Drought news: Kansas Governor Brownback wants to modify state water law abandonment provisions to help decrease depletions from the Ogallala (High Plains) aquifer


From the Ag Journal (Candace Krebs):

“The main recharge to the Ogallala in the Southern Plains are the small playa basins that dot the landscape,” [Carmon McCain, who handles information and education for the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District in Lubbock, Texas] said. “When you don’t get rain, you don’t have any water in those basins going into the aquifer.”[…]

Average annual recharge rate for the aquifer is half an inch per year, but the depth of withdrawal in some areas is many times that. In the Texas Panhandle, the water table was drawn down one and a half feet in 2009-2010 but only one 500th of a foot in 2010-2011, when hurricanes brought monsoon-like summer rains to the region. In western Kansas, the rate of decline had been diminishing since the 1960s, but that changed after 2000, when the latest drought cycle hit, and farmers began pumping more water. In southwest Kansas, where the drought has been particularly pronounced, well tests in January showed the water level in some parts of the aquifer had dropped more than 5 feet in the last year, according to the Kansas Geological Survey at the University of Kansas.

Around 400 geologists, water managers, ag producers and other stakeholders attended last week’s special Governor’s Economic Summit on the future of the Ogallala, hosted by Gov. Sam Brownback and held in conjunction with the annual Kansas Water Congress. The primary topic of discussion was how to preserve the aquifer without sacrificing economic growth…

One of Gov. Brownback’s priorities is reforming the state’s so-called “use it or lose it” water requirement that allows water rights to lapse if they go unused over a certain period of time, which many now view as a disincentive for conservation.

[Wayne Bossert’s, longtime manager for Kansas’ Groundwater Management District No. 4 in Colby], priority is making it easier to enforce water use restrictions in high priority areas where groundwater declines are most dramatic. Currently, the process of designating “intensive use control areas” is hard to implement, and he wants to see laws changed to make the system more “user friendly.”

At the summit, municipalities expressed concerns about how to get access to affordable water rights. “It’s problematic for them,” Bossert said. “But it’s supply and demand at the most fundamental level.”[…]

In Texas, concerns about the future of the aquifer prompted the High Plains district in Lubbock to adopt new rules recently aimed at cutting back the rate of depletion. “We know the Ogallala is a mined resource,” McCain concedes. “It’s been used continuously since the 1930s. What we are doing is trying to extend the life of the Ogallala for another 50 years.” The new rule amendments establish the first-ever production limit for groundwater pumping within the 16-county High Plains Water District service area. That level will drop in successive years, to eventually reach a level of 1.25 acre-feet, or 15 inches per year, in 2016. The district is also requiring annual reports on water use and a meter on every well beginning in 2012…

“Efficiency and conservation are not the same thing,” [Jim Conkwright, the district’s general manager] asserts. “Efficiency might allow you to irrigate more acres, but you might still be using the same amount of water.”

More Ogallala aquifer coverage here and here.

Lamar-Elbert County Pipeline: Developers face the challenge of finding water rights for the project along with Arkansas River Compact constraints


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

One of the biggest obstacles could be the Arkansas River Compact, which led to a 24-year U.S. Supreme Court lawsuit between Kansas and Colorado. The Arkansas River Compact Administration would have to approve any transfer of water from Water District 67 in Colorado, said Steve Witte, Division 2 Engineer and operations secretary for the compact…

Assuming the backers of the Lamar-Elbert County pipeline are willing to risk the expense, there would be the problem of finding enough water to make the venture profitable. GP, in a news release, says it plans to develop water rights it owns in the Lamar area, which apparently are on the Lamar Canal. The Lower Arkansas Well Management Association owns about one-third of the canal, and while the ditch has some senior water rights, the majority of its rights are fairly junior in the area’s priority system. So other water rights may have to come into play to make the project successful.

The owner of the largest collection of water rights in the Arkansas Valley says he is not involved in GP’s proposed pipeline. “I met with Karl (Nyquist) more than a year ago,” said Mark Harding, president of Pure Cycle. But he did not sign any agreements to participate. “If there was something tangible, we’d take a look. I didn’t think they had anything to offer.”[…]

“We are looking to develop our asset down there in a partnership with agriculture and municipal interests,” Harding said. “Non-participating water rights still need to be protected, and we are still interested in doing rotational fallowing.” Harding does not rule out a pipeline to the Front Range at some point, and said one is probably needed for the Super Ditch to realize its full value. “If we’re wildly successful, we’ll keep the water on 300,000 irrigated acres and bring in another source of income for farmers,” Harding said.

But, he said he thinks any pipeline proposal would have to move through the basin roundtable process set up in 2005 to resolve interbasin transfer issues. He sits on the Metro Roundtable. “I’m a firm believer in the cooperative framework we have set up,” Harding said.

More coverage from Chris Woodka writing for The Pueblo Chieftain. From the article:

[Public meetings in Lamar] are planned for 7 to 9 p.m. Aug. 16 and 23 at the Lamar Community Building, according to a news release from Karl Nyquist of GP Resources, a farming and natural resources firm. Additional meetings are planned in Elbert County…

GP plans to use the water transfers template developed by the Arkansas Basin Roundtable to address community concerns about the project, he said. In the news release, he outlined the approach GP plans to use to developing water:

– Investments to increase efficiencies of GP farms in Lamar, which would remain in production after the project is completed. The news release did not indicate how much farmland is owned, but Nyquist has water rights on the Lamar Canal. The water rights would have to be changed for municipal use in Water Court, but GP does not plan to change the point of diversion.

– Investments in GP’s water rights and systems in Elbert County, involving an upgrade of the capabilities of a local water district to allow transmission of GP’s privately owned and adjudicated water on an interim basis to an unspecified water district in the greater Colorado Springs area.

– Long-term investments in water storage, treatment and delivery systems to serve other Front Range communities.

More Lamar-Elbert County pipeline coverage here. More Pure Cycle coverage here and here.