irrigation

MPR: Many irrigators lack required permits

Many Minnesota farmers using groundwater to irrigate their crops have failed to apply for and receive permits that state law requires for high-capacity pumping, Minnesota Public Radio reported on Monday, April 7.

MPR said evidence indicates that more than 200 of the high-capacity irrigation wells drilled between 2008 and 2012 are being used without the required permits. And nearly 200 other wells were used without permits until about the last year.

Under state law, permits, fees and reporting are required for any groundwater use of 10,000 gallons per day or 1 million gallons per year. Irrigation wells routinely pump far more than those amounts.

The MPR report resulted from a year-long investigation that confirmed and expanded on a 2013 Freshwater Society special report titled  “Minnesota’s Groundwater: Is our use sustainable?”

The Freshwater report compared two data bases — one from the Health Department listing irrigation, commercial and industrial wells drilled from 2000 through 2010 and one from the Department of Natural Resources listing wells eventually covered by the required use permits — and concluded that nearly 500 wells might be being used without permits.

That was more than one-fourth of the high-capacity wells drilled during that period.

MPR made the same type of comparison  over a slightly different period and used a slightly different definition of high-capacity wells likely to require water-use permits. Then MPR took the effort a significant step further: It used satellite imagery to link well locations to images of obvious circles left by center-pivot irrigation systems. Those images can be tracked on the MPR website.

When the Freshwater report was issued last spring, the Department of Natural Resources had already begun an effort to improve its enforcement of the permitting requirement. The Legislature in 2013 gave the DNR new funding to continue and significantly expand the effort.

Read the MPR report and view the mapping. Read the Freshwater report, which reported that agricultural irrigation was the second-largest use of Minnesota groundwater and by far the fastest-growing use.

In 2012, the last year for which pumping totals reported to the DNR are currently available, farmers told the agency they used 106.2 billion gallons for irrigation. That was 36 percent of the 293.7 billion gallons in total reported pumping. Public water systems reported using 143.1 billion gallons, or 49 percent of the total.

Continue Reading

Climate, water and food

A warming worldwide climate already has been predicted to significantly cut global production of corn, soybeans, wheat and rice by the end of this century. Now new research suggests food production could be further curtailed by water shortages that would end the irrigation of 50 million to 150 million acres. Read a ScienceDaily  article about the research, published Dec. 16.

Continue Reading

Decades of irrigation depleting High Plains aquifer

Irrigation, which transformed agriculture in Kansas into a much more profitable industry decades ago, now is starting to exhaust the groundwater that fed the change. Read, or listen to, a National Public Radio report on the pumping and efforts to constrain it and preserve the High Plains Aquifer.

Continue Reading

Water shortages — In Kansas and China

Today’s New York Times has a compelling article on big drops in water levels in the High Plains Aquifer that farmers rely on for irrigation in a huge swath of land stretching from Wyoming down to Texas.

Some Kansas farmers who have been raising corn are having to switch to less water-intensive, less profitable,  crops like milo and sorghum.

And read a Financial Times article on China’s pressing water problems.

The article describes a region where 10,000 people — known as shengtai yimin, or “ecological migrants” – have left their homes because of water shortages. And the article cites a 2007 World Bank estimate that water problems cost China economic losses of 2.3 per cent of gross domestic product.

Continue Reading

Take time to read Pioneer Press groundwater articles

The Pioneer Press this week published a fine series of articles on Minnesota’s groundwater. Read reporter John Brewer’s lead article on the sustainability issue. Read a column by outdoor writer David Orrick on why outdoor enthusiasts should care about the dependence of lakes and streams on groundwater sources,  another article on outstate water woes, and a third on an irrigation boom in Central Minnesota. Read another article on suggestions that some water-stressed Twin Cities communities should give up their dependence on wells and switch to the Mississippi River as a water source, as Minneapolis and St. Paul do.  And there was a final article on how arid Santa Fe, New Mexico, conserves water.

Continue Reading

Irrigation increases in U.S. and in Minnesota

Irrigation of farms has increased in Minnesota and across the United States over the last five years, and the pumping of groundwater for irrigation has increased faster. 

That’s according to a new survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and water appropriations data from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

 Between 2003 and 2008, the total farmland irrigated in the United States increased 4.6 percent – from 52.5 million acres to 54.9 million acres, the USDA reported this week. The total amount of water from all sources used in agricultural irrigation across the country increased 5.2 percent – from 86.8 million acre-feet to 91.2 acre-feet. 

 But the USDA’s Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey found that the pumping of groundwater for irrigation increased 12 percent – from 43.5 million acre-feet to 48.5 million acre-feet over those five years. 

An acre-foot equals 325,851 gallons. So the amount of groundwater pumped for irrigation last year was just under 12 trillion gallons. 

In Minnesota, the total amount of water used in irrigation in 2008 for all purposes – farmland, golf courses, cemeteries and other uses — was slightly less than 117 billion gallons, up 10.5 percent from 2003. Of that total, about 103 billion was groundwater, according to the DNR records.

The increase in groundwater use for irrigation in Minnesota over the five years was 10.7 percent.

Continue Reading

Health costs of fossil fuels; irrigation’s demand

The cost — in terms of health care — of fossil fuels. A looming battle in California over desalination. The demands irrigators make on the Colorado River’s waters. Check out these articles and more, then follow the links to read them in their entirety where they originally were published.

Fossil fuels add billions in health costs
Burning fossil fuels costs the United States about $120 billion a year in health costs, mostly because of thousands of premature deaths from air pollution, the National Academy of Sciences reported in a study.

The damages are caused almost equally by coal and oil, according to the study, which was ordered by Congress. The study set out to measure the costs not incorporated into the price of a kilowatt-hour or a gallon of gasoline or diesel fuel.

The estimates by the academy do not include damages from global warming, which has been linked to the gases produced by burning fossil fuels. The authors said the extent of such damage, and the timing, were too uncertain to estimate.
–The New York Times

Water shortages put target on irrigators
Along its final miles, the Colorado River snakes through a dizzying series of dams, canals, siphons and ditches, diverted to hundreds of users in Arizona and California until barely a trickle remains.

What flows through this watery Grand Central Station could fill the needs of all the homes and offices in Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas and much of Southern California.

But it doesn’t.

The water, more than a billion gallons a day, irrigates vast fields of wheat, alfalfa, cotton, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, melons and a produce aisle of other fruits and vegetables, feeding an industry tilled from the desert more than a century ago.

In Arizona, the crops yield about 1 percent of the state’s annual economic output, yet the fields soak up 70 percent of the water supply. That outsize allotment has painted a target on the farms as urban water managers search for the next bucket of water to meet future demands.
–The Arizona Republic

Desalination plan focus of fight over growth
Nothing about the Marin Municipal Water District storage yard and the run-down wooden pier protruding into San Francisco Bay give any hint of what they are: the site of what may become one of the fiercest water battles in Northern California in decades.

It is, on the surface, a set piece: an emotional struggle over a large planned water project facing strong environmental opposition. But at a more basic level, it is a contest over the ever-volatile issue of growth in Marin County.

The district is proposing to use both the yard and the Marin Rod & Gun Club pier as locations for a desalination plant that would suck up saltwater and initially could produce about five million gallons of water a day for its 190,000 customers, an increase of 6 percent in the district’s supply.
–The New York Times

Hugo Chavez calls for 3-minute showers
Leftist President Hugo Chavez called on Venezuelans to stop singing in the shower and to wash in three minutes because the oil-exporting nation is having problems supplying water and electricity.

Venezuela has suffered several serious blackouts in the past year because of rapidly growing demand and under-investment, which has been aggravated by a drop in water levels in hydroelectric dams that provide most of its energy.

Chavez announced energy-saving measures and said he would create a ministry to deal with the electricity shortages, which have affected the image of his socialist revolution before legislative elections due in 2010.
–Reuters

Corps wants Red River flood choice by Dec. 1
Fargo-Moorhead officials finally have plenty of options for flood control.

But it will test their ability to work together to quickly pick a plan by Dec. 1 that could determine the area’s safety for decades.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers presented an array of diversion and levee options at a meeting of the Metropolitan Flood Management Committee at the Moorhead Marriott .

With the project on a tight timetable, corps engineer Craig Evans said his agency needs to know by Dec. 1 whether it’s a diversion channel in Minnesota or North Dakota, or levees, that has local support.
–The Forum

Pollution credit trading  market planned
American Farmland Trust is teaming up with Electric Power Research Institute, the Ohio River Valley Sanitation Commission Duke Energy, American Electric Power, Kieser & Associates, Hunton and Williams, the Miami Conservancy District, University of California at Santa Barbara, Ohio Farm Bureau, Hoosier Rural Electric Cooperative, and Tennessee Valley Authority to establish a water quality trading market across the Ohio River Basin, an area that spans fourteen states.

The project will focus on Ohio and seven nearby states, with the goal of improving water quality in the Ohio River Basin and reducing hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico.

Water quality trading creates a market that pays participants for reducing the pollution they emit into watersheds. It creates a market that allows pollution sources who reduce their nutrient emissions or releases below an agreed upon baseline, to generate credits to sell to point sources required to reduce their nutrient releases. Such point sources include public utilities or manufacturing operations. Subsequently, participants are given a financial incentive to reduce their own pollution.
–AgWeb.com

Washington County preserve to grow
Land dedicated to scientific research in south Washington County grew substantially when the Trust for Public Land completed the purchase of 120 acres in Denmark Township.

The land, bought from private landowner Mike Rygh for $1.14 million, will be added to the 200-acre Lost Valley Prairie Scientific and Natural Area and will remain open to the public for walking, exploring, nature observation, educational use and scientific research.
–The Star Tribune

Coloradoans contest Nestle bottled water plan
In many ways Salida, Colo., typifies the 21st-century Rocky Mountain town. Originally founded along a railroad line in the late 1800s, it’s now geared primarily toward tourism.

Among the red brick buildings of the historic center where ranchers, miners, and railroad workers once held sway, tourists now move between coffee shops, galleries, and outfitters. During warmer months, kayakers “surf” a man-made wave in the fast-flowing Arkansas River, which marks the edge of the downtown area.

For the better part of this year, Salida – population 5,400 – has also been the setting for a 21st century kind of battle – over water.
–The Christian Science Monitor

Exxon hit with damages in pollution suit
A federal jury in New York City ruled Exxon Mobil Corp had polluted the city’s ground water and ordered the oil giant to pay $105 million in damages, the city said.

The city contended Exxon knew that gasoline additive methyl tertiary butyl ether would contaminate ground water if it leaked from the underground storage tanks at its retail stations.

Exxon ignored warnings from its own scientists and engineers not to use MTBE in areas of the country that relied on ground water for drinking water, the city said.
–Reuters

Times journalist talks about ‘worsening pollution’
An estimated one in 10 Americans have been exposed to drinking water that contains dangerous chemicals, parasites, bacteria or viruses, or fails to meet federal health standards. Part of the problem, says journalist Charles Duhigg, is that water-pollution laws are not being enforced.

Duhigg reports on the “worsening pollution in American waters” — and regulators’ responses to the problem — in his New York Times series, “Toxic Waters.” In researching the series, he studied thousands of water pollution records, which he obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.
–National Public Radio

California considers massive water overhaul
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and lawmakers are laboring over an ambitious package of policy and spending initiatives that could transform — from dam to tap — how California uses its limited water supply.

If the changes happen, most residents and businesses probably would have to pay more and consume less.

For the first time, statewide law would require farmers to pay a premium if they draw too much water. Among the dozens of potential directives is a proposal for urban customers, including those in the San Diego region, to wring at least 5 percent more in water conservation.

Longer term, the area’s water agencies might be able to compete for billions in state grants to build more storage facilities, invigorate conservation and extend alternative supplies, such as desalination.
–The San Diego Union

Continue Reading