Archive for July, 2009

Jul 26 2009

SC: McMaster fires off an op-ed


Henry McMaster

The South Carolina-North Carolina battle over the Catawba River continues – this time in the form of an opinion article from South’s attorney general.

SC Attorney General Henry McMaster had some sharp words for North Carolina, and a caution that a loss there could lead to problems defending water rights against another state – Georgia.

Here’s the text (from McMaster’s web site):

As recently reported, North Carolina is taking actions which could leave parts of South Carolina high and dry, and Charlotte-based Duke Energy is helping them.

Their actions would cut off a significant portion of South Carolina’s water supply and we are engaged in an unprecedented legal battle to stop them.

This fight is over our water, our jobs, and our economic future.

North Carolina’s actions, if unchecked, could cripple the economy of a large part of South Carolina and cause hardships for businesses and individuals throughout the region.

Further, their actions would give a green light to Atlanta and other Georgia cities to begin taking water from the Savannah River, from the upstate to the lowcountry, all to our detriment. Continue Reading »

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Jul 24 2009

WA: Some revision on Yakima exempt wells

At the request of Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, Washington Ecology Director Jay Manning met with Kittitas County Commission Chair Alan Crankovich and, as a result, negotiations regarding an alternative groundwater management rule will recommence as early as next week.

“We’re pleased that the commissioners have agreed to work with us in a renewed effort to develop a permanent groundwater management rule that protects senior water rights and streamflows, but is more flexible than a complete moratorium on new groundwater pumping,” Manning said.

Manning also announced today that the current emergency rule will be amended to clarify that people with vested building permit applications or issued building permits as of July 16, 2009, will not be subject to the groundwater closure and may use permit-exempt wells.

On July 16, Ecology filed the emergency rule after nearly two years of negotiations failed to gain a commitment from the Kittitas County Board of Commissioners on a groundwater management agreement that would have limited the uncontrolled proliferation of wells exempt from water permits in the upper county.

Although these wells are exempt from permits, they are subject to all other water resource regulations, and their use may be curtailed in times of water shortages to ensure that senior water right holders get their water.

The temporary, emergency rule will be in place for a maximum of 120 days in upper Kittitas County. A map of the affected area is available on Ecology’s web site at: Continue Reading »

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Jul 23 2009

ID: Spackman interim at IDWR

Published by under Idaho

Gary Spackman, Idaho Department of Water Resources water management division administrator, on July 22 was named by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter as interim IDWR director, following the June 30 departure of David Tuthill.
Otter did not outline his plans for making a permanent replacement.
During the first part of July, water allocation chief Jeff Peppersack filled the job on a temporary basis.
In his first day on the job, Spackman issued a curtailment order to approximately 250 water right holders of 315 junior water rights in the south-central Magic Valley. It responds to a 2006 water delivery call by senior water right holder Clear Springs Foods, and provides six days for the North Snake and Magic Valley Ground Water Districts to take actions to avoid curtailment. The curtailment otherwise is scheduled to take effect on July 31. The order affects holders of certain ground water rights in portions of Blaine, Cassia, Gooding, Jerome, Lincoln, Minidoka, and Twin Falls counties with priority dates junior to January 8, 1981.

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Jul 22 2009

ID: Swan Falls dispute edges on

Published by under Idaho

For all the progress made on the deal between the state of Idaho and Idaho Power Company over water rights at the Swan Falls – progressed to the point that both entities plan to submit a joint brief on the matter – not all of the issues are resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. And not everyone is completely sure yet what all the prospective issues are.

SRBA Presiding Judge John Melanson, holding on July 21 a hearing on setting scheduling for briefing toward wrapping up the issue, noted that he had received a paper “I suppose you could characterize as opposition” from attorney Randall Budge, representing a number of Upper Snake water users.

And more was to come.

Budge said that his submittal was intended to clarify points rather than take up substantial hearing time. But more concerns were registered by Rexburg attorney Jerry Rigby, who didn’t participate directly but conveyed concerns. And there were others from attorney Jo Beeman, representing the city of Pocatello and other clients, and attorney Dana Hofstetter.

Not all of this necessarily indicates flat opposition. Beeman said much of Pocatello’s concern relates to a lack of specific, technical information about how water rights are to be measured at Swan Falls.
She also said that Pocatello has timing issues, and that its experts probably wouldn’t be able to properly and fully review the case until early October.

Attorneys for the state and Idaho Power proposed a relatively fast-track briefing schedule, with a hearing coming within 60 days. The other attorney indicated concern about the schedule.

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Jul 20 2009

TX: Water cutbacks spread

Published by under Texas

Across a number of basins, a dry summer season in Texas is leading to water cutbacks, or threats of same.

At Kerrville, officials of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality have again reduced water available to the city from the Guadalupe River. The river is running drastically low, only about 10% of normal. Ordinary daily draws of 6.4 million gallons per day have been cut to below one million.

In the Brazos River basin, a string of cities may be cut off entirely.

40 of Texas’ counties are described as being in severe drought.

(see San Antonio [TX] Express-News, July 20. Fort Bend Now, July 20.)

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Jul 19 2009

MO/IA/NE/SD: Nerves tense on Missouri review


Missouri Basin/US Army Corps Engineers

The Des Moines Register reports today about the upcoming (starting in October) re-evaluation of the uses and management of the Missouri River, one of the nation’s longest and most contested.

The Register notes, “An exhaustive five-year, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study of the Missouri begins in October. The $25 million study is expected to set up another round of battles among states, tribes and organizations with competing visions of the historic waterway. At issue: Everything from future drinking supplies and cooling water for power generation, to flood control, barge traffic, habitat protection, untapped recreational opportunities and potential economic gain.”

The Army Corps provides regular annual reports and operating plans for the river, but also conducts some periodic long-range studies and planning.

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Jul 18 2009

OK: New studies mapped

Published by under Oklahoma

On Wednesday, Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation received high praise for its initiation and support of legislation that will fund a dozen or more state water planning studies. HR 3183, the fiscal 2010 Energy-Water appropriations bill, passed the U.S. House of Representatives last Friday by a convincing 320-97 vote.

According to Duane Smith, executive director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board (OWRB), “The bill contains funding for crucially important water management studies, evaluations of both public and agricultural supplies, and identification of alternatives to meet future water needs – all initiatives championed by Senator Jim Inhofe and supported by every member of our House delegation.”

The Energy-Water bill also delineates spending levels for programs administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation for fiscal year 2010. The Senate is preparing to take up its version of the bill in the coming weeks.

Smith adds that the $30 million included in the bill will underwrite the Red River Chloride Control Project, a plan conceptualized almost half a century ago to augment water supplies in arid southwest Oklahoma. Another study will identify alternatives to augment water dependability at Lake Lugert-Altus, a major source of irrigation in that region. The bill further contemplates major investigations of water resources in southeast Oklahoma.

“We should consider ourselves fortunate to have forward-thinking individuals, who, much like Oklahoma’s former water pioneers in Washington D.C., are dedicated to the protection and preservation of our most precious natural resource. I know that if Carl Albert, Robert S. Kerr, and others were alive today, they would join me in applauding our current Congressional leaders for this initiative,” Smith points out.

Almost $2 million is included in the legislation specifically to support quantity and quality studies that are part of the ongoing update of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan (OCWP). The OCWP is entering the fourth year of a five-year update.

“The primary intent of the Water Plan is to conduct an exhaustive inventory of water supplies and evaluate future needs, and then utilize that data to identify feasible alternatives in every region of the state – through infrastructure and additional supply development – that can satisfy those anticipated foreseeable demands,” Smith adds. “But beyond studies and data and reports, these appropriations will help us actually implement solutions in areas where we see gaps in current or future supply.”

Smith also endorses the process through which Oklahoma’s water project needs were identified. The OWRB has been working with its federal partners at the Corps of Engineers and Bureau, as well as Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation and staff, to implement a state-driven planning approach.

With the Water Plan, he adds, the OWRB has retooled its planning process through robust public participation that seeks to establish local needs based on citizen input, utilizing the state’s technical expertise to design projects. Similarly, Oklahoma is taking its water needs to the federal government and using its considerable expertise and experience to implement state water projects.

“For years, the Corps and other federal agencies have selected water projects based on national, rather than state, priorities and concerns. State water agencies, which are most familiar with the needs of their citizens, are rarely afforded input into the Congressional authorization and funding process and thus viable state projects are often overshadowed by the federal government’s perception of state needs. The result being that many projects are designed in response to local, rather than regional, problems and issues,” Smith explains.

“But today, with support from our federal partners, we’ve established a project evaluation process focusing on broad-based water planning initiatives that not only provides more bang for the buck, but results in defensible funding decisions. Working with our Congressional delegation and leadership in the Oklahoma Legislature, I am confident that very soon the Oklahoma Model will become the benchmark by which all cooperative planning will be measured,” Smith says.

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Jul 18 2009

GA/FL/AL: Lanier deadline in 2012


Lake Lanier area

Imagine the scenario: The summer of 2012 arrives, no common agreement among Georgia, Florida and Alabama (or Congress) has been reached – as it has not for many years – and then comes the crisis: Water for much of metropolitan Atlanta is simply shut off.

That’s the warning, and the demand for a common agreement, implicit in the July 17 decision of U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson. Lake Lanier, a water body in Georgia, for decades has been a source of water for metro Atlanta but also for parts of Alabama and Florida – it feeds rivers which run through those states – and the three states have battled for years over the diversions. The water has been diverted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Alabama filed a federal lawsuit over the matter in 1990, and Florida subsequently joined in.


Paul Magnuson

Magnuson’s ruling, which said that the man-made Lake Lanier was not originally built with the idea of use for water storage at all, could require that water withdrawals return to levels from 30 years and more ago. Atlanta then was a few smaller metro area than it is now. Where it would get the water to replace Lanier’s is unclear.

The judge said he would allow for three years for either the three states, or Congress, to resolve the impasse.

Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, who has been outspoken on the tri-state battle for years, remarked, “Obviously, I am deeply disappointed by Judge Magnuson’s decision today. His conclusions rely on decades-old assumptions about the construction of federal reservoirs and the role those reservoirs play in providing water supply for growing states such as Georgia. Our country has changed substantially since the 1940s, when many of these reservoirs were constructed, and I will use this opportunity not only to appeal the judge’s decision but, most importantly, to urge Congress to address the realities of modern reservoir usage. The judge’s ruling allows a three-year window for either Congressional action or an agreement by the states and we will work diligently with Georgia’s delegation and members of Congress to re-establish the proper use of federal reservoirs throughout the country.”

But congressional action could be difficult to come by; among other things, the three states might have a hard time finding allies as long as they disagree among themselves. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution suggested on July 18, “Getting Congress involved in the dispute opens up a whole new can of worms. Representatives of Alaska or New Jersey, for instance, might ultimately have a vote in deciding how much water Atlanta gets from Lake Lanier. And in keeping with the grand game of politics, to get the support of their peers, Georgia’s delegation might have to give up some political goodwill — and votes — on issues totally unrelated to the water dispute. Senators from another state might agree to vote in Georgia’s favor on a water bill, for example, but only if Georgia’s senators agree to vote with them on some new defense contract or transportation project for their state.”

Another aspect of the case involves the uses to which the water in the dam, and the electric power it generates, can be put.

A hydropower group described that aspect of the decision this way (in a prepared statement): Continue Reading »

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Jul 18 2009

NY: Limits to reservoir water?

Published by under New York

The New York Supreme Court appears on track to resolve a question – prompted by a lower court decision – about the criteria used to limit water draws from a Mohawk Valley reservoir.

Water from the Hinckley Reservoir historically has been drawn by the Mohawk Valley Water Authority. But in a decision in May, state Supreme Court Justice Samuel Hester delivered an opinion saying the authority could continue to obtain that much water – but not more, which is what it had sought.

The contract covering draws of water from the reservoir dates to early in the 20th century, and may be reviewed. So may patterns of water use in the area.

He wrote that the district’s basic use of water should require flows of about 35 feet per cubic second. The district, which is seeking to expand its operations, had requested more than double that.

The water authority said in July that it planned to appeal the decision, and so might at least three other parties.

[Utica (NY) Observer-Dispatch, July 17]

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Jul 16 2009

WA: Upper Yakima closed

Upper Kittitas

Kittitas development images/CELP

The Washington Department of Ecology on July 16 issued an emergency rule shutting down the upper Kittitas Valley groundwater basin – east of the Cascade Mountains roughly east of Seattle – to new wells, including wells exempt from ordinary filing requirements.

The decision marks something of a turnaround for Ecology, which had been more supportive of at least exempt well drilling in the area.

The Center for Environmental Law & Policy, which together with the local group Aua Permanente had sought restrictions, praised the decision.

CELP and Aqua outlined the background for the case as, “Currently more than 7,000 permit-exempt wells are being drilled EACH YEAR in Washington state. Exempt wells are fueling rural sprawl, and used in unlimited quantities for feedlots and dairies. Because these wells are not subject to regulation, there is no control over when and where they are drilled. There is also no control over the impact of these wells on other water users and on hydraulically connected streams. Counties have the power to determine that water is not available for new subdivisions and building permits. But they are generally unwilling (with a few exceptions) to exercise this authority. Thus, rampant new development is being built on exempt wells without oversight or consideration of public interests.”

The state Department of Ecology reported its rule-making decision this way:

After nearly two years of negotiations, Ecology was unable to gain a commitment from the Kittitas County Board of Commissioners that they were willing to move forward with a memorandum of agreement and alternative rule approach that would have limited the uncontrolled proliferation of so-called “exempt groundwater wells” in upper Kittitas County.

Since 1998, nearly 3,000 wells have been drilled in Kittitas County, prompting concerns that groundwater pumping in the headwaters region of the county threatens senior water users and streamflows in the Yakima Basin. A number of parties, including the citizens group Aqua Permanente, the Yakama Nation, and the city of Roslyn, have asked that Ecology close the groundwater to further appropriation while a groundwater study is completed. Continue Reading »

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