December 29, 2010 (Updated January 3, 2011)
2010 Year In Review
This edition of Currents is devoted to recapping some of the major water resources events, issues, and accomplishments from 2010:
Ozark aquifer safe yield determined. In a press release issued Dec. 28, Chief Engineer David Barfield announced his determination that safe yield of the Ozark aquifer in southeast Kansas is approximately three times the currently authorized rate of use, so the moratorium on new water appropriations instituted in 2004 will be lifted. DWR has issued a fact sheet and report providing more information about the determination and supporting analyses. This decision is the culmination of years of studying the aquifer. Now that the analyses and report are complete, the next step will be to codify the safe yield determination in state regulation, providing criteria to guide future appropriation from the aquifer. We anticipate adopting the regulation during 2011 and will keep DWR Currents readers informed of the progress.
Kansas asks court to enforce Republican River settlement, wins arbitrations. On May 3, Kansas Attorney General Steve Six filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to enforce the Republican River final settlement stipulation signed by Kansas, Nebraska, and Colorado in 2002 and approved by court decree in 2003. Kansas’ pleading asserted that Nebraska violated the decree by using about 80,000 acre-feet more water than it was allocated in 2005 and 2006, depriving Kansas of its rightful share and that its actions to come into compliance with the settlement were insufficient. Kansas asked the court to require Nebraska to take actions necessary to prevent further violations, to compensate Kansas for its injuries in 2005 and 2006, and to appoint a river master to monitor and ensure Nebraska’s future compliance. As of this writing, the court is awaiting a filing by the U.S. Solicitor General’s Office before deciding whether to hear the case.
|“Our state’s actions in the matter are, and always have been, to ensure that we get the water we are due under the compact and settlement,” said Kansas Chief Engineer David Barfield.|
On October 7, Kansas won a double victory in Republican River non-binding arbitrations brought by Nebraska and Colorado. These matters are distinct from Kansas’ pleading to the court described above. Arbitrator Martha O. Pagel ruled for Kansas in the arbitration over Nebraska’s crediting issue – an attempt by Nebraska to get water credits in the final settlement agreement accounting if/when it pays monetary damages. Pagel concluded that such “artificial manipulation of the Tables...[would] deprive Kansas of the ability to seek and obtain full compensation for any subsequent period of noncompliance relying on the manipulated Tables.” Kansas also prevailed in arbitration over Colorado’s compliance pipeline proposal, in which Kansas raised reasonable concerns about accounting methodology, timing and location of water deliveries, and other important details.
More information on both the arbitrations and lawsuit is available on DWR’s Republican River Compact and Enforcement Update website.
Proposed ‘conservation as a beneficial use of water’ challenges conventions. In January, Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Joshua Svaty proposed legislation to establish a new beneficial use of water under Kansas law– one based on preserving water supplies for future use. The proposed “conservation use” would have allowed the owner of a vested or certified (that is, already established and quantified) water right to apply to change it from irrigation or another use to conservation use – with the ability to apply to convert it back to the original use or another use in the future. “Our water law has historically focused on development and use of the resource,” said Svaty. “However, the development of our resource in Kansas is clearly mature, and it is time that we progress toward a system of management that allows producers wanting to conserve to have that opportunity.” In testimony before the Senate Natural Resources Committee, the department asserted that the legislation, Senate Bill 510, would strengthen private property rights, provide more flexibility for water right owners, and increase opportunities to conserve water. While there was widespread support for the bill, a few groups expressed concerns about water hoarding and the bill ultimately died in committee. However, the idea continues to generate interest and it would not be surprising to see further consideration of this concept in the future.
|“Impairment” refers to a condition caused when water diversion under a junior (newer) water right/permit reduces the quantity or quality of water available to a senior (older) water right/permit to an extent that the senior water right/permit cannot be satisfied.|
Impairment regulations updated; stream regulation updates drafted. During the past couple years, DWR worked with stakeholders to update regulations governing impairment complaints and investigations, particularly in groundwater systems. The updated rules became effective October 29, 2010. In groundwater systems, the amended rules add requirements for complainants to demonstrate adequacy of their well and pump system; provide a formal process for groundwater management districts to provide input and assistance with impairment investigations within their boundaries; and establish procedures for impairment found to result from regional lowering of the water table as opposed to direct well-to-well interference. This is the first time the impairment regulations have been updated since they were first adopted in 1978. More information about the updated regulations is available in the October 6 DWR Currents.
For many months, DWR staff have worked to develop draft updates to the regulations governing stream obstructions and channel changes, levees and floodplain fills. There has not been a comprehensive updating of these rules since the 1980s. Revisions are needed to accommodate advances in engineering practices, to make the rules more consistent with recent updates to dam safety rules, and to make the rules easier to understand. As announced in the December 1 DWR Currents, the agency conducted public meetings and has posted the draft rules online for stakeholders to review and comment. After considering comments from this informal process, DWR plans to initiate the formal regulatory adoption process in 2011.
Groundwater model completed for GMD 5; GMDs 2 and 3 models in progress. With the completion of a computer model this year, state and local water resource managers have a powerful decision-support tool for a major portion of the High Plains aquifer in Big Bend Groundwater Management District No. 5. The groundwater model was developed in a collaborative process that included peer review and stakeholder input during the model construction. New models for Equus Beds Groundwater Management District No. 2 and Southwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 3 are currently under development using the same kind of process. A model already exists for Northwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 4. “Computer models such as these are among the best tools available to us for improving our understanding of the groundwater system, analyzing the complex interactions between surface water and groundwater with the effects of numerous wells, and guiding our water management actions,” said Chief Engineer David Barfield.
Drought returns and progressively worsens. Kansas was drought-free for the first half of 2010, but experienced progressive drying throughout the summer and fall. By Dec. 28, the U.S. Drought Monitor showed 3.5 percent of western Kansas in severe drought, another 40.4 percent of the state in moderate drought and another 38.3 percent of the state abnormally dry.
The length of time without significant precipitation and soil moisture deficits, coupled with the types of impacts and still healthy streamflows in much of the state suggest that this is currently a meteorological/agricultural drought; but as conditions worsen it is tending towards a hydrological and socioeconomic drought as well. (The U.S. Drought Monitor provides descriptions of the different kinds of drought.) The dry conditions are blamed on La Niña – cooler ocean surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean – which tends to cause warmer and dryer than normal weather in the Central Plains. A seasonal drought outlook released by the National Weather Service on Dec. 16 predicted drought conditions to persist or intensify through March 2011.
Landmark permits include largest water right and award-winning highway project. Chief Engineer David Barfield signed the largest water right permit in Kansas history September 22, authorizing 2.5 million acre-feet of water per year for non-consumptive water power use at the proposed expansion of the Bowersock Mills & Power Company’s hydroelectric plant on the Kansas River at Lawrence. Other landmark permits issued by DWR this year included:
- Water structures permits for 18 stream crossings, several channel alterations, and placing fill in the floodplain for berms and roadway embankments for the K-18 Highway improvements between Ogden and Manhattan; KDOT received a National Partnering Highway Quality Making a Difference Award for this project due to the high level of cooperation with partner agencies including DWR;
- The state’s eleventh horizontal collector well, in the City of Olathe’s public water supply system;
- Water permits for Public Wholesale Water Supply District No. 25, whose earlier attempts to secure water rights in the Kansas River alluvium resulted in a lawsuit that went all the way to the Kansas Supreme Court and instigated the Kansas Legislature to pass a law;
- New permits for the City of Hutchinson’s water reclamation facility;
- Replacement of the Lincoln Street Bridge and dam on the Arkansas River in Wichita;
- A new permit to Johnson County’s WaterOne for a higher-than-expected-capacity well;
- Additional wells for the City of Wichita’s aquifer storage and recovery project;
- High-capacity dewatering permit for Fairfax Drainage District in Kansas City.
Ark River compact work yielding favorable results. Important work occurred this year in the ongoing efforts to ensure Kansas continues to receive the water it is due under the Arkansas River Compact. Progress included Kansas’ proposed updates to the compact compliance model to more accurately depict groundwater irrigation efficiency improvements in Colorado and recently adopted rules by the Colorado state engineer governing its surface water irrigation improvements. Kansas also successfully managed a “compact call” from John Martin Reservoir in Colorado for delivery of water to irrigation ditches in southwest Kansas. DWR staff inspected “dry up” acres in Colorado, in addition to analyzing compact model results and tracking Colorado water court decrees to check that state’s compliance with the compact. Continuous vigilance is necessary to see that Colorado does not increase its use of Arkansas River basin water to the detriment of Kansas.
Work continues toward enhanced management of GMD 4 high priority areas. For more than a year, Northwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 4 staff has been working with water users to examine potential measures to reduce water use in six designated high priority areas where the groundwater table has declined excessively due to pumping. Water users in one of the high priority areas wish to move forward with water use reductions using multiyear allocations. Chief Engineer David Barfield was working with the district toward adoption of regulations to implement their plan when a roadblock appeared – the Kansas Attorney General’s Office responded that the groundwater use reduction strategy could not be implemented through administrative rules and regulations. DWR and the district are moving forward with exploring an approach involving the chief engineer’s authority to establish intensive groundwater use control areas, or IGUCAs. The district would request the IGUCA and advocate for specific control provisions. The district board met recently and approved moving forward with this approach, although a formal request has not been made to the chief engineer yet. If it transpires, this will be the first IGUCA request within the Ogallala aquifer. It could be a model for state-local cooperation to reduce water use in a controlled manner with the goal of conserving and extending the useful life of the aquifer – and the economic benefits derived from it.
Scherer retires, Voigt becomes new Water Structures program manager. In December, DWR said farewell to Matt Scherer,
longtime Water Structures program manager, who retired after 23 years of state service, and greeted new program Manager Chad Voigt. The Water Structures program consists of about two dozen engineers, environmental scientists, and administrative staff that work to protect the safety and property of Kansans through:
- Administering state laws and regulations governing dams, levees, and other stream modifications and floodplain fills;
- Administering federal grants to produce dam emergency action plans, address unpermitted dams and hazard class changes, and provide education and outreach;
- Administering federal grants to coordinate the National Flood Insurance Program in Kansas and produce updated flood maps.
GMD 5 gets a new manager; Stafford gets a new water commissioner. In August, longtime manager of Big Bend Groundwater Management District No. 5 Sharon Falk retired and Wes Essmiller became the fourth manager in the district’s 34-year history. Groundwater management districts are established under state law to oversee conservation and management of groundwater through adopting a management program approved by the chief engineer; recommending regulations to the chief engineer; installing water measuring devices; operating works for storing and distributing water; and other authorized purposes.
In September, Jeff Lanterman was appointed water commissioner of DWR’s Stafford field office, a post in which he had been acting for over a year. Some of the main responsibilities of the Stafford field office include:
- Enforcing the terms and conditions associated with water rights
- Monitoring short term and long-term hydrological conditions by means of groundwater level measurements and stream flow measurements
- Assisting the public with a variety of water related issues
- Distributing water based on priority in times of shortage
- Assuring that all water used is in conformity with the Kansas Water Appropriation Act
- Assuring compliance with orders in regard to Intensive Groundwater Use Control Areas (IGUCA)
Dam safety inspections and hazard classification changes under microscope. The original version of House Bill 2493 would have repealed the law requiring inspection of high-hazard and significant-hazard dams and authorizes the chief engineer to inspect any dam or other stream obstruction. A later version would have significantly reduced the number of dams subject to state regulation. Neither version passed. The bill was apparently instigated by concerns over the costs of dam safety inspections and costs to upgrade dams when the hazard classification changes due to downstream developments. Chief Engineer David Barfield and Kansas Water Office Director Tracy Streeter convened a stakeholder group to examine these issues. Some of the outcomes include recommendations to restore funding for DWR engineers to conduct dam safety inspections; to examine institutional controls for development below existing low-hazard dams; and a proposed dam rehabilitation cost-share program. It appears likely that one or more of these recommendations will be pursued through legislation in 2011.
On behalf of all of us at DWR, we wish you a healthy and rewarding New Year.
- Jan. 7: GMD 3 Board Meeting (Garden City) rescheduled
- Jan. 11: GMD 2 Board Meeting (Halstead)
- Jan. 11: GMD 2 Annual Meeting (Halstead)
- Jan. 12-14: Four States Irrigation Council Meeting (Fort Collins, Colorado)
- Jan. 13: GMD 5 Board Meeting (Stafford)
For more information about these and other upcoming events, please check our online events listings.