Monday, December 16, 2013

Irrigated farming with desal

Water cliche alert.
The former mayor of Phoenix wants to see desalination plants lining the Sea of Cortez to supply future water needs in Northern Mexico and Southern Arizona because he says "water is going to become, if it’s not already, more valuable than gold or oil.”  Apparently the economy is humming along so nicely in Phoenix they believe they are going to be the next Saudi Arabia.  Why Saudi Arabia?  Because that is the only place I know of relying heavily on desalinated water for municipal and industrial (M&I) needs (it may have something to do with the cheap cost of power in that region).  If you're talking about using desal to supply irrigation water (which is where most of the water is used within areas that border the Sea of Cortez) you are in similarly sparse company.  Israel and Spain are about the only places currently using desalinated water for irrigation on anything resembling a large scale and much of that use involves treatment of brackish groundwater rather than seawater.  Those types of waters have a much lower dissolved mineral content than seawater, so production costs are also much lower, but it still isn't cheap water.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Power of Local

My fellow blogger (now retired) Wayne Bossert appears to have created quite a sensation with the Local Enhanced Management Area (LEMA) concept he implemented in the Northwest Kansas Groundwater Management District # 4.  The revolution underway in western Kansas that is attempting to preserve irrigated agriculture in the face of drought, aquifer depletion, and rising crop prices is a bold experiment in local resource management that has recently been highlighted on NPR (two times) and more recently in the Economist.  I'm a big fan of locally developed solutions to resource management problems so I really applaud the efforts that have been made by farmers and water managers in that area.  Their work would surely make Elinor Ostrom proud.  Although some of the problems with the High Plains aquifer are significantly larger than what a single Management District can successfully grapple with I think this model could be employed elsewhere and if implemented sufficiently broadly could actually make a difference for the broader future of farming on the high plains.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Might be time to try a little forebearance

I've been too busy to post anything on the recent announcement by Reclamation that a shortage declaration on the lower Colorado River is likely by 2016.  But when I spotted this (pdf) on the agenda for the most recent board meeting of the Central Arizona Project, it seemed like a good time to chime in.

The fallowing and forebearance agreement between CAP and the Yuma Mesa Irrigation and Drainage District (YMIDD) is a first step to developing a relationship between water users in Arizona along the River and in the Central part of the state to try to forestall shortages to CAP customers. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson

Got word in the daily paper today that Priscilla Robinson, a very influential voice in water and environmental policy over the past 40 years in Arizona passed away on Monday.  I didn't know her very well because most of her really momentous work was completed while I was still learning the difference between groundwater and subflow.  And she was someone who worked behind the scenes, helping move the levers of power to bring about important changes in how the state manages groundwater, regulates polluting activities, and protects our natural environment.  She was retired by the time I encountered her at meetings of the City-County Water Study and the Safe Yield Task Force, but you could tell she was someone that the others involved took very seriously.  Other smart people I know have remarked to me what an amazing facilitator she was, which coupled with her ability to comprehend the political processes that got things done, made her extremely effective when she grasped onto an idea that was worth pursuing.

My condolences to her family.  I hope her spirit of compromise and ability to craft workable solutions carries on in all who knew her, worked with her, and understood her passions.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Group Dedicated to Restoring Glen Canyon Wants More Water in Lake Mead and Less in Lake Powell

This article was sent to me in an email earlier this week.  As you might have guessed from the headline, I think their plan is a little self-serving.  That's not to say it is clearly without merit.  I don't have access to the study their conclusion is based on, but I would be very interested to read it.

I agree that seepage into the Navajo sandstone that borders the lake could soak up a significant amount of water stored there, but wouldn't much of what enters the rock during high water periods later exit the rock when the water is low?  Admittedly, some of that water would be bound up in the rock matrix over time, but once that matrix porosity has been filled it can't be refilled again.  So in some sense, the damage has been done and won't be undone by changing the management strategy of the reservoir.  But I would like to see the data and calculations or models that were employed to get a better sense of how they reached their conclusions.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

All the Groundwater Law you Always Wanted to Know, But Were Afraid to Ask

Courtesy of a link from Property Prof Blog I was led to this fantastic primer on Groundwater Law from Prof. Joseph Dellapenna at Villanova law.  One of the points he emphasizes, which I strongly agree with, is the idea that the shifting terminology used by courts has resulted in tremendous confusion about the nature of property rights in groundwater in most, if not all, jurisdictions.

When I tried to switch from being a scientist to being a lawyer I struggled mightily with the concept of creating static law by using words - which are highly mutable.  I came from a world where laws were often defined by equations that incorporated numbers and constants - immutable laws - and tried to find my way in a world where laws are subject to near-constant reinterpretation; words don't always mean the same thing to all people.  Crazy stuff, the law.  Hope you enjoy this article as much as I am.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

New "Green Streets" Policy on the way for Tucson

Image borrowed from
Last week the Tucson City Council considered and approved a new policy that will direct the Transportation Dept. to implement passive water harvesting features on most future road projects within the city.  This policy was largely developed by Watershed Management Group (I'm biased as a former board member of WMG) who put in a lot of effort to build consensus and support for this sensible change in a desert city.  The policy calls for incorporating curb cuts and depressed basins adjacent to roads to collect, filter, and utilize storm runoff for fostering roadside vegetation that will provide shading (heat island reduction) and pollution mitigation (both air and water).  These are remarkably simple modifications that should save water, previously used for irrigation, in addition to reducing the strain on stormwater infrastructure.

Major kudos to the city and to WMG for making this happen.  And I should also mention James MacAdam, formerly with WMG but now working in the mayor's office, who I know was a major impetus in getting this done.

Monday, May 27, 2013

More info on the CAP Pipeline to Green Valley Kerfuffle

As I briefly mentioned in my previous post, the City of Tucson is looking at setting up some policy guidance (pdf) to help them evaluate proposals to hook into a pipeline, jointly owned by the city and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (the CAP), at the end of the CAP canal/pipeline south of Tucson.  Nothing is set in stone yet - the Mayor and Council instructed staff to make some modifications to the criteria they considered, then bring it back for a vote sometime this summer.  But there has been plenty of grandstanding about what is best for the city, what is best for our shared aquifer, and who is a good steward of our resources.  I jumped into the fray myself last week by submitting a guest opinion that was published in the local paper.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Some quick updates

As expected, an environmental organization has filed suit against the state over the approval of a large development in the Sierra Vista area (I discussed this in a previous post in March).  Earthjustice issued a press release yesterday (it also includes a link to their complaint) announcing their suit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court.  I've only skimmed the complaint and it looks pretty straightforward.  I look forward to the response from the state.

I was also alerted recently to a report recently issued by the Columbia University Water Center and Veolia Water titled "America's Water Risk: Water Stress and Climate Variability".  It looks at relative risk of water scarcity in each county in the U.S.  They employ a statistical methodology that looks at past climate data to assess the likelihood of a severe drought that could exhaust available water storage in each area.  As you might expect they find significant risk in places where long-term storage is not part of the supply - mostly in the east - and places that are highly reliant on vulnerable sources from considerable distance - i.e. Southern California.  I was happy to see that Arizona is not among the places at greatest risk.  That's cause we live with scarcity all the time and plan for it.

There was also some water management related excitement here in Tucson this week as the city council looked at setting criteria (pdf) for allowing 3rd parties to hook into a pipeline that carries CAP water to a recharge facility south of the city.  This relates to a couple of proposals by entities in the Green Valley/Sahuarita-area, which is upstream along the Santa Cruz river, who would like to take delivery of existing allocations of Colorado River water via the CAP system to be put in the ground as mitigation for their large-scale pumping of groundwater over many years.  One of the potential recipients of such an arrangement could be a company called Rosemont Copper, who wants to construct a large copper mine in the mountains south of Tucson.  Many in the city are opposed to the mine and think that if they deny Rosemont the ability to offset their groundwater pumping with recharge of CAP water they will be less likely to get their permits approved.  It's a long shot, but getting the Forest Service to deny a permit for a hard-rock mine on federal land is always a long shot.  I'll have a longer post on this issue probably next week, because there is a lot of nuance to it.

Saturday, April 13, 2013