USDA: Climate Change, Water Scarcity, and Adaptation in the U.S. Fieldcrop Sector

Click here to go to the website and read the report. From the website:

Despite increased temperatures and much regional variation in production response, U.S. irrigated fieldcrop acreage and water used for irrigation are projected to decline with long-term climate change. Driving the decline in water use are changes in crop growth due to temperature stress, changes in growing-season precipitation, and shifts in surface-water supply availability.


New tap fees approved by Wiggins trustees


From The Fort Morgan times (Stephanie Alderton):

The Wiggins board of trustees passed a resolution [November 11, 2015] clarifying how much town residents will have to pay to install new water taps.

This resolution is the latest in a series of efforts by the town council to conform to the Colorado Health Department’s new water regulations. Although Wiggins already had laws listing the required water tap fees, or “water plant investment fees,” for small home installations, the council decided the laws weren’t clear enough for larger, commercial installations. The new resolution aims to fix that problem.

Resolution 48-2015 lists the amount anyone applying for a water tap will have to pay the town, based on the tap’s size. It also states that all applicants will have to install the tap at their own expense, and that all water services must be metered and approved by the town manager. This is in accordance with Regulation 11 in the Colorado Health Department’s 2015 Water Quality Control Commission regulations.

For new builders, the fees will range from $11,500—for a small, household tap—to $225,000 for the largest tap. Town administrator Paul Larino said these fees are “competitive” compared to those of neighboring towns. He also said this won’t be the last water-related resolution the council will have to consider. The new Health Department regulations are hundreds of pages long, and the Wiggins trustees are still in the process of reading through them.

Study finds High Plains Aquifer [Ogallala] peak use by state, overall usage decline

The High Plains Aquifer provides 30 percent of the water used in the nation's irrigated agriculture. The aquifer runs under South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.
The High Plains Aquifer provides 30 percent of the water used in the nation’s irrigated agriculture. The aquifer runs under South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

Here’s the release from Kansas State University (Greg Tammen):

A new Kansas State University study finds that the over-tapping of the High Plains Aquifer’s groundwater beyond the aquifer’s recharge rate peaked in 2006. Its use is projected to decrease by roughly 50 percent in the next 100 years.

David Steward, professor of civil engineering, and Andrew Allen, civil engineering doctoral student, Manhattan, published those findings in the recent Agricultural Water Management study “Peak groundwater depletion in the High Plains Aquifer, projects from 1930 to 2110.” It is the first paper to look at and quantify peak aquifer depletion.

Researchers looked at the historic and projected future groundwater use rates of the eight states comprising the High Plains Aquifer. The aquifer runs under South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas — eight agriculturally important states. It provides 30 percent of the irrigated water for the nation’s agriculture and is pivotal in food production.

This latest study builds on the 2013 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study in which Steward and colleagues forecasted the future of the Ogallala Aquifer in Kansas. Researchers expanded their projections to include wells in Kansas that were both depleted and steady in their historic groundwater levels as well as the eight states that rely on the High Plains Aquifer. A total of 3,200 Kansas wells and 11,000 wells from the other seven states were studied to understand their water depletion processes.

Allen wrote the computer code necessary to analyze massive amounts of geographic information systems data about the more than 14,000 wells using the aquifer. A logistic equation was developed to apply more than 300,000 well measurements to create a historical record of its water level and also its projected water level through 2110.

“When we did the Kansas study, it really focused on those wells in Kansas that were depleting,” Steward said. “We came up with a set of projections that looked at how long the water would last and how the depletion process would play out over time. With this study, we wanted to learn how the depletion in various locations plays into a larger picture of the aquifer.”

Steward and Allen found that the High Plains Aquifer’s depletion followed a south to north progression, with its depletion peaking in 2006 for the entire High Plains Aquifer. Overall, researchers saw that some portions of the aquifer are depleting while others are not. Texas peaked in 1999, New Mexico in 2002, Kansas in 2010, Oklahoma in 2012 and Colorado is projected to peak in 2023. Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming are not projected to reach peaks before 2110.

“We are on a declining trend right now for water use in irrigated agriculture,” Steward said. “As we project what happens in the future following the existing water use patterns, the amount of depletion and the amount of water that comes out of the aquifer will decrease by about half over the next 100 years.”

Additionally, researchers saw that the water depletion rates for each state in the High Plains Aquifer follow a similar bell-shaped curve pattern as the one for oil depletion in the U.S. modeled by the Hubbert peak theory.

Pump photo via Kansas State University
Pump photo via Kansas State University

While water is a finite resource, Steward said the intent behind the study is not raise alarm, but rather encourage proactivity to manage and preserve this resource.

“This study helps add to the dialogue of how is it that we manage water and the effects of the choices that we make today,” Steward said. “It has the same kind of message of our previous paper, which is that our future is not set; it’s not cast. The projections we show are projections based on the data we have available that show the trends based on how we used water. People have the opportunities to make choices about the way that things are done, and the findings from this study help add to the dialogue.”

The National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture funded the study. The U.S. Geological Survey and the Kansas Geological Survey contributed decades of information about the High Plains Aquifer and the Ogallala Aquifer for analysis.

Snowpack news: NW #Colorado is drying out with respect to the median, Yampa/White = 79%

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Pueblo: Workshop to eye water transfers — The Pueblo Chieftain

Flood irrigation -- photo via the CSU Water Center
Flood irrigation — photo via the CSU Water Center

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A free workshop discussing alternative transfers of agricultural irrigation water will be in Pueblo next week.

The workshop is sponsored by the Ditch and Reservoir Co. Alliance and will be 7:30 a.m.- 1 p.m. Dec. 8 at the Pueblo Community College Student Center, Suite 201 A.

“DARCA is working hard this year to help Colorado’s ditch and reservoir companies prosper for years to come,” said Executive Director John McKenzie.

The goal of alternative transfers, such as the Arkansas Valley Super Ditch, is to keep control of the water in the hands of farmers through temporary leases, which could include cities, wildlife or even other farmers. That prevents the permanent transfer of water to municipalities and the dry-up of farm ground.

Included in the presentation will be a discussion of the role of these types of transfers in the Colorado Water Plan by John Stulp, special policy adviser to the governor.

Leah Martinsson, an attorney who represents the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District, is also among speakers. She will discuss impediments to implementing ATMs. Others will look at the economics and the role of ditch companies in alternative transfers.

To register, visit

Seminar: Sorting through the problems and promises of aquifers in Colorado — The Mountain Town News

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

With temperatures rising, will aquifers replace above-ground reservoirs for water storage?

This idea isn’t particularly new. Florida, New Jersey, Oregon and other states have used aquifer for storage for years, says Andrew Stone, of the American Ground Water Trust. Stone’s organization will conduct a one-day seminar on Friday, Dec. 4, at the Holiday Inn in Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood.

Arizona has also famously banked water for decades. In Colorado and other states, there has been more limited aquifer recharge. Centennial Water, which serves Highlands Ranch, in south-metropolitan Denver, has been using an aquifer for storage. Now, other communities in the south-metro area are starting to move in that direction, too, as a result of the WISE project.

Stone makes the case that aquifers can be collaboratively managed in line with the general direction of the new State Water Plan. “Managing recharge operations and determining the right to recovered water will require collaboration among farmers, land owners, ditch companies, state agencies and their legal representatives,” he says.

Doug Kemper will be among those speaking at the seminar. He was with Aurora Water from 1986 to 2005, when he took the reins of the Colorado Water Congress. That’s long enough to have seen the management of water become much more high-tech.

Data collections is phenomenally different, he says. “We used to have a guy just go around for two days to read 20 stream gauges,” he says. “Now remote sensing can handle it all.”

Too, technical specialization has increased. “That creates interdependence, because you end all these different skill sets that need to interact.”

Kemper will also touch on system security, as both cyber-security and terrorist threats have become more significant issues. They will, he says, likely “play out in ways that we are not even able to understand right now.”

And specifically regarding groundwater, he thinks we are just starting to get our arms around conjunctive use, making groundwater storage a larger part of our water systems.

“If you look back 35 or even 15 years, the tools for modeling groundwater are so much different than they were,” he observes.

One of the issues at this year’s seminar will be the lined gravel pits long the South Platte River, which have restricted the return of groundwater not the river and which impede recharge to the aquifers.

Other speakers include:

  • John Stulp, special policy advisor for water to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who will address “basins where groundwater if of particular importance.”
  • Rick Marsicek, director of engineering for the South Metro Water Supply Authority, who will talk about changing uses of the Denver Basin Aquifer.
  • Joseph Ryan, professor, of the AirWaterGas Sustainability Research Network, at the University of Colorado, who will speak to impacts to Colorado’s groundwater from hydraulic fracturing processes.