The U.S. Geological Survey has released a new report detailing changes of groundwater levels in the High Plains aquifer. The report presents water-level change data in the aquifer for two separate periods: from 1950 – the time prior to significant groundwater irrigation development – to 2015, and from 2013 to 2015.
“Change in storage for the 2013 to 2015 comparison period was a decline of 10.7 million acre-feet, which is about 30 percent of the change in recoverable water in storage calculated for the 2011 to 2013 comparison period,” said Virginia McGuire, USGS scientist and lead author of the study. “The smaller decline for the 2013 to 2015 comparison period is likely related to reduced groundwater pumping.”
In 2015, total recoverable water in storage in the aquifer was about 2.91 billion acre-feet, which is an overall decline of about 273.2 million acre-feet, or 9 percent, since predevelopment. Average area-weighted water-level change in the aquifer was a decline of 15.8 feet from predevelopment to 2015 and a decline of 0.6 feet from 2013 to 2015.
The USGS study used water-level measurements from 3,164 wells for predevelopment to 2015 and 7,524 wells for the 2013 to 2015 study period.
The High Plains aquifer, also known as the Ogallala aquifer, underlies about 112 million acres, or 175,000 square miles, in parts of eight states, including: Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. The USGS, at the request of the U.S. Congress and in cooperation with numerous state, local, and federal entities, has published reports on water-level changes in the High Plains aquifer since 1988 in response to substantial water-level declines in large areas of the aquifer.
“This multi-state, groundwater-level monitoring study tracks water-level changes in wells screened in the High Plains aquifer and located in all eight states that overlie the aquifer. The study has provided data critical to evaluating different options for groundwater management,” said McGuire. “This level of coordinated groundwater-level monitoring is unique among major, multi-state regional aquifers in the country.”
From The Grant Tribune (Russ Pankonin):
Officials from Nebraska and Kansas outlined some of the key details of the agreement during the Upper Republican Natural Resources District’s second annual water conference March 27 in Imperial.
One of Kansas’ goals in the the new agreement was to provide irrigators in the Kansas Bostwick Irrigation District (KBID) and other water users water when they needed it.
Nebraska agreed not to release water from Harlan County Lake (HCL) just to meet compact compliance.
Instead, they will work with Kansas to achieve the most efficiency from the water released.
Compliance calculations for the three Republican Basin NRDs (Upper, Middle and Lower) showed they would need to offset about 37,000 acre feet of overpumping in 2016.
Because the compliance calculations are made after the pumping season, Jesse Bradley, assistant director of Nebraska’s Department of Natural Resources, said the state needed some latitude in making up any differences.
That allows Nebraska to use augmentation and streamflow to ensure there is sufficient water in HCL by June 1.
Kansas estimated it would only need about 20,000 AF from HCL in 2017. So rather than pump the other 17,000 AF, the balance will be stored underground. This reduces water loss due to evaporation from the HCL, improving efficiency of the water.
Kansas retains the right to that 17,000 AF.
Bradley said this gives Nebraska more flexibility to meet compliance with Kansas set forth by the 1943 water compact between the three states.
Kansas agreed to give Nebraska 100 percent credit towards compliance for any augmentation water released in the basin.
Bradley said the agreement provides for preserving water supplies for the future by not pumping augmentation or poorly-timed releases from HCL.
On Oct.1, the two states decide whether or not to pump the water stored underground to meet compliance.
Kansas water management
As part of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2015, Nebraska was ordered to pay Kansas $5.5 million in damages for over-pumping in 2012-13.
Earl Lewis, director of the Kansas Water Office, said they happily accepted the money. Since KBID suffered the most from Nebraska’s non-compliance, Kansas allocated $3.5 million back to that area.
Lewis said they are using $2.5 million to convert KBID canals to underground pipelines. He said this will save the district between 8-10,000 AF of water on an annual basis.
Susan Metzger, Kansas’ assistant ag secretary, said technology will play a key role in the conservation of water going forward.
She said Kansas has created three water technology farms where they put into practice a variety of technological advances and conservation measures.
She said they held a field day at one of the farms and drew nearly 300 people, showing the great interest of farmers in this research.
She added they want to expand to another four farms this year.
Kansas has also created local enhanced management areas, which resemble Nebraska’s NRD system, and provide for local control in water management and conservation.
The program is starting to build momentum across the state and six management areas have been approved.
Bradley said the integrated management plans (IMP) in the Republican Basin will evolve as Kansas and Nebraska continue to work together.
The basin is already on its third generation of IMPs and predicts the fourth generation won’t be far behind. That means things are working, he added.
He noted that 2013 wasn’t a shining year for compact compliance due to drought conditions.
He said prospects for the basin, water-wise, look good going forward.
The system as a whole looks better with more water in reservoirs. In addition, the department hasn’t had to issue any closing notices on surface water for the past three years.
He added that groundwater declines in some areas are starting to stabilize.
As part of the three-state agreement, Kansas and Colorado also crafted resolutions to deal with Colorado’s compact compliance efforts.
From High Plains Public Radio (Susan Stover):
Texas manages groundwater with the Rule of Capture. The groundwater belongs to the landowner without a defined limit. It’s sometimes known as the Law of the Biggest Pump.
Colorado and Kansas water law is based on prior appropriation, known as First in Time, First in Right. A water right owner can pump their permitted amount if it doesn’t impair a more senior right – a water right that was established earlier in time. When there isn’t enough water to meet all needs, the owners of senior water rights have priority. The priority system works well for streams. When stream flow is low, it is generally clear which upstream, junior users must be cut off to protect the more senior water rights.
For groundwater, it is more complex to identify which water wells are impairing a more senior water well. Groundwater often provides a baseflow to streams; when heavy groundwater pumping lowers the water table so there is no longer a connection to the stream and stream flow declines, is that impairment?
Colorado state law dealt with such concerns by defining “designated groundwater basins,” those in which groundwater contributes little to stream flow. The Ogallala aquifer lies in designated groundwater basins. This allows more groundwater to be pumped, which lowers the water table, but with less risk of impairing surface water rights.
In Kansas, action is taken when a junior water right well’s pumping directly impairs a senior water right well, whether it uses groundwater or surface water. However, no action is taken if problems are due to regional groundwater declines. Like Colorado, Kansas allows the decline of the Ogallala aquifer to get the economic benefit from the water.
Management of the Ogallala aquifer is a balance between protecting existing water right holders and conserving water for the future. Attitudes change over time on what is a proper balance. Much water law encouraged development of the aquifer and protects current users. Is that balance shifting more toward conserving and extending this resource further into the future?
From the Las Vegas Daily Sun (Ian James):
By permanently barring the use of two wells in an area where farmers rely on the Ogallala Aquifer to grow corn, the judge concluded the Garetson family’s senior water right had been “impaired” by their neighbor – a company that holds a junior water right.
“What made this case so important is the precedent that is now set,” said Jay Garetson, who filed the lawsuit in 2012 together with his brother Jarvis. The Garetsons have said they sued not only to defend their livelihood but also to press the state to enforce its water laws, and to call attention to the urgent need for action to preserve the aquifer.
“Our goal was to force this to the forefront,” Garetson said in an interview on Wednesday. “The best-case scenario would be it forces people to recognize that the status quo is no longer an option.”
Kansas’ “first-in-time, first-in-right” water rights system gives priority to those who have been using their wells the longest. And farmers are actually using much less water than they would be permitted under the system of appropriated groundwater rights established decades ago.
But with aquifers levels dropping and a limited supply left that can be economically extracted for farming, the Garetsons and others argue that the state and water districts should step in to establish limits on pumping…
Garetson said the decision should help bring order to a chaotic situation, and he hopes the case will be a catalyst for management of groundwater. He said he thinks the local groundwater district should establish a water budget and institute a sort of “cap-and-trade” system, in which water use would be scaled back based on established rights and could be sold between farmers, thereby allowing the market to sort out the scarcity problem.
He thinks such a system could serve as a model across the Ogallala Aquifer and in other areas of the country where aquifers are declining due to excessive pumping.
Garetson has seen some wells go dry on his farm, where he and his brother grow corn and sorghum. And he acknowledges his own pumping contributes to what is effectively the “mining” of groundwater.
He wants state officials and the region’s water managers to establish limits to move “in the direction of sustainability” – even though that’s a high bar to reach given the area’s limited water supplies and slow rate of aquifer recharge.
Garetson said he hopes the court decision will help Kansas farmers move away from the pattern of unchecked pumping that is draining the aquifer. Under the status quo, he said, “we’re actually just borrowing from the future. We’re burning up our savings account.”
Morgan Conservation District’s 62nd annual meeting will be held on February 9th.
It will be held at the Fort Morgan Home Plate Restaurant, 19873 U.S. Hwy. 34. Breakfast will be at 8 a.m. and the meeting will start at 9 a.m. The cost of the meeting will be $25 in advance, and that will cover the annual meeting, annual membership in Morgan Conservation District, and free breakfast that morning.
If you do not RSVP in advance, and show up on the day of the meeting, please be advised that the cost will be the same, however breakfast will not be free, due to our needing to order the food in advance. Our keynote speakers, Bill Hammerich and Andrew Neuhart.
Bill Hammerich has served as the CEO of Colorado Livestock Association (CLA) for the past fourteen years. He grew up on a cattle and farming operation in Western Colorado and he attended CSU where he graduated with a degree in Agricultural Economics. Following graduation, he began working with Monfort of Colorado, then Farr Feeders and was with the Sparks Companies before joining CLA in 2002.
His time spent in the cattle feeding industry provided him not only with an understanding of how to feed cattle, but also the importance of protecting and sustaining the environment in which one operates.
Bill and his wife Sabrina live in Severance, Colorado and have two grown children, Justin and Jessica, and four grandsons.
Andrew Neuhart completed both a B.S. in Natural Resource Management and an M.S. in Watershed Science at CSU. After spending two years assisting in precision farming studies in the San Luis Valley for the USDA Soil, Plant and Nutrient Research team, Andrew went to work for the State of Colorado’s Water Quality Control Division. For 9 years with the WQCD, Andrew led a Permitting Unit for discharge permits under the Clean Water Act, for both industrial and domestic wastewater treatment facilities. Working for Brown and Caldwell over the last 4 years, Andrew assists clients with regulatory issues under the Clean Water Act, and has been working with the Ag Task Force, part of the Colorado Monitoring Framework, to get the word out regarding nutrient regulations and their impacts to agricultural operations.
Mr. Hammerich and Mr. Neuhart will be speaking about Regulation 85.
Regulation 85 establishes requirements for organizations holding a NPDES permit and with the potential to discharge either nitrogen or phosphorus to begin planning for nutrient treatment based on treatment technology and monitoring both effluents and streams for nitrogen and phosphorus.
The data from these efforts is designed to better characterize nutrient sources, characterize nutrient conditions and effects around the state and to help inform future regulatory decisions regarding nutrients. Please come to the meeting and learn more from our very knowledgeable keynote speakers!
Please RSVP as soon as possible to Angela at email@example.com or call 970-427-3362. Space is limited.
From CSU Extension via TheFencePost:
Looming drought in 2017 is a concern in eastern Colorado. About 500,000 acres (0.7 percent of Colorado) in central Lincoln County is already in severe drought. A much larger swath across the Eastern Plains counties, covering 23,560,000 acres (35.3 percent of Colorado), is in moderate drought. This region has not received any meaningful precipitation since late summer. When combined with the 2017 weather outlook, ranchers and land managers have reason for unease.
To address this issue, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Colorado State University-Extension, and the Yuma County Conservation District partnered to put on a drought workshop at Kirk, Colo., on Jan. 23, 2017. The workshop was well attended, with 25 participants from nine counties across eastern Colorado. The participants were also a diverse group, representing ranchers, government land managers and CSU Extension agents. In the morning, a series of talks discussed range management under drought conditions.
Don Schoderbek, CSU Extension specialist, discussed the mechanics of range plants, how plants change during a drought, and what this all means to livestock producers. Did you know that a grass plant sets its growing points (buds) for new growth the previous summer? This means that late summer moisture is crucial for new plant growth the following year. New growth, in turn, is critical to root survival. This is where grazing comes in. Grazing mediates the amount of green leaf material, which supply roots with energy. The roots, despite being located below ground, are the ‘body’ of the plant year-to-year. Having healthy roots leads to more vigorous plants, which translates into in tougher plants during drought.
Drought is more than what happens in the rain gauge, it is a dynamic process that affects each ranch differently. It is the link between precipitation and management, according to Roy Roath, retired CSU Professor and Extension specialist. Your management actions in the good years will determine how intense the drought is. Improving plant cover is a place to start. Having higher cover allows you to ‘catch’ additional precipitation. Roath discussed his work on the Meadow Springs Ranch near Carr, Colo. After 10 years of managing with cover as an objective, the ranch withstood the drought of 2002 without major stocking rate or surface water impacts. Ask yourself, how nice would it be to have healthy, running springs during a drought?
Following a beef lunch, the group travelled to the Wise Ranch north of town for a pasture walk. This informal discussion looked at different areas of the pasture, and evaluated how the pasture is responding to drought. They also looked at a variety of different range plants, and how they benefit the land. Even so-called ‘nuisance’ plants like yucca, cactus and sand sage help catch moisture. Having a diverse forage base is also better for livestock production. To learn more about rangeland drought management, contact your local NRCS or CSU Extension office.
From the Colorado Division of Water Resources:
The State Engineer has initiated the process to develop rules and regulations for water diversion, use, and administration for compact purposes within the Republican River Compact Groundwater Model Domain as approved by the U.S. Supreme Court in Kansas v. Nebraska & Colorado, Number 126, Original. The rulemaking will consider the requirement to offset impacts in excess of Colorado’s apportionment under the Republican River Compact as determined under the Final Settlement Stipulation, and work to ensure that all users of waters accounted for in Colorado’s Republican River Compact Accounting have a stake in ensuring ongoing compact compliance.
As part of this rulemaking process, the State Engineer has formed a Special Advisory Committee to seek advice and recommendations on the rules and regulations under consideration. This committee, comprised of volunteers representing users and interests throughout the Republican River Basin, will be asked to attend monthly meetings in the basin hosted by the State Engineer, and will work with the State Engineer, in an advisory capacity, on draft rules and regulations. These meetings will be open to the public and will include presentations related to the rulemaking followed by general discussion and work/review of draft rules.
The next meeting is scheduled to occur on February 9th, 2017 (10:00 AM – 3:00 PM) in the Recreation Room at the Burlington Community and Education Center (340 S. 14th St, Burlington, CO).
Additional information regarding this rulemaking, including draft rules, can be found on this page as it becomes available. If you are a water user or represent a water user in the basin and you would like to join the Special Advisory Committee, or you would like to be added to a distribution list for future information about this rulemaking, please contact Chris Grimes at 303-866-3581 ext. 8253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This rulemaking is not to be confused with the Rules and Regulations Governing the Measurement of Ground Water Diversions Affecting the Republican River Compact, Within Water Division No. 1, as adopted by the State Engineer on September 16, 2015; a rule set that focuses on measurement devices (meters) and annual reporting requirements. These rules can be found here.