March 18, 2016 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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The vernal equinox (spring or fall depending upon the hemisphere) is 20 March. St. Patrick’s Day was yesterday. The NCAA basketball tournaments have started. And, for the second year in a row, Pi Day was celebrated: 14 March 2016 or 3.14.16. Last year it was 3.14.15. Whichever is correct depends upon how you round off 3.14159. I am also assuming the month/day/year format. If you choose the month/day format, then every March 14 is Pi Day.
Then there is Pi Approximation Day, which is always July 22 – 22/7. Go figure.
Too much time on my hands…
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“Civilization exists by hydroclimatologic consent, subject to change at a moment’s notice.” - Michael E. Campana (apologies to Will Durant)
March 12, 2016 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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I cannot explain why William Ashworth’s excellent 2006 book Ogallala Blue: Water and Life on the Great Plains languished on my bookshelf for almost ten years. I purchased it soon after arriving in Oregon from New Mexico, where I knew about the Ogallala aquifer (aka ‘OA’) because it underlies part of eastern New Mexico and had become the poster child for aquifer depletion. But in Oregon it seemed so far away and I had other fish to fry (literally) at the time.
But when I was invited to a sneak preview and panel discussion of the film Written on Water, (read my review here) about the Ogallala aquifer in the southern Texas panhandle city of Lubbock, I decided I had better tackle Mr. Ashworth’s book. No regrets.
A little technical geology stuff here. The Ogallala Formationforms the major aquifer in the High Plains Aquifer System(HPAS) – the Ogallala aquifer. The aquifer, comprised comprised almost exclusively of the water-bearing portion of the Ogallala Formation, is by far the major aquifer in the HPAS. The two terms, Ogallala aquifer and HPAS, are pretty much used interchangeably these days.
By the way, here is the USGS map of the Principal Aquifers of the US. The Ogallala/HPAS is the light blue massive Rorschach inkblot of groundwater in the USA’s midsection. The Ogallala/HPAS is one of the largest and most productive aquifers in the world.
Cutting to the Chase
Read it – excellent book! Well-written, thorough, and even-handed. Great bibliography.
Pumps and Pivots
My first coast-to-coast flight was in the early 1970s. As I flew over the nation’s midsection, I noticed circular plots in states like Nebraska and Kansas. As a budding hydrogeologist I knew that the circles were center-pivot irrigation (CPI) systems and how they revolutionized agriculture by allowing the expansion of irrigation to sandy soils that typically absorbed a lot of the irrigation water before it reached all the crops in a field. CPI systems also reduced evaporation that plagued flood or furrow irrigation systems. As I took more and more flights, the circular plots multiplied like microorganisms in a Petri dish.
Ashworth documents the development and expansion of CPI systems that, along with high-capacity deep-well centrifugal pumps, helped to propel the OA to what some consider hydrogeologic Armageddon. In any case, those two inventions opened up more irrigable land, which farmers made utilized, transforming the High Plains area into one of the world’s great food and fiber producing regions. [Thanks to Tom Gleeson for the bottled water graphic.]
High Plains Drifter
It is appropriate that Ashworth’s book begins with Coronado and his men wandering through eastern New Mexico, eventually stumbling onto the High Plains - Llano Estacado, Spanish for ‘palisades plain’. They found themselves thirsty, tired, thirsty, sick, hot, thirsty, and confused. Not much water, except for puny saline ponds. To those of us in the present the irony is clear: beneath the Spaniards’ tired, bloody feet lay a body of fresh water about the size of 9 or 10 Lake Eries.
Jump to the 21st century. Ashworth embarks on his own journey – real and metaphorical. He and spouse Melody travel (in their Prius, no less) about the expanse: the OA/HPAS complex that covers part of eight states and about 175,000 square miles. He journeys through time as well, escorting us back to the early days when the Ogallala was created by sediments eroded from the Rocky Mountains and filled with water from streams born at high elevations.
In his travel mode Ashworth shines. He reminds me of John McPhee - affixing himself to a lucid, down-to-Earth expert who proceeds to explain the geology, hydrology, and natural history to Ashworth and ultimately, to the reader. I found myself thinking of McPhee’s Rising from the Plains. For me, Nebraska’s Jim Goeke, Wyoming’s Jon Mason, and South Dakota’s Trudy Ecoffey (Pine Ridge Reservation) were tour guides extraordinaire. But other guides shone as well: Ray Brady, Mahbub Alam, Roy Cruz, Dave Hilley, Wayne Bossert (groundwater manager extraordinaire) Dan Zehr, Dana Porter – the list goes on. A great cast, whose wisdom was extolled by Ashworth.
The travels illustrate an important fact: the Ogallala’s properties are not uniform everywhere; neither is the hydrology. We like to think of ‘Ogallala aquifer’ and ‘depletion’ as synonyms but that’s true. In the Southern High Plains (think Texas and New Mexico) depletion is the rule; in the north, especially in Nebraska, recharge is occurring and surface water – groundwater interactions are very important.
Things I Liked
1) Excellent discussion of surface water – groundwater relationships, especially the significance of the Republican River settlement. It’s a complicated topic but Ashworth does a very good job explaining it.
2) Even-handed treatment of all parties. Agriculture is not vilified for pumping lots of groundwater. Texas seems puzzling, but it’s not trashed or anything. Some jokes about lawyers, however (see quote at bottom).
3) Ashworth seems a little skeptical about Texas’ rule of capture when it comes to pumping groundwater. You own the land, you pump what you want as long as it is not wasted or done out of malice.
4) The chapter on T. Boone Pickens – ‘Roberts County Rancher’ – illustrates the workings of the rule of capture, not to mention Pickens’ interesting approach to conservation.
5) Conservation. Will it work? Will farmers go for it? Will it save the Ogallala aquifer? Is privatization?
6) Things and places that work and don’t work.
7) Thoughts about the future.
8) Great index, 21-page bibliography.
Things I Didn’t Like
Can’t think of any.
Great read – now more than in 2006. I’m actually glad I waited ten years.
“Yeah. Interesting folks. Lawyers are people who send you faxes at 5:01 on a Friday afternoon.” - Ray Brady (page 230)
March 11, 2016 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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The quote at the very bottom is a tribute to Beatles’ producer George Martin, who died 8 March at age 90. It refers to the fact that Martin signed them after all other record companies had passed.
The Flint water crisis is still in the news. In a way that’s good, since perhaps we will become serious about addressing our failing water and wastewater infrastructure.
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“We don’t like their sound; groups with guitars are on the way out.” – A Decca Records executive in 1962, referring to the Beatles.
March 2016 President’s Column, Water Resources IMPACT
In my introductory column, I mentioned my intent to bring greater recognition to, and form a stronger connection between, AWRA and the organization’s 23 state and local sections. My interest in highlighting this topic comes from my experiences with AWRA and the Delaware State Section of AWRA (DEAWRA). As a student and new professional I was an active member in national AWRA, enjoyed attending the conferences and learned so much from the colleagues I met. One thing that was missing, though, was a local connection to water resource professionals outside of my daily project work.
After meeting members from other AWRA state sections, it became clear that Delaware would benefit from a state section. In 2004, with the support of my director and several colleagues, we founded the DEAWRA. For those of us involved, this was an avenue to meet water resource professionals in Delaware and the tristate region, many of whom we would not otherwise have come into contact.
In 2007, three years after establishment, DEAWRA worked with AWRA’s New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia sections to host the American Water Resources Mid-Atlantic Conference (MAC). This conference was one of the first in the region to focus on the connection between water resources and economics and, under the AWRA umbrella, convened a robust group of experts to discuss the topic. In partnership with New Jersey, DEAWRA has since coordinated MAC 2013 and MAC 2016 is scheduled for this fall.
Following the success of the MAC in 2007, Delaware and New Jersey teamed up to plan the 2010 AWRA Annual Conference in Philadelphia, PA. As the conference, one of AWRA’s largest, commenced with the Philadelphia Mummers (costumed entertainers who traditionally welcome the New Year with a parade) jubilantly marching through the opening session, the local planning committee and national leaders agreed that the energy, expertise and connections brought to the conference would not have been possible without the national organization and state sections working together.
Based on my experience at the national and local levels of AWRA, and conversations with state section leaders across the country, I have made it my goal to strengthen the relationship between the national organization and the local sections. AWRA has 23 state/regional sections composed of the best and brightest local water resource experts working on critical issues across the nation. Although these groups are often considered separate organizations, it is critical that they are viewed as entities that promote and cultivate one another and serve a mutually supportive relationship.
It is important to note that this effort is not only important to me, the AWRA staff and the Board of Directors, but also to our current and former members. In a recent AWRA marketing analysis conducted by Marketing General, Inc., it was found that “current and former members indicate that the value of the AWRA membership would increase with the development of a partnership with local, regional, or state sections of AWRA.” So, what is national AWRA doing to facilitate this?
In January 2015, the AWRA Board of Directors restated the value and benefit of local sections and committed to strengthening those relationships. A national-level committee was established, which then hosted two listening sessions for state section leaders to gather ideas on how to strengthen the relationship and add value to both national and state/regional sections. In response to that feedback, AWRA has moved forward on several recommendations, including:
- Host quarterly state section leader webinars.
- Continue the state section leader lunch at the annual conference.
- Dedicate space for state section updates and content in Water Resources IMPACT magazine.
- Create a state section online communication tool.
- Provide expertise, as feasible, in areas such as membership management, finance, and water resources content.
- Consider a membership fee structure that will account for state section membership at the national membership level.
- Establish liaisons between the AWRA Board of Directors and the state sections.
In closing, I would like to thank those involved at the local level for all the work you and your section have done to improve water resources locally, as well as your efforts to extend the AWRA name. To those working on the national level, please consider reaching out and joining your local section and sharing all the great things that national has to offer.
There is so much to gain from the collective water resources expertise and energy of our members, both nationally and locally. I believe that working together as much as possible will make state sections and national AWRA the strongest multi-disciplinary water resources organizations out there.
Please contact me if you have feedback, questions or comments. I look forward to working together on this topic in the coming year.
March 4, 2016 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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R.I.P., Craig Windham of NPR. Last weekend he died way too early at 66. He was not a WaterWonk but occasionally called me for water news.
Quite a life, quite a person.
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“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” - Donald Trump (Twitter, Nov. 6, 2012)
March 2, 2016 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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Disclosure Notice: Filmmaker Merri Lisa Trigilio (who has a PhD in geology from Penn State) took a class from me about 20 years ago at the University of New Mexico. She was a great student with an engaging personality. We had been out of touch until a year or so ago.
My review is tardy and not as complete as I would have liked. I waited too long to write it and saw the film only once. So you’ll have to forgive me. Suffice it to say it’s a great film. Here is the trailer.
Almost four weeks ago, on Thursday evening, 4 February, at 7 PM I had the opportunity to preview Merri Lisa Trigilio’s film about the Ogallala aquifer, that massive Rorschach inkblot of groundwater in the USA’s midsection. I saw Written on Water at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Lubbock, TX, where drinks are served in the theater – a first for me. The event was sponsored by The Center for Water Law and Policy at the Texas Tech University School of Law. Professor Alex Pearl invited me and the law school’s foundation paid my travel expenses.
View the official trailer here.
Texas Groundwater: A Primer
If you don’t know about Texas groundwater, the basics are pretty simple: if you own land, you can pump all the water out you want from beneath your land without regard to your neighbors’ needs. You cannot waste the water or have malicious intent, but there is no ‘reasonable use’ component. This is called the rule of capture, sometimes known as ‘the law of the biggest pump’ or ‘race to the bottom of the aquifer.’ In the Texas part of the Ogallala, the rule of capture allows pumpers to deplete the aquifer if they so choose. This depletion and reluctance to conserve (the same as ‘control’, according to farmer J.O. Dawdy and some of his fellow irrigators) are the heart of the matter when it comes to groundwater in Texas, not just in the Ogallala aquifer.
Panel Discussion 1
After the film there was a panel discussion, on which I served as did Jay Famiglietti, Alex Pearl, Sharlene Leurig, Merri Lisa, and two irrigators J.O. Dawdy and Glenn Schur. Here is a brief video of the panel discussion. Be sure to watch the whole thing so you won’t miss my thoughtful comments at the end.
More about the panel later.
Merri Lisa’s one-hour film (here is the trailer) dealt exclusively on the Texas (Southern High Plains) portion of the Ogallala aquifer.
I really enjoyed the way the film was assembled and presented. The cinematography was exceptional.
The film’s story was told by the locals themselves – there were few, if any, talking-head experts. A town official worried about the future of his town that was so heavily dependent upon groundwater, not only for its municipal water but for the area’s economy. He wondered when the town might run out of water. He knew it would but didn’t know when that day of reckoning would arrive.
One self-styled ‘good ol’ boy’ remembers another old-timer telling him (as a young man) that irrigation would make a bunch of them rich, but that if they stuck with it, it would break them. Talk about prescience!
Irrigators wondered about the depletion and what it would mean for their business. A lot of cotton is grown in this area. Other irrigators decried efforts to conserve groundwater and conflated them with efforts to control groundwater – make that theirgroundwater. As one opined, farmers know best about how to manage their groundwater and are not going to do anything that will harm them. That’s what made this country so great – freedom, without needless regulation.
There was one part of the film that seemed out of place – a few minutes on the water scarcity in the Austin area, which had nothing to do with the Ogallala pumping. One audience member was especially vocal about that segment – he thought it was misleading.
The film was even-handed. Those people who were strongly for individual rights embodied by the rule of capture (J.O. Dawdy) were allowed their say, as were those (Glenn Schur) who felt conservation was something worth practicing.
All in all, a very good way to spend an evening. I was actually disappointed when the film need after 57 minutes; I wanted more. Go see if if you get the chance. Whether you know or care much about Texas is irrelevant. It’s a great tale of uncertainty in the face of impending doom. The folks all know that the aquifer is being depleted but don’t know when it will go dry or how (or, in the case of some people, whether) to do anything about it.
I hope to bring this film to Oregon.
Panel Discussion 2
You can get a sense of the panel discussion from the video. It does not do justice to the entire range of the discourse, including my (semi-facetious) smart-ass comment at the end [Note: I was born in New York City but raised mostly on Long Island]. It was very civil and with one or two exceptions, did not go off on tangents. One audience member, an attorney who apparently shows up at all such events, went on about the ‘sacred’ nature of the rule of capture – kind of an inalienable right, if you will. I was not prepared for the tenacity and resolve of the ardent supporters of the rule of capture and all its implications. But others also supported conservation and trying to make the aquifer last as long as possible.
So what did I take away? Here goes.
1) I realized that I (and other non-locals) am a stakeholder in the Ogallala’s depletion. Of course, I do not have nearly the stake that the locals have, but if the Ogallala dries up, I might have to find another source for the cotton in my ‘Hecho en Honduras’ T-shirts, the wheat in my bread, or the little beef I eat. I will be oblivious to the new sources but might have to pay a bit more. Hardly a discomfort, I realize.
2) If Texas wants to keep the rule of capture, that’s their business. But it does surprise me that a ‘reasonable use’ component is not adopted. You’re going to impair your neighbor’s ability to pump water? For some in the audience, that’s too much regulation. Granted, as one person told me, there is always recourse via a civil suit. I don’t know how successful such a suit would be.
3) The folks were terribly polite. Even those with whom I disagreed were extremely courteous. One fellow who politely lectured me on how restricting the rule of capture would impact my property rights called me later to apologize profusely when he could not join me in the bar to continue our discussion because his wife had surgery at 6 AM the next morning.
4) The depletion of the Ogallala aquifer in the Southern High Plains and elsewhere (but not everywhere) has been ongoing for a number of years. I remember learning of it in 1971 in my Aquifer Performance Mechanics groundwater class. Can it be reversed? Unlikely. In fact, I favor a ‘managed aquifer depletion’ (MAD) approach that would require all stakeholders to buy in and all groundwater pumpers to agree to some type of regulation.
Not gonna happen.
“The whole state of Texas is involved in conservation so why shouldn’t we be involved as producers?” - Glenn Schur, irrigator
“We’re not talking about conserving water. We’re talking about controlling water. That’s the deal.” - J.O. Dawdy, irrigator
February 26, 2016 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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Enjoying my brief visit to Sacramento to help plan AWRA’s Summer Specialty
Conference on GIS and Water Resources.
If you haven’t been to Sacramento International Airport (SMF) in several years it now has an impressive new facility. Terminal B is dominated by a hanging 56-foot, 10,000-pound red rabbit sculpture, ‘Leap‘.
Here’s my picture of the bunny, who looks like he has a Spiderman suit on.
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“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.” - Edgar Allan Poe
February 19, 2016 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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Can Gov. Jerry Brown declare an end to the California drought? Did he ever announce the beginning of the drought? Read here for the answers.
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“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” - Jonathan Swift
February 12, 2016 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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Big Data, right? It’s the latest and if you’re not on board, you’re a Neanderthal or worse. Here is one person’s (from Fei Dong’s LinkedIn page) ‘vision’ of the Big Data Landscape in 2016 [click on the graphic to enlarge it]:
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“Big data is like teenage sex: everybody talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it.” - Dan Ariely
February 5, 2016 | Posted by Michael "Aquadoc" Campana
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The discussion moved into the theater’s bar and so on it went. Pictured (L to R) in the above photo are Dina Schur, Rule of Capture proponent and farmer J. O. Dawdy, filmmaker Merri Lisa Trigilio, and producer Bobbie Baird.
I’ll report on this and my review of the film soon, before the material I captured dissipates.
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“What are we really talking about here. We’re not talking abut conserving water, we’re talking about controlling water. That’s the deal.” - J.O. Dawdy, farmer, Plainview, TX