Tag Archives: Water

When a group of farmers in northwest Kansas decided to voluntarily reduce their use of groundwater, no one really knew how that might affect their profitability.

Five years later, they have an answer.

In what can be considered a win for agriculture, Kansas State University agricultural economist Bill Golden is reporting that when farmers in the Sheridan County No. 6 Local Enhanced Management Area reduced water use by 20 percent, they actually made more money on their crops.

“There’s no two ways about it: What this has shown is that producers can reduce water use; they can slow the decline of the aquifer; and they can do this while making healthy profits,” Golden said.

A LEMA is a producer-driven conservation program in which farmers form a contract with the Kansas Division of Water Resources to voluntarily reduce their use of water. The agreement can be for any amount of time and include whatever goals the farmers want.

In the case of the Sheridan No. 6 LEMA, the farmers decided to reduce water use by 20 percent for five years. That agreement meant that the farmers were agreeing to an allocation of 55 inches of water per acre over a five-year period. In dry years, they might use a little more, or perhaps a little less in years when it rains more.

“What we saw is that they reduced corn acres, and when they did that, they also reduced the amount of water they were using on those corn acres,” said Golden, adding that many farmers instead increased irrigated wheat and grain sorghum acres.

Overall, the LEMA reported a decrease in groundwater use of 23.1 percent. Golden noted that a hydrology study done through the Kansas Geological Survey indicated that the decline rate of the Ogallala Aquifer in the area of the LEMA went from two feet per year to less than a half foot per year.

At the same time, producers reported greater profits due to less inputs and increased management.

“What we are seeing is that producers reduced fertilizer and seeding rates, and they have increased what I will call management,” Golden said. “Increasing management is hard to get a handle on, but when I talk to these guys, what they tell me is, ‘Bill, where we used to water, if we thought the crop needed water, today we look ahead four or five days and we ask is it going to rain or is it not going to rain. If we think it’s going to rain, we don’t water.’”

Producers inside the LEMA reported 4.3 percent more cash flow than their higher-yielding counterparts just outside the LEMA. Complete data is not available for crops other than corn, but Golden suspects that the trend will be very similar.

Another surprise finding – and one that may encourage producers to consider this approach in the future – is that the water that producers save remains available to them later on.

A related hydrology study “has shown that the water that the producers are saving is staying under their property,” Golden said. “And that’s important for producers to realize that whatever they save today, they get to use that water at some point in the future.”

Golden said the study relied on self-reported data from producers. The LEMA was monitored from 2012 through 2017, and the arrangement worked so well that the farmers applied to the Kansas Division of Water Resources to extend the project an additional year.

“That tells you something about how effective the LEMA has been for irrigation conservation and its effects on producer’s economic returns,” Golden said.

Golden’s full report is available online through the K-State Department of Agricultural Economics, located at AgManager.info. The work was completed with assistance of the Kansas Geological Survey and the Kansas Division of Water Resources, in addition to other local partners.

Legislation that supporters say is critical to preserving a historic water agreement between two sets of water users and is intended to prevent declines in a giant Idaho aquifer relied on by farmers and cities is heading to the governor.

The House voted 67-0 on Monday to approve the bill to give the state additional authority to cut off water to groundwater pumpers ignoring the agreement.

The 2015 agreement is intended to stabilize the level of the Lake Erie-sized Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer so that surface users and groundwater pumpers have a reliable source of water.

Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke after the vote said the legislation is important because the state has invested so much and all the participants in the agreement must carry their fair share.

The bill passed the Senate earlier this month 33-1.

As some communities along the Missouri River start to shift their focus to flood recovery after a late-winter storm, residents in two Iowa cities are stuck in crisis mode after their treatment plants shut down and left them in need of fresh water.

Tanker trucks from the Iowa National Guard and a private company are hauling water into Hamburg and Glenwood, said Lucinda Parker, a spokeswoman with Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Many evacuated from flooded areas in the southwestern part of the state are staying in shelters or with family and friends in the wake of the flooding and water struggles it has caused.

“The water is starting to go down in communities and they’re looking at how they’re going to start their recovery,” Parker said Wednesday.

Trucks are hauling about 300,000 gallons (1.1 million liters) per day to Glenwood’s water treatment plant from the neighboring cities of Red Oak and Shenandoah, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. Grocery store chains Hy-Vee and Fareway also have provided truckloads of bottled water.

Mike Wells, superintendent of the Hamburg Community School District, said one of the biggest concerns about having no fresh water is staying clean. The school district has coordinated providing buses for residents to ride 25 miles (40 kilometers) to Shenandoah or 10 miles (16 kilometers) to Sidney to shower. A local ministerial society has been picking up residents’ laundry at the school district, taking it to Shenandoah to wash it, and returning it.

“These are the best people. There’s no despair. There’s no giving up,” Wells said.

He said school would resume Thursday because it’s important for children to get back into their routine. He said the first half of the school day will be regular classes, but in the afternoon students will help collect laundry, deliver water, check on older residents and help provide food to those who need meals.

“This is a great opportunity to learn real life,” Wells said.

The surging waters have damaged hundreds of homes in the Midwest and been blamed for at least three deaths — two in Nebraska and one in Iowa. The flooding led to trains being halted in Missouri, creating transportation problems for both people and products. It also has taken a heavy toll on agriculture, inundating tens of thousands of acres, threatening stockpiled grain and killing livestock.

Scientists say climate change is responsible for more intense and more frequent extreme weather such as storms, floods, droughts and fires, but without extensive study they cannot directly link a single weather event to the changing climate.

Flooding hit Hamburg and Glenwood, which combined have about 6,000 residents, after the storm. Hamburg evacuated over the weekend. So did a portion of Mills County near Glenwood. Officials said the communities’ water supplies became compromised.

Water quality suffers during flooding even for areas not directly affected by floodwater. In Des Moines — which gets its water from two rivers that are flooding, though not as much as the Missouri River — levels of ammonia and other contaminants rise during floods. That may require increased use of chlorine to disinfect the water “and a careful balancing act not to overtreat,” said Water Works CEO Bill Stowe.

The water utility that serves about 500,000 central Iowa customers also at times deals with high levels of nitrate from farm fertilizer runoff, but the volume of water has diluted that impact and isn’t currently a concern, Stowe said.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said she would be asking President Donald Trump for an expedited disaster declaration. She said officials in her state were gathering damage estimates first.

National Weather Service hydrologist Kevin Low said during a telephone briefing Wednesday that “major and perhaps historic” flooding is possible later this month at some spots on the Big Sioux and James rivers in South Dakota and northwestern Iowa.

Parker, the state Homeland Security and Emergency Management spokeswoman, said even though southwestern Iowa was hit hardest in the state during this round of flooding, there are concerns of more widespread flooding ahead.

“We’re definitely not out of the woods,” she said, before later adding, “So take this opportunity to get prepared.”