Archive for Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Kansas looking at Missouri River to help irrigate western Kansas

November 19, 2013


— A proposal to transport water from the Missouri River to irrigate crops in western Kansas and replenish the Ogallala Aquifer was rolled out before state legislators on Tuesday.

"It's exciting for the state of Kansas to be looking at this," said Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office.

But officials noted they were in the early stages of considering the Kansas Aqueduct Project.

The project would siphon water from the Missouri River from the most northeast corner of Kansas in White Cloud, and transport the water some 360 miles through a series of lift stations and canals past Perry Lake, through the Flint Hills and into western Kansas.

David Brenn, president of the Kansas Water Congress, said the aqueduct proposal "is the best and last long-term hope for water supply in the state of Kansas." The congress is made up of water officials from across the state and works on water resource issues.

Mark Rude, executive director of the Garden City-based Groundwater Management District No. 3, said if the state takes no action in the next 50 years, the Ogallala Aquifer, a massive underground water system stretching from Nebraska to Texas, will be 70 percent depleted.

Kansas and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have joined to fund a $300,000 study to re-calculate a 1982 study on the aqueduct project. In 1982, the study pegged the cost at $3.6 billion, but officials said estimates now could range from $12.5 billion to $25 billion. The new study is expected to be launched next year and completed in 18 months.

Streeter said the idea is to divert water at high flow or flood times on the Missouri River. That would help Kansas farmers and alleviate downstream flooding on the Missouri, he said. The water office is the state's water agency, which conducts water planning and helps make state water policy.

Earlier this year, Groundwater Management District No. 3 told state officials that they were considering filing an appropriation for water rights from the Missouri River.

Anticipating litigation from others with interest in the Missouri River, Rude said it was important to seek a water right to establish a priority on the river.

But state officials urged the groundwater district to take no action until the state can make a thorough examination of the proposal.

Streeter cautioned that there are numerous interests that use the river that are looking closely at what Kansas does. If the study says the project can be done, then many stakeholders would have to be brought on board, he said.

"At some point in time, there will probably be a play on the river, and Kansas needs to be well-positioned, but I'm not sure of the timing on that," Streeter said.

Several members of the Special Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources agreed, noting that legal fights over water rights often take decades to resolve.

Now that it is apparent that Kansas is looking at the Missouri River as a possible water source, state Rep. Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington, recommended "you might want to put money in our litigation fund."


Ron Holzwarth 2 years ago

This proposal might sound reasonable at first glance, but what's lacking is an overview of the energy costs associated with it. If you're worried about global warming due to CO2 emissions, the gigantic energy usage, and its associated CO2 emissions, of this proposed project would shock you. There is no mention at all of the energy cost that would be required to operate the lift stations in the article. It certainly would be very expensive water by the time it gets to western Kansas!

There is a somewhat similar project in operation in California that supplies water for the southern part of the state. But, it relies on gravity for its operation, and not on a series of lift stations that will need to elevate every single drop of water something like 1,000 feet.

The article also mentions that part of the purpose of the project is to replenish the Ogallala Aquifer. It is difficult for me to believe that after transporting the water that far at such enormous expense, it will simply be injected deep into the ground. That would need to be done to replenish the aquifer, because virtually no water on the surface ever reaches it.

Mike George 2 years ago

Part of what you say is true about energy needed to pump from the Missouri River level to wherever the western destinations would be - it could be as much as a lift of 3,000 feet. However, the "similar project in....California" is actually a huge network of aqueducts all over the west, including the Salt River Project in Arizona and tieing into the Colorado River Aqueduct that runs from Lake Huachuca, AZ, to the LA Basin. The California Water Project and other federal and state projects ALL utilize energy to pump water over mountains along with the gravity feeds in open aqueducts. So, from the 1930's, California and Arizona water planners, along with the Bureau of Reclamation and many others, have anticipated and developed electric power as part of the pumping and distribution of the water from "Sierra to Sea" in California and all over southern Arizona. The amounts of power that are used and produced in CA and AZ for water distribution are huge. So Mr. Holzwarth's point is well taken that in a project like this in KS, power will be needed. However, comparing this to the network of water distribution in CA and AZ is not quite accurate. I know - I worked on Palo Verde Nuclear Plant, the Colorado River Aqueduct pumping station in AZ, the Salt River Pumping Station in Yuma, and another pumped hydro station that is part of the California Water Project in Oroville. We are almost 100 years behind our western friends in terms of water planning and distribution.

Ron Holzwarth 2 years ago

I didn't know that the water distribution systems in California and Arizona are so comprehensive, but I did know that water in parts of southern California east of Los Angeles is very expensive - I was told that by some people I know. They had a ridiculously huge lawn put in, and the water bill sometimes hit $600 a month to keep it green. And, their huge swimming pool and 10 person jacuzzi with the fake waterfalls didn't help much, I don't think. But, their home was on a 1.1 acre lot, and certainly was not representative of most yards, that's for sure.

But I've wondered about something for a long time, after seeing a photograph of one of the open canals, although for all I know they aren't all open: Isn't the water loss due to evaporation quite large?

Mike George 2 years ago

You are absolutely right. They just figure the loss is part of the cost of doing business. They have initiated more stringent water usage controls and tiered water bills, but it is hard to calculate the efficiency of a distribution operation like that. The website for the CWP says that CA currently has 34 storage facilities, lakes, and reservoirs dedicated to potable water, 20 pumping plants, 4 pumping-generating plants, 5 hydroelectric generating plants, and 701 miles of aqueduct and pipelines. Our daughter lives in the LA area and the latest rumors are talking about a desalinization plant somewhere down the coast between Long Beach and San Diego, perhaps nuclear powered.

Chris Golledge 2 years ago

I suppose in theory, the energy could come from wind. The area where the water would go has the some of the best wind potential in the country.

Mark Jakubauskas 2 years ago

Some interesting related links:

Trans-Texas Canal:

The North American Water and Power Alliance:

J. C. Hopper's Great Interstate Canal:

Ken Lassman 2 years ago

Fascinating pipe dreams, Mark--thanks for the links. You can't blame folks for trying to stave off the inevitable or even open up new vistas of productivity just by adding water, but physics is a stern taskmaster and always exacts a payment in full. There was a fascinating piece a while back on NPR about such a project in Egypt, which promised great things and yet it collapsed under the real costs, leaving many people literally high and dry.

Ron Holzwarth 2 years ago

Here's a couple interesting questions: If, instead of using a canal or irrigation from a well, water was hauled to the farms in western Kansas by semi truck. How much would a bushel of corn or wheat have to be sold for to pay for that additional cost? And for feed crops, how much would the price of beef for the consumers have to rise?

Bob Zimmerman 2 years ago

This is so silly.

No one in their right minds can expect billions to spent for an aqueduct to subsidize a few wheat farmers in western Kansas; who are farming marginal land and are draining the aquifer.

So stop the pandering now and plan for vacating western Kansas.

Ron Holzwarth 2 years ago

My father, and his father before him, and his father before him, were wheat farmers all their lives in Cheyenne county, in the far northwest corner of Kansas, beginning in 1880 - 1917. And none of them ever irrigated (although they did talk about it from time to time), so they never tapped the Ogallala Aquifer at all in order to make a decent living.

In western Kansas, what is almost always done in order to raise wheat without irrigation is called "summer fallow," meaning that every other year no crop is raised, instead the land is tilled to keep it free of weeds. Then, some of the rainfall that year is saved in the soil for next year's wheat crop. I spent many hours/days/weeks/months/years driving a tractor over empty fields in order to do that, starting at the age of 12.

It is also possible to raise some feed crops for cattle without irrigation.

But, it is true that you'll get a much higher yield of wheat, and get a crop every year, if you irrigate. Without question, the major crop in Cheyenne county that absolutely requires irrigation is corn.

And guess what, with the government requiring ethanol to be added to some gasoline, the price of corn is now very high because of that. So of course, corn is the most profitable crop to raise. If the government did not require ethanol, which is made from corn, to be produced, the price of corn would be lower, and the Ogallala Aquifer would not be in the process of being depleted so quickly.

How do you think the early settlers in western Kansas managed to raise wheat without irrigation?

If you have a question about farming, the best person to ask is a farmer.

Kendall Simmons 2 years ago

And if you have a question about ethanol, perhaps you ought to ask a moonshiner :-)(After all, "ethanol" is just another name for "grain alcohol". )

The fact is that corn is NOT required to produce ethanol.

There are tons of other things can be...and ARE...used to produce ethanol. Things like cheese whey, barley, potato waste, beverage waste, and brewery and beer waste. Like agricultural waste (including corn cobs and stalks), yard waste, sawdust and paper. Like wood chips and stalks and switchgrass. Even human waste!

And how about the fact that it's a lot easier and cheaper (and takes half the energy) to turn sugar (like sugarcane, sugar beets, molasses), rather than corn, into ethanol? And states like Florida, Louisiana, Hawaii, California, and Texas are primed for this.

In other words, contrary to what many people apparently blieve, corn is not necessary for ethanol. Never has been. Never will be. So, instead of our wasting a gazillion dollars on getting water to western Kansas from the Missouri River simply to keep growing corn for ethanol...which is already in the process of being replaced...why don't we accept the truth? There are actually better, cheaper things from which we can create ethanol.

Chris Golledge 2 years ago

Here are a couple of charts of winter wheat acres by county and yields by county. Take a look at Kansas and tell us where you think we can add additional production to make up for the loss of western Kansas.

We'll be in for enough trouble as it is with the climate of the Texas panhandle and Oklahoma moving into Kansas.

Leslie Swearingen 2 years ago

You know I am going to have to go with Bob in this one. Why, oh why, do people see either Western Kansas or a desert as the perfect place to farm or have perfect lawns, walter falls and the like? I cringe every time I see a movie made in Las Vegas The water waste is horrendous and I doubt the gamblers are even aware of what is around them.

Ron Holzwarth 2 years ago

The soil is fertile, the price of land is relatively low, and the rainfall is certainly adequate to raise wheat in western Kansas. There is no need to drain the Ogallala Aquifer in order to raise it. But, there's not enough rainfall to raise corn without irrigation.

And, western Kansas is certainly not a desert, it is a steppe. In order to be classified as a desert, there needs to be less than 10 inches of precipitation (rain plus snow) per year. It's true that in some years, there is less than that in western Kansas, but in the last hundred years or so, four years was the most consecutive years that there was less than 10 inches of precipitation for the year. Those years, you won't get much of a crop.

Generally speaking, once every seven years you won't get any crop at all, due to lack of rainfall or hail damage. Every successful farmer plans for that.

Chris Golledge 2 years ago

Because all the better land is already farmed or has buildings planted on it. As the demand for food has grown, more marginal land has been planted, and higher productivity sought through the use of more energy and water intensive farming practices.

Amy Varoli Elliott 2 years ago

most of the crops grown are not eaten though, it is corn used to make animal feed or ethanol

Chris Golledge 2 years ago

If you are saying we should eat less meat and drive fewer miles, OK, I agree. However, I don't think that is where Bob and Leslie meant to go.

And, you are talking about corn, and wheat production is also affected by availability of water, and there is more wheat than corn in western Kansas. Probably that has to do with the additional irrigation that corn requires.

Beator 2 years ago

I think the use of Etruscan techniques for drainage, building aqueducts would be an nice aesthetic addition to the western Kansas landscape.

Mike George 2 years ago

One thing that hasn't been discussed here yet is the fact that all over the west (west of us), water rights have already been sold or are tied up in projects for the foreseeable future. This is absolutely one of the biggest problems with buying/borrowing water - it's not available. The folks on here suggesting that a different approach needs to be taken in areas like Western Kansas are not wrong. Whether we want to admit it or not, the supply and distribution of water is the biggest limiting factor to agriculture and sensible development from here to the west coast. And by sensible development, I don't mean a swimming pool in every 3 acre yard of grass. Mr. Holzwarth is correct when he identifies corn production as a large part of the problem in Kansas and now in Nebraska.

Richard Heckler 2 years ago

Commercial Corporate Farming. Water supply or convenient availability does not matter just let the taxpayers pick up the tab for more corporate welfare.

This is about corporate farms maybe not wheat,corn or milo.

The farming may be commercial hog farms or commercial beef stockyards = big time water consumption.

We're not dealing with honest people in the Brownback admin. The family farm is not what is on the table. Best keep a close eye on this project.

Bob Smith 2 years ago

Maybe they could make all of western Kansas into an organic vegetable farm / bunny ranch.

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