“Virtually all levels in south-central #Kansas wells were up, along with a good portion of those in northwest Kansas” — Brownie Wilson ((Kansas Geological Survey)

Dragon Line irrigation system. Photo credit: AgriExpo.com.

Here’s the release from the University of Kansas:

Groundwater levels during 2018, on average, rose slightly or remained about even throughout most of western and central Kansas, according to preliminary data compiled by the Kansas Geological Survey.

“By and large, 2018 was a good year for groundwater levels,” said Brownie Wilson, KGS water-data manager. “Virtually all levels in south-central Kansas wells were up along with a good portion of those in northwest Kansas, and although southwest Kansas saw a few decline areas in the usual spots, they were not as great as in years past.”

The KGS, based at the University of Kansas, and the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Water Resources (DWR) measure more than 1,400 water wells in Kansas annually. Most of the wells are drilled into the High Plains aquifer, a network of water-bearing rocks underlying parts of eight states and the state’s most valuable groundwater resource.

Ninety percent of the collected data comes from wells tapping the aquifer. The other wells are drilled into other aquifers underlying the High Plains aquifer and shallow aquifers adjacent to surface-water sources, such as the Arkansas River. Most of the 1,400 wells have been measured for decades.

In Kansas, the High Plains aquifer comprises three individual aquifers—the widespread Ogallala aquifer that underlies most of the western third of Kansas, the Equus Beds around Wichita and Hutchinson, and the Great Bend Prairie aquifer around Pratt and Great Bend.

Water levels in the Ogallala aquifer are influenced mainly by the amount of water withdrawn each year, which in turn is affected by the rate and timing of precipitation. Recharge, or water seeping down from the surface, adds little groundwater to the Ogallala. In central Kansas, however, recharge has more of an impact because the Equus Beds and Great Bend Prairie aquifer are shallower and average precipitation in that part of the state is higher.

Most of the wells in the network monitored by the KGS and DWR are within the boundaries of the state’s five Groundwater Management Districts (GMDs), which are organized and governed by area landowners and local water users to address water-resource issues.

In Southwest Kansas GMD 3, average levels dropped .39 feet. Although down, the change was less than in 17 of the last 20 years when levels fell between .5 and 3.5 feet annually. A rise of .05 feet in 2017 was the only positive movement during that time.

For the second summer in a row, water flowed for a time from the Colorado state line to Garden City. The river, which interacts with its adjacent shallow alluvial aquifer, has been mainly dry in western Kansas for decades.

Wells monitored in GMD 3 are drilled into the Ogallala aquifer except in a few areas where they draw from the deeper Dakota aquifer. The district includes all or part of Grant, Haskell, Gray, Finney, Stanton, Ford, Morton, Stevens, Seward, Hamilton, Kearny and Meade counties.

Western Kansas GMD 1 experienced a slight drop of .18 feet following a slight gain of .07 feet in 2017. The GMD includes portions of Wallace, Greeley, Wichita, Scott, and Lane counties, where the majority of wells are drilled into the Ogallala aquifer.

“West central was basically unchanged as a whole but the average is bookended by declines in Wallace County and rises in Scott County,” Wilson said.

Northwest Kansas GMD 4 had an average increase in water levels of .26 feet following a rise of .38 feet in 2017. GMD 4 covers Sherman, Thomas, Sheridan and parts of Cheyenne, Rawlins, Decatur, Graham, Wallace, Logan and Gove counties. Groundwater there is pumped almost exclusively from the Ogallala aquifer and shallow alluvial sources associated with streams. Besides being influenced by precipitation, water-level results in part of GMD 4 were tied to crop loss.

“Some producers south of the Goodland to Colby area got hailed out early in the 2018 growing season,” Wilson said. “With hail damaged crops and higher precipitation rates in the eastern portion of GMD 4, wells there had less declines or even slight recoveries.”

Big Bend GMD 5 had an average increase of 1.21 feet following an increase of .30 feet in 2017. The GMD is centered on the Great Bend Prairie aquifer underlying Stafford and Pratt counties and parts of Barton, Pawnee, Edwards, Kiowa, Reno and Rice counties.

Equus Beds GMD 2, a major source of water for Wichita, Hutchinson and surrounding towns, experienced a gain of 1.35 following a 1.93-foot decline in 2017. The GMD covers portions of Reno, Sedgwick, Harvey and McPherson counties.

The KGS measured 581 wells in western Kansas and DWR staff from field offices in Stockton, Garden City and Stafford measured 223, 260 and 357 wells in western and central Kansas, respectively. Measurements are taken annually, primarily in January when water levels are least likely to fluctuate due to irrigation.

The results are provisional and subject to revision based on additional analysis. Data by well is available at http://www.kgs.ku.edu/Magellan/WaterLevels/index.html.

The Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project update

From The North Platte Telegraph (George Haws):

The Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project brings together 70 researchers, along with specialists and students based at seven universities and two USDA research locations…

OWCAP involves research, demonstration and education. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Water Resources Field Laboratory near Brule is one of the research sites.

The TAPS competition at North Platte is also part of OWCAP. TAPS stands for Testing Ag Performance Solutions. A highly respected and innovative program, TAPS is made up of miniature corn and grain sorghum “farms,” where individuals and teams make decisions such as when and how much to irrigate, and how much nitrogen fertilizer to use. Participants earn awards for efficiency and profitability.

UNL water management specialist Daran Rudnick is an active member of the OWCAP research team. He worked with other educators at the West Central Research and Extension Center at North Platte to implement TAPS three years ago.

OWCAP is about identifying and promoting practices that conserve water and prevent water pollution, said OWCAP Manager Amy Kremen, who is also a water expert at Colorado State University.

Sharing ideas is an important part of OWCAP. For example, TAPS is now expanding in coordination with Oklahoma State University to offer a sprinkler-irrigated corn competition at Guymon, Oklahoma, this year.

OWCAP participants in Texas have something to share, too. The Natural Resources Conservation Service and North Plains Groundwater Conservation District there have implemented a master irrigator program that involves intensive training and certification. Now other states are considering implementing similar programs, Paulman said. Programs like that help increase adoption of water conserving practices, he said.

OWCAP has also resulted in research projects that each span three or more states, Kremen said. That “helps us to draw broader conclusions” about the potential of water conservation practices.

Those practices include making effective use of soil moisture sensors and aerial photography to inform irrigation and fertilizer decisions, carefully timing irrigation based on crop growth stages, using university-supported irrigation scheduling tools, and transitioning successfully to dryland…

OWCAP has also resulted in publication of over 50 peer-reviewed journal articles and other reports, which are available at ogallalawater.org.

Kremen said the OWCAP team is on track to complete its USDA-NIFA funded work within the next two years. Team members are the lead organizers for a summit to take place in early 2020 in Amarillo, Texas. There, water management leaders from throughout the region will share their experiences and findings in hopes of benefiting agricultural producers and communities throughout the region.

Saguache: Folks in the San Luis Valley express opposition to out of basin export plan

The northern end of Colorado’s San Luis Valley has a raw, lonely beauty that rivals almost any place in the North American West. Photo/Allen Best

From The Center Post Dispatch (Teresa L. Benns):

Renewable Water Resources (RWR) managing partner Sean Tonner made his water export presentation to an overflow crowd at the Saguache Road and Bridge Building [April 9, 2019] evening, but nearly all those attending made it clear they were not receptive to the plan.

Tonner opened the discussion by telling county residents the plan is “still in the formation stages and has years to go.” He said he has already held 150 meetings to explain the project.

A former chief of staff for Gov. Bill Owen, who supported the plan, Tonner also worked with former State Senator Greg Brophy and other government officials on the project. Currently Tonner owns the 11,500-acre Gary Boyce ranch, purchased from Boyce’s wife following his death. He also leases grazing land in the same area.

Tonner claims less than two percent of the annual confined aquifer recharge — 500,000 acre-feet — is needed by the Front Range. Farmers could sell all or a portion of their water rights to RWR for twice the going amount. A total of $60 million has been set aside to procure water rights.

Already enough Saguache County farmers and ranchers have agreed to sell their water rights to satisfy the proposed 22,000 acre-feet project, Tonner reported. The plan is said to be able to retire more than 30,000 acre-feet, reducing the overall usage from the basin. This would presumably lessen the pressure on existing rivers and streams now providing water to the Front Range.

A pipeline along Highway 285, restricted to a 22,000-acre-foot capacity, would carry the water up over Poncha Pass into Chaffee County and from there it would eventually make its way into the Platte River. There would be no adverse impact on wildlife, Tonner claims.

The project would create a $50 million community fund for the county that could be used for a variety of purposes including education, law enforcement, tourism, economic development, conservation and other worthy cause. The county would manage the fund. Just the interest would generate $3-4 million annually which is twice the amount of the county’s sales tax grants, he pointed out.

Commissioners question Tonner

Citizens were asked to listen only during the meeting, although there was one uninvited comment by longtime water consultant Chris Canaly. Commissioners then offered their responses to Tonner’s plan, beginning with Jason Anderson.

Anderson asked Tonner if he had researched the plan to see if any communities in either Colorado or nationwide had ever benefited from water exportation. Tonner could not answer the question, although he told Anderson he is familiar with the history of similar projects.

J. Anderson also challenged Tonner’s statement that there is one to two billion acre-feet of water in the aquifer beneath the Valley, some of it below sea level. “We have a guess about what’s down there, but no one really knows,” Anderson told Tonner, echoing the opinions of several water exports who have advised the county. “And they estimate that all this water is connected, so where are the benefits, say, for Alamosa and Costilla counties?”

RWR replied that the benefit would lie in a lessening of the burden of water replacement. Commissioner Ken Anderson challenged Tonner on his definition of Front Range, reminding him that the San Juans are the higher front range. K. Anderson said he also had questions about the model RWR is using.

Commissioner Jason Anderson then asked Tonner what the county would do about the promised money for the community fund if there is another recession. RWR replied there would likely be another economic downturn, but said he thought it “is pretty bad when we have the ability to solve problems with renewable resources we are not going to use” and fail to do so.

This brought a united protest from the crowd, who denied the county’s water resources are “renewable.” Anderson reminded attendees that Tonner had a right as a Saguache County resident to voice his opinion whether they agreed with his ideas or not.

A dry desert with its history surrounded by stories of water — The Palm Springs Desert Sun

From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Tracy Conrad):

Despite its designation as a desert, the Coachella Valley is blessed with water. The very names associated with the most prominent places and businesses in the desert, such as the Oasis Hotel, Mineral Springs Hotel, Deep Well, Indian Wells, Palm Springs, Snow Creek, and Tahquitz River Estates, all conjure up pretty images of water.

But the early story of desert water is more utilitarian than picturesque: it quite literally can be seen as a history of ditches.

More than a century ago a prescient and patient few understood that water was the most precious of all resources in such an arid region. Hydrology was the purview of engineers, and the first way to move water was in ditches. The most famous Southern California water scheme, made to ensure a reliable water supply for burgeoning Los Angeles, came at the cost of turning a once fertile pasture surrounding a lake situated 200 miles away from LA into a dust-polluting salt flat the size of San Francisco. But here in the natural desert, there were visionaries thinking about using local water and building their own infrastructure to deliver it.

As early as 1830, the local Cahuilla people brought water from Tahquitz Creek to their village by simple ditches constructed for irrigation. The flow was seasonal and subject to diversion and clogging. Those at the end of the line seldom got water.

In 1887, early white settler John Guthrie McCallum formed the Palm Valley Water Company and began the construction of a stone-lined irrigation ditch to traverse what is variously reported as 16, 17, or 19 miles of desert between the San Gorgonio Pass and Palm Springs to carry the flow of the Whitewater River (whatever the actual distance, it was an astonishing accomplishment).

McCallum also developed the waters of Chino Canyon for irrigation, and hoped to prosper by raising figs, grapes, olives and apricots earlier than coastal farmers. There were unauthorized diversions of the sluice and many disputes — exacerbated by a flash flood that destroyed the canal — followed by more than a decade of drought during which most of any civilization in the Coachella Valley perished. By 1905, when the drought finally ended, actual lack of water and legal disputes over water rights left very few Cahuilla and even fewer white settlers in the region…

In 1927, Alvah Hicks acquired the Palm Valley Water Company with a loan from Mr. O’Donnell, reorganized it and changed its name to the Palm Springs Water Company. Hicks sourced water from Snow Creek and Falls Creek, each with their own conduits, while presumably improving water pressure up the hill. Alvah’s sons Harold and Milton Hicks took over the stewardship of the company from their father, expanding pipelines and supplies. Alvah prided himself on building for future capacity and his sons carried on that forward-thinking practice. Therefore, in addition to the flumes, wells were drilled to tap into the aquifer — the vast lake beneath the valley floor. Ironically, abundant water had been just below the ground for millennia — a legacy of the prehistoric Lake Cahuilla that had once inundated much of the valley…

[P.T] In 1927, Stevens formed the Whitewater Mutual Water Company and supplied irrigation water from the Whitewater River for residential and agricultural use. He had his own system of pipes and ditches that would divert the river, while allowing for intermittent flow from the river. Tom O’Donnell owned shares in Whitewater, which irrigated his golf course…

At the south end of the Coachella Valley, there was an even more ambitious ditch-digging project, rivaled only by Mulholland’s Los Angeles aqueduct. Starting in 1900, the California Development Company constructed hundreds of miles of irrigation ditches and canals to bring water from the Colorado River to the arid desert and create fertile farmland out of the Salton sink. At first the effort worked, but it lasted for only a few years until the silt-laden Colorado water clogged the canal.

After a prodigious rainfall in 1905, a breach in the walls of the canal caused the entirety of the river to flow into the sink for the next two years while workers frantically worked on repairs. This tinkering with nature resulted in the Salton Sea.

The #RepublicanRiver Water Conservation District meeting tomorrow includes public hearing on new water use fee policy

Yuma Colorado circa 1925

From the RRWCD (Deb Daniel) via The Yuma Pioneer:

A public hearing on the proposed new water use fee policy will be held during the Republican River Water Conservation District Board of Director’s regular quarterly meeting next week in Yuma.
The meeting will be Thursday, April 11, in the banquet room at Quintech, 529 N. Albany St., beginning at 10 a.m.

The public hearing on the proposed water use fee policy will be at 1 p.m.

The new water use fee policy establishes and corrects water use fees for non-groundwater irrigation use in accordance with the Republican River Compact Administration accounting procedures and reporting requirements. It includes fees for all water uses, including junior surface water rights “as each water use affects compact compliance” according to the meeting release from the RRWCD.

A copy of the six-page proposed policy can be found on the district’s website, http://www.republicanriver.com.

It states that the policy is intended to provide a fair and equitable fee structure for all types of water use and consumption. The fees are set at a level to fund the necessary programs of the RRWCD “intended to meet the statutory responsibilities and limitations of the District.” It will not impact water use that was decreed or permitted earlier than December 31, 1942, prior to the Republican River Compact.

Water users that have a decreed plan for augmentation that replaces depletions will not be assessed a fee for that water use and consumption.

General public comment will be heard immediately following the public hearing on the proposed policy.

Among the presentations to be made at the April 11 meeting is one by Margaret Lenz regarding the Yuma County Conservation District soil moisture monitoring program.

The board will discuss and vote on sending comments regarding the new proposed WOTUS Rule. It also will discuss and vote on an agreement to offer well owners who are required to provide an augmentation plan to another river basin.

It will receive reports from the general manager, the compact compliance pipeline operator, from chairmen fo the RRWCD committees, the RRWCD’s engineer, federal and state lobbyists and legal counsel. The board also will receive a report by the State Engineer’s Office and discuss South Fork Water Rights.

For further information concerning the April 11 meeting, please contact RRWCD General Manager Deb Daniel at 332-3552 or email her at deb.daniel@rrwcd.com.

The Colorado Section of AWRA, Water Eduction Colorado, and the Colorado Groundwater Association present: #Colorado Water Stories – Learning from our past, reimagining our future Friday, April 19, 2019 @AWRACO @WaterEdCO

Scott Hummer shows off a fish passage at a North Poudre Irrigation Company diversion structure. His agency worked with Fort Collins Natural Areas and Colorado Parks and Wildlife to include a fish passage when the irrigation company replaced a diversion structure on the Poudre River that was destroyed by the 2013 floods. Work was completed [in February 2016]. (Pamela Johnson / Loveland Reporter-Herald)

Click here to view the agenda and to register:

Colorado Water Stories – Learning from our past, reimagining our future
Friday, April 19th
7:30 am to 5:30 pm

Mount Vernon Canyon Club
24933 Club House Circle
Golden, CO 80401

Come join us for an informative day of Colorado water stories and discussions. Speakers will include:

  • Amy Beatie (Deputy Attorney General for Natural Resources and the Environment)
  • Becky Mitchell (Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board)
  • Interactive presentation on conflict resolution by Todd Bryan
  • Stories from retired State and Division Engineers, moderated by KUNC reporter Luke Runyon
  • This year’s conference will cover a range of topics from both a technical and policy perspective, including a deep-drill into ASR, geophysical applications, and how Coloradans are reimagining the river. The day will end with happy hour and a silent auction to benefit the AWRA Colorado and CGWA scholarship programs.

    Please click this link for the 2019 Symposium Agenda!

    Online registration available HERE.

    PDF registration form available HERE.

    Sponsorship opportunities are available, please click this link for more information.

    Farmington: San Juan County Emergency Manager Mike Mestas to report at meeting Wednesday (April 3, 2019) that the recent outage for the #CementCreek water treatment plant did not impact water quality

    Gold King mine treatment pond via Eric Vance/EPA and the Colorado Independent

    From The Farmington Daily Times:

    Officials will hear confirmation from the county’s emergency management manager on Wednesday that contaminated water recently released from the Gold King Mine did not adversely impact water quality downstream in the Animas River.

    San Juan County Emergency Manager Mike Mestas will speak about the mine’s status in his presentation to the San Juan Water Commission during its monthly meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the San Juan Water Commission Office Building, 7450 E. Main St. in Farmington.

    The presentation will serve as an update for county water commissioners on the Gold King Mine spill of 2015, and what has happened since then.

    The mine, near Silverton, Colorado, created concerns for water quality this winter when storms and avalanche danger cut off access to the facility that treats water draining from the mine.

    The facility also lost power at that time, causing untreated water to bypass the plant and drain into Cement Creek for 48 hours.