Ogallala aquifer drops by 36 million acre-feet from 2011-2013

Significant portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest bodies of water in the United States, are at risk of drying up if it continues to be drained at its current rate. Courtesy of MSU
Significant portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, one of the largest bodies of water in the United States, are at risk of drying up if it continues to be drained at its current rate. Courtesy of MSU

From Net Nebraska (Grant Gerlock):

The aquifer lost enough water over a recent two-year period to cover the entire state of Iowa in a foot of water, according to a new report by the U.S. Geological Survey that studies water level changes from 2011-13.

The vast underground lake that supplies water to wells in some of the country’s most productive agricultural land – including parts of Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas – lost 36 million acre-feet of water from 2011-13. The aquifer has lost about 8 percent of its stored water since 1950.

Prolonged drought is mostly to blame for the recent depletion, said USGS’ Virginia McGuire.

“If you were a farmer in this area you would have known about the 2012 drought and you would have known about increased pumping in that time-frame,” McGuire said.

In parts of western Kansas and northern Texas, the aquifer is no longer a reliable or sustainable source for irrigation, which has forced some farmers to change how they use their land.

“They’ve had to make some adjustments in farmers going to dry land farming or maybe changing crop types,” McGuire said. “They’ve definitely had to adjust to the declining water levels.”

Irrigation is meant to supplement rainfall, but many arid parts of the Plains states haven’t received typical rainfall in recent years. Without irrigation, farmers may have to cut back on growing lucrative crops like corn and soybeans, in favor of crops like winter wheat and beans, which can require less water.

More Ogallala Aquifer coverage here.

Estevan López Confirmed as 22nd Commissioner for the Bureau of Reclamation

Estevan López via the Bureau of Reclamation
Estevan López via the Bureau of Reclamation

The United States Senate has confirmed President Obama’s selection for Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation. Having served as Principal Deputy Commissioner since October 8, 2014, with all of the responsibilities of Commissioner, Estevan López will now carry the title and formally take the helm of the 5500 person agency that manages water and generates power in the western United States. For the past 2 months as Principal Deputy Commissioner, López has immersed himself in Reclamation’s issues, met with stakeholders, become familiar with policy and personnel and is prepared to lead Reclamation into the future.

“I am deeply honored to be a part of the proud tradition of Reclamation and all of its accomplishments as we move into the future of the West,” said Commissioner López. “I am grateful to President Obama and Secretary Jewell for asking me to join this administration and I am very proud to lead this professional, knowledgeable and extraordinary team.”

“I am pleased the Senate confirmed Estevan López as the Bureau of Reclamation’s Commissioner. He is uniquely qualified to lead Reclamation, with a strong background in water management, dealing with drought and climate change issues,” said Secretary Sally Jewell.

López has 25 years of experience in the public sector including being appointed by Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, as the Director of the Interstate Stream Commission in January 2003. He was re-appointed to that position by Governor Susana Martinez in 2011. As Director of the ISC, López oversaw water management within New Mexico and negotiations with other states over interstate water matters. He represented New Mexico as the Governor’s Representative on Colorado River Compact matters and as Commissioner to the Upper Colorado River Compact and Canadian River Compact Commissions. While at the ISC, he also served as the Deputy State Engineer. Previous public sector positions included serving as County Manager and Land Use and Utility Department Director for Santa Fe County, and Public Utility Engineer for the New Mexico Public Utilities Commission. López also worked for several years in the private sector as an Engineer for ARCO Alaska, Inc.

A native New Mexican, he earned two Bachelor of Science degrees from New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology; one in chemistry and one in petroleum engineering. López is a registered Professional Engineer in New Mexico.

López and his wife Susana live in Peñasco, New Mexico. They have two grown children, Victoria and Juan, who attend college in New Mexico.

The Bureau of Reclamation is a contemporary water management agency and the largest wholesale provider of water in the country. It brings water to more than 31 million people, and provides one out of five Western farmers with irrigation water for farmland that produces much of the nation’s produce. Reclamation is also the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the Western United States with 53 powerplants.

Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin

Upper Colorado River Basin water year 2015 precipitation as a percent of normal October - November via the Colorado Climate Center
Upper Colorado River Basin water year 2015 precipitation as a percent of normal October – November via the Colorado Climate Center

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

Reclamation: Bureau of Reclamation’s Desalination and Water Purification Research Program Seeks Proposals to Improve Water Treatment Technologies

The water treatment process
The water treatment process

Here’s the release from Reclamation (Peter Soeth):

The Bureau of Reclamation is seeking proposals within two funding opportunity announcements to improve water treatment technologies aimed at increasing water management flexibility through new usable water supplies in the United States. The first is for research, laboratory studies and the second is for pilot projects.

Reclamation will make a total of up to $1.4 million available for the funding opportunities. Research and laboratory studies may request up to $150,000 and pilot projects may request up to $400,000. Applicants are required to provide at least a 50 percent cost-share utilizing non-federal dollars. Institutions of higher education are not required to provide a cost-share for research and laboratory studies, but it is encouraged.

The funding opportunities are available at http://www.grants.gov by searching for announcement number R15AS00019 for research and laboratory studies and R15AS00021 for pilot projects. Applications are due on February 16, 2015, at 4:00 p.m. Mountain Standard Time.

Eligible applicants include individuals, institutions of higher education, commercial or industrial organizations, private entities, public entities and Indian Tribal Governments.

The Desalination and Water Purification Research Program is helping Reclamation and its partners confront widening imbalances between supply and demand in basins throughout the west through testing and development of new advanced water treatment technologies.

The DWPR Program priorities in 2015 are: (1) overcoming technical, economic and social barriers for direct and/or indirect potable reuse treatment, (2) novel processes and/or materials to treat impaired waters, and (3) concentrate management solutions leading to concentrate volume minimization for inland brackish desalination.

To learn more about Reclamation’s Advanced Water Treatment activities, please visit: http://www.usbr.gov/awt/.

USGS: Urban Stream Contamination Increasing Rapidly Due to Road Salt

De-icer application via FreezGard
De-icer application via FreezGard

Here’s the release from the United States Geological Survey (Marisa Lubeck/Steve Corsi):

Average chloride concentrations often exceed toxic levels in many northern United States streams due to the use of salt to deice winter pavement, and the frequency of these occurrences nearly doubled in two decades.

Chloride levels increased substantially in 84 percent of urban streams analyzed, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study that began as early as 1960 at some sites and ended as late as 2011. Levels were highest during the winter, but increased during all seasons over time at the northern sites, including near Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Chicago, Illinois; Denver, Colorado; and other metropolitan areas. The report was published today in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

“Some freshwater organisms are sensitive to chloride, and the high concentrations that we found could negatively affect a significant number of species,” said Steve Corsi, USGS scientist and lead author of the study. “If urban development and road salt use continue to increase, chloride concentrations and associated toxicity are also likely to increase.”

The scientists analyzed water-quality data from 30 monitoring sites on 19 streams near cities in Wisconsin, Illinois, Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Texas and the District of Columbia. Key findings include:

  • Twenty-nine percent of the sites exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s chronic water-quality criteria (230 milligrams per liter) by an average of more than 100 days per year from 2006 through 2011, which was almost double the amount of days from 1990 through 1994. This increase occurred at sites such as the Menomonee and Kinnickinnic Rivers near Milwaukee and Poplar Creek near Chicago.
  • The lowest chloride concentrations were in watersheds that had little urban land use or cities without much snowfall, such as Dallas, Texas.
  • In 16 of the streams, winter chloride concentrations increased over the study period.
  • In 13 of the streams, chloride concentrations increased over the study period during non-deicing periods such as summer. This finding suggests that chloride infiltrates the groundwater system during the winter and is slowly released to the streams throughout the year.
  • Chloride levels increased more rapidly than development of urban land near the study sites.
  • The rapid chloride increases were likely caused by increased salt application rates, increased baseline conditions (the concentrations during summer low-flow periods) and greater snowfall in the Midwest during the latter part of the study.

“Deicing operations help to provide safe winter transportation conditions, which is very important,” Corsi said. “Findings from this study emphasize the need to consider deicer management options that minimize the use of road salt while still maintaining safe conditions.”

Road deicing by cities, counties and state agencies accounts for a significant portion of salt applications, but salt is also used by many public and private organizations and individuals to deice parking lots, walkways and driveways. All of these sources are likely to contribute to these increasing chloride trends.

Other major sources of salt to U.S. waters include wastewater treatment, septic systems, farming operations and natural geologic deposits. However, the new study found deicing activity to be the dominant source in urban areas of the northern U.S.

The USGS conducted this study in cooperation with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District. For more information about winter runoff and water-quality, please visit the USGS Wisconsin Water Science Center website.

More water pollution coverage here.