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Overusing wells?

 
Posts: 31
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I just read an article about farmers who use wells to water their crops. The State of Colorado is coming down on them for "overusing". Pretty sad.

http://www.yumapioneer.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4973&Itemid=39

I don't know much about farming, but I would think that permaculture has the answer.

Teach me Permies folks, I'm a newbie!
 
steward
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The State of Colorado is coming down on them for "overusing". Pretty sad.



Colorado has some of the strictest 'water rights' laws of all the western states.

What is sad, is the fact that water is very scarce in most parts of Colorado. Perhaps those farmers who are overusing the water have chosen crops that should not be grown in the region, or are trying to graze more animals than the land can sustain. If that is the case, they are operating in a fashion that cannot be sustainable...abusing the land.

A desert can only sustain certain quantities of selected crops. Trying to exceed those limits is foolish in the long run.
The state needs to enforce the limits, else the region will become unsuitable for any form of agriculture in the future.
If farmers become unrealistic or greedy, they will doom the entire region for future generations.

 
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Location: Pennsylvania
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colorado has water laws that control the aquifers that these wells are drawing from, just like other states have water rights for the flows in a stream or river. These farmers are using more water than they have the legal right to use depriving other water right owners the water that they have a legal right to.
kent
 
Tyler Ludens
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Ok, now that we've established that those farmers are wrong and bad, what can permaculture offer them to help them change their ways?

 
gardener
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For Permies to come of age and to take on watershed management we need to embrace watershed governance as a part of our systems design. Farmers are part of whole human systems, just as all parts of an ecological system are part of a greater whole, so each of us. I'd propose that the work necessary to manage watersheds is not that of individuals acting alone--and that is territory where permies are young. Many watersheds in the west have allocated more water than is in the river in may years. The principles can be applied to human systems as long as we recognize that human systems have unique flows.
 
pollinator
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Here’s my two cents:
Watching every move these farmers make to ensure that they don’t use too much water and then dragging them into court and prosecuting them costs money.

So since the government is already spending dollars on doing this --- they could instead spend the same money educating the farmers in techniques such as hugelkulter, other methods of dry farming and/or crops more appropriate to the region.

And they could spend some of that ‘subsidy’ money on helping those farmers make the conversion.
 
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I wonder if this excess pumping is due to the drought. Maybe it is a temporary condition highlighted by a busy body bureaucrat. The timing just seems odd.
 
John Polk
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There have been several 'water rights' issues in the news lately. It is very likely that the drought conditions are the driving force behind the governments 'playing their trump cards' at this time.

The big point to remember is that if you are planning to purchase land in this region, you should carefully study the water laws in the state you plan to build in (before you invest your life savings, or worse yet...go into debt).

If the property owner of a piece of land you are looking at has water rights, do NOT assume that those rights are included with the land. He may be keeping those rights for himself, will charge additional, or has plans to sell them to somebody else. Very seldom are those rights included in the deed.

Many of those water rights have been in the family for generations, and it is unlikely that they will be just given away.

Look before you leap. Each of these western states has its own water laws, so knowing the laws where you live will not protect you if you move across a state line.

If your fields are lush green, while your neighbor's are dead and brown, you can reasonably expect him to lodge a complaint with the water managers.

 
Tyler Ludens
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The groundwater conservation district I live in seems to have very little interest in improving watersheds. They seem to almost exclusively focus on limiting water use, mostly aimed at the urban areas, which is important, but considering the horrendous state of the watersheds in this region, it seems like they'd be a little more interested in watershed improvement. The only watershed enhancement practice they seem aware of is "brush control" probably mainly because everyone hates Cedar and wants to cut them down anyway. But nothing about using the cut brush to slow erosion. Most people make huge piles of it and burn it.

 
pollinator
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Gee, I hope my response will be measured enough to stick around. Doesn't seem like there should be that much controversy here. I think the permaculture response is to harvest and store Surface Water for agricultural systems (in soil organics, in ponds, using swales and keyline plowing, etc....either to minimize or eliminate irrigation or perhaps to provide some water for irrigation.

Deep wells under sealed bedrock are essentially providing fossil water. Aquifers are poorly mapped and poorly understood. Recharge areas can be hundreds or even thousands of miles away from your farm and are essentially beyond your management...and the groundwater is typically moving at only slightly more than a glacial pace through the formation. Deep Groundwater is somewhere in between a non renewable and a renewable resource....wells are a terrific resource that allow life to go on in arid regions, but i think using them for irrigation is short-sighted and dangerous. Knowing the static level in your well and the recharge rate can give you a good sense of what your well can handle...monitor for changes over the years and use conservatively for essentials.

It's fairly easy to add a device to measure the water level in your well for monitoring...one uses a length of small tubing / bike pump / pressure gauge, or you can make or buy an electronic probe.

Once a well is drilled it's essential to prevent contamination of the aquifer from surface waters...consider location of well, slopes, livestock facilities, etc, make sure the seals are good, and be aware of the possibility of unattended hoses back-siphoning past pumps and drawing contaminated water back into the well. Seal up apandoned or unused wells...

my two cents..
 
John Polk
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Even harvesting and/or storing water can be restricted in some of the western states.

As example, Utah recently lifted its ban on capturing rain runoff from your roof. The new restrictions are still pretty limited.
You may store up to 2,500 gallons in an underground cistern. If you want to store it above ground, you are limited to two tanks, neither of which can exceed 100 gallons. Three 55 gal drums would NOT be an acceptable substitute, even though it would be less than the 200 gal max.

In parts of Colorado, if your property is being served by a water supplier (municipal or private), you will not be given a permit to drill a well, nor can you capture any roof water.

In many areas, if your down slope neighbors are dependent on the natural rain water run off from your property, and you impede its flow, you are technically stealing their water. In my opinion, this is a perfect example where keyline plowing would be perfect. You could be fined/penalized for installing swales & berms, (or heavens forbid, a pond,) but what can they say if you [efficiently] plow your land (and add tons of organic matter)? If it all naturally soaks into your soil, there is no run off to 'steal'.

Washington recently rewrote some of their water laws. You can now capture/store all of your roof water any way you choose. Several environmental groups and Indian tribes fought this change for years, as they were concerned that it would prevent needed water from entering salmon streams. To keep both sides happy, the 'water cops' said that if, in the future, this proves to be a problem, they would revisit the issue.

 
Kari Gunnlaugsson
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The bit where people are worrying that roof catchments would reduce input to salmon streams sounds a bit hysterical. With all of the hardened surfaces in a developed urban or suburban environment there is going to be way, way more water input into the stream than ever before...the problem is that it's going to be 'flashy' or intense and episodic..and it's going to be contaminated with all sorts of god-knows-what. I think that rather than worrying about homeowners with rainbarrels they should be mobilizing against conventional paving and parking lots, and re-vegetating riparian areas and buffer zones. Slowing / moderating stream inputs off suburban roofs by harvesting and letting it percolate through organics in soils and through garden vegetation I would think would be pretty much entirely beneficial in evening out stream flow and cleaning up water.

Are there any working environmental scientists left down there? Our government seems bent on running them out.

There are lots of paving stone systems that allow water infiltration in hardened traffic surfaces and take the flash out of urban water environments, they should be in much more widespread use.

It's all a bit off topic from overusing wells though, sorry..
 
John Polk
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The bit where people are worrying that roof catchments would reduce input to salmon streams sounds a bit hysterical.



Agreed. Fortunately, I believe the people working for the water resources agency were astute enough to see through that argument. I believe that the rules were changed mostly for western WA, which get a lot of rain. Much of that run off needs to pass through water treatment plants before being dumped into the lakes and Puget Sound. If they could get every homeowner to capture their rainwater and use it in the garden, the western communities could save million$ on the treatment process. Perhaps if every home did this, it could affect the amount of water entering those streams. It would take a lot of roofs to make a measurable difference.

For the eastern half of the state, in the rain shadow of the Cascades, every drop that gets captured and used in the gardens is another drop that the municipal systems do not need to treat and distribute.

Many western regions could help solve their water problems if the tax assessor would visit all homes in August. Measure how many square feet of lawn was still alive after (no rain) summer. Add it to the 'value' of the home, and tax accordingly. Lawns would become a thing of the past.

 
Paul Cereghino
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Dungeness in N. Olympic Peninsula (more W. WA USA) is another system where summer water withdrawal leaves the river hot and shallow. Some of the strategies there involve catching peak winter flow, and using the same irrigation diversion system to spread it out in the landscape to recharge groundwater in winter, to help reduce the impact of wells on summer base flow. Again... these are all governance/public infrastructure based solutions, where you need to get thousands of people to not disagree (maybe with a few third party law suits thrown in.) Since we are expecting another 2 million people in the next 40 years, not including climate change refugees, these kinds of issues aren't going away. WA Growth Mgmt Hearings board just declared local percolation (AKA Low Impact Development or "LID") as a proved stormwater management approach--but hasn't connected the dots between local water percolation and food production in urban and suburban settings where we have dry summer. Sounds like an opportunity for Permies that can translate Permiculturese into the dominant vernacular...
 
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