow!

So, while groundwater is not a major player in this sinkhole, and isn't pooling into a lake inside it (at least not as yet) it was most likely the downward percolating groundwater (vadose water) that dissolved the chalk below it over many, many years.  Will more of these form?  Almost certainly.  But when and where is anyone's guess.