Tag Archives: Ogallala Aquifer

Water has returned to top of our minds

Imagine my non-surprise.

The Texas Panhandle drought has gotten us  talking out loud again about water, conserving it, looking for more environmentally sound ways to grow and harvest our crops.

We’re now into a lengthy dry spell with no measurable precipitation. The record is now just a handful of days away. It’s looking as though we’re going to break the record set in 1902. Hey, all records were meant to be broken. Frankly, I’d prefer to see this one stand.

But is Amarillo about to run dry? No. Not even close.

Some aggressive water-rights purchasing over the course of the past decade has enabled Amarillo to maintain a viable water supply. The city in conjunction with the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority — which supplies Amarillo and nearly a dozen other communities with water — acquired many years of water rights from T. Boone Pickens, the former Amarillo oil and natural gas magnate.

Many billions of gallons of water remain undeveloped. It’s under our feet, deep within the Ogallala Aquifer.

We have a serious lesson that needs to be heeded, however.

Our water is not infinite. It won’t last forever. Oh, certainly Amarillo will have water at its disposal for many generations. We can thank an aggressive water-purchasing endeavor led by a municipal management team headed by a city manager, Jarrett Atkinson, with extensive knowledge of water management issues. Atkinson has moved on; he’s now city manager in Lubbock.

The drought that has gripped the Panhandle, though, looks as though it could be worse than it was in 2011, when it got — shall we say — pretty damn severe. Lake Meredith sank to a shockingly low 26-foot depth; it has rallied considerably since then, but the region needs rain badly.

As we wait and perhaps pray for more rain, we at least can rest reasonably assured that Amarillo will stay “wet” for the foreseeable future.

We dare not get wasteful while we wait for a change in our meteorological fortunes.

More water than I thought

You can make a discovery on occasion just by reading the material that comes with your water bill.

For example:

I did not know that there exists not one aquifer underground, but two of them.

Our water bill arrived this weekend. I opened it up and started reading the “2015 Water Quality Report” issued by the City of Amarillo. In the very first paragraph, it informed me that we have (a) the Ogallala Aquifer and (b) the Santa Rosa Aquifer coursing under our feet.

Santa Rosa? I didn’t even know such a thing exists. Or, if I knew about it already, I must have forgotten about it.

http://magissues.farmprogress.com/WFS/WS11Nov10/wfs068.pdf

The Santa Rosa consists of “brackish” water, or water than is a good bit saltier than potable drinking water. Tulia — a town just south of Amarillo — has access to it.

It runs under the Ogallala, which is spread under seven or eight states. The Santa Rosa is a good bit smaller in size, but it’s there.

I take some heart in learning about the Santa Rosa. The city already has secured significant water resources that officials say will last for a couple of centuries. Beyond that, well after we’re all gone, it’s anyone’s guess.

None of the water rights secured, I’m pretty sure, involve the Santa Rosa.

It’s going to be expensive to pull this water out of the ground and make it suitable for drinking. Desalination projects clearly must be developed here for humans to consume the water.

According to a website I accessed: “Though not nearly as large as the Ogallala, it (the Santa Rosa) provides a virtually  untapped source of drinking water for West Texas communities. Only a handful of communities, such as Tulia, Texas, has accessed it. Salt concentrations are about 5,000 parts per million, well in the range of purification efforts.”

You can learn things from unexpected sources, yes?

I’m glad I took a minute to read the water bill handout. Maybe I ought to read more of this stuff.

 

'Toilet to tap' not so bad

WICHITA FALLS, Texas — Allow me this pithy observation about something most of us might not quite understand.

It is that treated toilet water doesn’t taste so bad.

How do I know this? We stopped over the weekend in Wichita Falls to eat lunch at a favorite restaurant. The waitress served us water. As I was sipping it, it hit me: The city is treating toilet water, blending it with reservoir water and is serving it to customers such as us: my wife, our son and me.

I had heard about this project about a year ago as the drought and the accompanying water shortage tightened its grip on Wichita Falls, which relies exclusively on two reservoirs that supply its water. No aquifer here. It’s all surface water.

The city has enacted serious water restrictions. No lawn watering. Limited car-washing.

And now it is blending toilet water with reservoir water to reduce its freshwater consumption by about half.

I’m telling ya, it doesn’t taste bad. Not at all.

Panhandle PBS, which employs me as a freelance blogger, did a comprehensive special on the Texas water crisis. It aired in October on several PBS affiliates throughout the state. One of the segments included a look at the Wichita Falls situation, which has gotten quite dire.

Ellen Green of Panhandle PBS interviewed Mayor Glen Barham about what she referred to as the “toilet to tap” program.

You can catch the interview at the 20-minute mark on the attached link.

http://video.kacvtv.org/video/2365345995/

The city claims good success with the program, which is monitored carefully by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to ensure that it meets state and federal health standards.

So here’s a thought.

Amarillo’s water future isn’t nearly as grim. The city is purchasing lots of groundwater rights and says it has enough water to last another 100 or so years. No one is talking seriously — yet — about water restrictions here.

But wouldn’t it be prudent to think, um, more strategically? I’m wondering if Amarillo would be wise to examine ways to treat our own wastewater into potable water well in advance of there being an actual need to use it.

I’ve long said that I didn’t want to know when I was drinking treated toilet water.

Consider it a change of heart, but having swilled some of it this weekend, my concern about drinking wastewater has vanished — more or less.

 

Let it flow from Lake Meredith?

News that the Texas Panhandle’s leading water authority is going to resume pumping water from Lake Meredith leaves me with decidedly mixed feelings.

http://www.kcbd.com/story/25982194/crmwa-to-resume-pumping-from-lake-meredith

The lake is up to 41 feet, about 15 feet higher than its lowest ebb during the late winter months. Lake Meredith now measures 2 percent full, according to state water planners, compared to the zero percent it was registering.

The Canadian River Municipal Water Authority is going to blend lake water with well water underground. The idea is to relieve pressure on the Ogallala Aquifer.

OK. So is it time to tap the lake?

Two percent capacity still isn’t very much, correct? What’s more, the drought that has held in this chokehold for the past four to five years isn’t letting up. Amarillo remains right about at normal precipitation to date for the year. A few weeks of prolonged dryness in these parts and we’ll see counties resuming burn bans.

The water planners at CRMWA are smarter than I am about these things, so I guess I should accept that they know what they’re doing by deciding to pump water from Lake Meredith.

As a layperson who’s watched the lake evaporate over the nearly two decades my wife and I have lived here, it’s a bit troubling to see CRMWA acting so quickly to tap into a water supply that — as we have learned to our dismay — is a finite resource.

Then again, if it relieves pressure on the aquifer, which is another finite resource, then the region’s thirst for water will remain quenched.

Oh, these conflicting emotions about water.

Water supply excellent … for now

Lynn Tate, head of the High Plains Water District, gave the Rotary Club of Amarillo some good news Thursday.

Amarillo is in excellent shape with regard to its long-term supply of water. We’re in far better shape than almost any other significant city in Texas, he said. T. Boone Pickens once had this idea of pumping water from the Texas Panhandle to places downstate; it didn’t work out, Pickens never found a willing buyer and he ended up selling the water to the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority, which quenches Amarillo’s thirst.

We’ve got about 200 years worth of water available to us from the Ogallala Aquifer, which covers several states from Texas to Nebraska and even parts of the Dakotas.

Hey, no problem with water supply.

Should we be complacent? I don’t think so.

I didn’t hear Tate say anything about whether cities — namely Amarillo — should institute mandatory conservation measures.

He seemed curiously serene about it.

I am in no position to question seriously Lynn Tate’s expertise on these matters. He’s a lot more educated than I am on these matters. He grew up in a farming and ranching family in the eastern Panhandle. He went to law school and has had a successful law practice in Amarillo. He’s a first-rate agriculture lawyer.

However, I cannot help but think the city ought to be a tad more proactive in its water conservation efforts than it seems to be at the moment. Same with CRMWA and the High Plains Water District.

Tate did mention that irrigated agriculture accounts for 85 to 90 percent of all water use in the Panhandle, which means there’s little that homeowners in Amarillo can do to prevent the decline in water resources. He also said he believes the aquifer is recharging in some areas and that the water levels are “stabilizing.”

Isn’t it time, though, to discuss openly what we should do to forestall the day when crises arrive and we might not have enough water to take care of our needs?

I know that 200 years is a long way off. We’ll all be gone by then. So will our kids, grandkids and great-grandkids. Good stewardship requires us to think even beyond that time, doesn’t it?

Just sayin’.

Texas drought taking its toll

Wichita Falls residents have been given the order: no more outside watering.

The prolonged drought throughout much of Texas has forced the city to enact some very strict rules on residents. Seems the lakes that supply the city with water are continuing to shrivel. Water quality is being degraded. Residents are facing stiff penalties if they violate the restrictions.

http://www.texastribune.org/2013/11/12/facing-drought-wichita-falls-bans-outdoor-watering/

Is this a harbinger of what other communities may face down the road?

Amarillo is in better shape than many communities. It has purchased a lot of water rights throughout the Panhandle. Of course, Amarillo’s boon could mean a bust for smaller communities that rely on the same aquifer ground water as the Panhandle’s largest city.

Lake Meredith, which used to supply the city with some of its water, no longer is of any use. It’s level has receded below the intake pumps. Marinas have been closed. Boating is limited. The lake’s volume is less than 1 percent of capacity — which means it’s virtually dry.

All that bad news can be countered, though, with some good news. Wichita Falls is going to enact a wastewater treatment program that will recycle wastewater back into the system. The plan calls for a dramatic reduction in the amount of water drawn from lakes Kickapoo and Arrowhead.

Good deal, yes? Of course it is.

Here’s the thing, though. If Amarillo ever were to enact such a plan in which residents are drinking water that once contained, um, certain organic matter, I hope the city does so without ever telling anyone.

Some things I don’t need to know.

Flooding produces some benefit

I truly do not wish bad things to happen to my fellow Americans in nearby states.

However, I noticed something the other morning on a local TV news broadcast that suggests that the Texas Panhandle has received some benefit from the misery inflicted on our neighbors northwest of us in Colorado.

The deluge that destroyed so much property and took those lives north of Boulder a few weeks ago has produced a dramatic rise in the levels of Lake Meredith, about 50 miles north of Amarillo. KAMR-TV, the local NBC affiliate, runs a weather crawl when it broadcasts local news in the morning. Until the flooding inundated Colorado, the Lake Meredith water level as shown on the crawl had bottomed out at something just below 27 feet.

Monday morning, the lake level registered on the crawl put the water at 33-plus feet. That’s a nearly 7-foot increase in the water at Lake Meredith.

OK, it’s not much of an increase, given the lake’s historic high of 100-plus feet in the early 1970s.

It’s a start — perhaps — to a change in fortune at the manmade reservoir.

The water has rushed down the Front Range of the Rockies, onto the High Plains, into the Canadian River, which feeds Lake Meredith. Perhaps even better news would be that whatever water hasn’t flowed into the lake has seeped into the Ogallala Aquifer, which also has been depleted over many years.

I just wish now that the Almighty would grant us some more moisture — without inflicting such pain upstream.

I think I’ll pray some more.