All posts by Steve

EPA’s Strategy to Protect America’s Waters

Water World

The US Environmental Protection Agency plans to complete a full assessment of US water resources to establish a baseline for tracking progress as part of its recently released strategy for protecting America’s water resources. In “Coming Together for Clean Water,” EPA outlines a basic framework for how its water program will address the nation’s clean water challenges in the next few years.

EPA’s strategy includes working to protect healthy waters, restore waters that are already impaired, expand actions to keep all waters clean, and continue to build projects and programs that support environmental sustainability, economic growth, and meet a wide range of community needs.

While carrying out the actions outlined in its plan EPA said it will rely on the rule of law and seek creative and more effective ways to implement the Clean Water Act. The agency said it will also rely on “robust science and cutting-edge technologies,” particularly in emerging areas such as climate adaptation, agricultural manure treatment, ecosystem services, integrated watershed approaches, and emerging pollutants.

Developing a Baseline

EPA and other agencies have already begun the process of developing a baseline assessment of US water systems. The National Aquatic Resource Surveys (NARS) have provided information on the condition of inland and coastal waters using direct measures of aquatic life and ranking chemical and physical stressors. These surveys provide a baseline for the state of water quality across the nation against which statistically significant changes can be tracked at the national and regional scales.

An EPA/state “Monitoring and Assessment Partnership” is working to identify opportunities to further enhance the NARS program to support state and tribal water management needs, and identify and track healthy, threatened, and impaired waters. EPA will complete the first set of five Aquatic Resource Surveys to provide a complete picture of the condition of all waterbody types across the nation by 2012, and begin implementing a second set of surveys to track changes in water quality.

Protection of Healthy Waters

EPA will implement a range of actions to ensure that healthy waters are protected and prevent further pollution of lakes, rivers and streams. The agency will explore, develop, and make available more effective methods for ecological assessment, and the classification and identification of healthy watersheds. In partnership with state and local governments and stakeholders, the agency will also develop outreach and education materials targeting public awareness.

Finally, EPA will use CWA tools to better protect high quality waters. That could include revising regulations for water quality standards to strengthen antidegradation provisions, and protect headwaters that are threatened by resource extraction activities.

Restore Waters

In addition to the work underway in the Chesapeake Bay as part of the President’s recent Executive Order 13508, EPA will work toward the protection and restoration of the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico.

In the wake of the Deepwater BP oil spill, the agency will lead efforts to restore and improve the ecological health of the Gulf of Mexico, working with state, tribal, non-governmental, and academic partners to ensure that the Gulf’s waters are restored and protected.

EPA also is leading a multi-agency effort to restore and protect the Great Lakes through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. In other parts of the nation, focus will remain on nutrient pollution, which threatens the long-term health of important ecosystems such as the Mississippi River Basin.

Reducing the amount of nutrient pollution reaching waters is a top priority for EPA. The agency said it will work in close partnership with federal, state and local stakeholders using the best available peer-reviewed science along with regulatory and voluntary tools to achieve the desired goals. The agency said it recognizes that states need room to innovate and respond to local water quality needs, so a one-size-fits-all approach to nitrogen and phosphorus pollution is neither desirable nor necessary.

Action items include determining needed nutrient load reduction targets to restore and maintain water quality, and development of numeric nutrient water quality standards. As an added step, the agency said it would advance an open dialogue between USDA, states, and local stakeholders/landowners to determine how all parties can best cooperate to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution from agricultural nonpoint sources.

Reduce Pollution from Discrete Sources

EPA said it will increase protection of U.S. waters from pollution by reducing current loadings and preparing for substantial predicted increases associated with development, urbanization, climate change and other factors. EPA will strengthen regulatory and enforcement actions to address water quality challenges and strategically undertake necessary modifications to current regulations to make them clear and enforceable.

The agency also plans to address increasing concerns about the potential for public health and environmental impacts in the vicinity of hydraulic fracturing and other resource extraction operations by relying on the best available science and statutory authority to ensure a balanced approach that helps the U.S. meet its energy needs in a sustainable and cost effective way.

The Office of Research and Development is currently examining the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and water resources. Based on the results of that study, EPA will work with federal partners and stakeholders to clarify CWA requirements for hydraulic fracturing wastewaters.

The agency also plans to strengthen the NPDES program to reduce pollution from point sources, including developing NPDES permit requirements to control pesticide discharges, information gathering for CAFOS, reducing pollution from sewage treatment plants, and developing effluent guidelines for key sectors such as steam electric, etc.

EPA will also promote the use of green infrastructure in combined sewer overflow (CSO) and municipal separate sanitary sewer system (MS4s) control plans as a complement or as an alternative to traditional grey infrastructure solutions. It will establish performance standards for stormwater discharges for new and redevelopment that will facilitate the use of green infrastructure to reduce pollutant discharges and realize other community and environmental benefits.

Sustainable Practices

EPA said it plans to develop and implement a renewed strategy on green infrastructure and innovative technologies to promote sustainable and cost effective practices. The agency will also support integrated water management at the state and local level, and will encourage solutions that reduce infrastructure costs and promote more efficient, regionally coordinated resource use.

Urban Waters is an interagency effort lead by EPA to work with local communities and cities to transform urban waterways into centerpieces of urban revitalization. This effort targets underserved areas and brings together state, tribal, federal, and local partners in an effort to foster understanding, public access, and enhanced stewardship of our urban water commons. A number of pilot projects are now under way.

Key actions include developing a systematic strategy to make green infrastructure an available tool for meeting CWA requirements. The agency will also develop policies and help direct attention toward more sustainable water management practices that better integrate water quantity, quality, energy requirements, carbon emissions, development, and land use at the watershed and aquifer levels.

To that end, the agency will encourage states to use the Clean Water State Revolving Funds (CWSRF) for projects that are consistent with EPA’s new Clean Water and Drinking Water Sustainability Policy. EPA will continue to work with states to ensure that all CWSRF programs meet the mandated requirement to use at least 20 percent of FY 2011 appropriated funds for green projects such as green infrastructure, water efficiency projects, energy efficiency projects, and other innovative approaches.

To read the full strategy, “Coming Together for Clean Water,” visit


Drought claims drinking water, crops in Ga

Atlanta Business Chronicle – by Carla Caldwell , Morning Call Editor

Date: Friday, June 17, 2011, 5:21am EDT

Severe drought conditions in central and South Georgia are causing wells to run dry and in some cases digging deeper isn’t helping. Emergency officials are trucking water in to some rural cities including Dawson and Doerun, Georgia Public Broadcasting is reporting.

In some cases farmers are using the water they have to save crops. Trent Mason, a pecan farmer in Fort Valley, said he is using his well to irrigate trees 12 hours a day, adding conditions are worse than during the last drought in 2007. He said he hasn’t had rain since April 1.

Farmers are reporting they expect huge losses due to the drought. Gov. Nathan Deal is seeking federal disaster relief for 22 counties. Agriculture is Georgia’s biggest industry.

Report: South to lose 23M acres of forests

Atlanta Business Chronicle – by Carla Caldwell , Morning Call Editor

Date: Wednesday, May 18, 2011, 4:51am EDT

The South is expected to lose 23 million acres of forests over the next 50 years due to urbanization, weather patterns, land ownership changes, invasive species, and the use of bio-energy, according to a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Forest Service, Reuters is reporting.

In Georgia and the Carolinas the decline could be as much as 22 percent. In Florida, as much as 30 percent of forests could be lost, according to the forest service.

“The summary report clearly demonstrates the urgent need for developing a collaborative strategy to conserve and restore southern forests,” Forest Service Southern Regional Forester Liz Agpaoa said in a statement.

The loss of forest land will result in more runoff water and decreased water quality along with an increase in the frequency and severity of wildfires, analysis and computer models found, the report says.

The study is the first in-depth forecast on forests in the South prepared by the agency and was compiled with the input of more than 30 scientists, foresters and other experts with the Forest Service, state forestry agencies and universities, according to a statement.

A Carbon Footprint Begets a Water Footprint


Becoming water wise.

Photo courtesy of Britt Udesen (aka Idaho Squatcher).  See her videos on YouTube.

If you have a carbon footprint, you also have a water footprint.  While the idea of calculating your carbon footprint has caught on and carbon calculators are all the rage (for good reason), few are paying attention to their water footprints.  We all know that as Americans, we are the Sasquatch of the planet, rapaciously consuming vast quantities of raw materials, animal products, energy, water, you name it.  But, did you know that every time you turn on the light switch, not only are you consuming energy and adding to your carbon footprint, you are also adding to your water footprint?  The volume of water required to produce power depends upon the energy source, and varies from zero for wind energy to a whopping 70 m3/GJ for biomass energy.  Thus, powering one home for a year on electricity produced from oil implies a water footprint of some 9,500 gallons of water (assuming one home requires 36 GJ power per year).  Everywhere we see a carbon footprint – in the fertilizer, gasoline, electricity and other inputs required to raise, process, transport and refrigerate our food; in the mining and processing of raw materials for electronics; or in the production of cotton for and manufacturing of clothing; we see a concurrent water footprint, the largest portion of which is often directly connected to energy use.

Primary energy carriers Global average water footprint (m3/GJ)
Non-renewable Natural gas 0.11
Coal 0.16
Crude oil 1.06
Uranium 0.09
Renewable Wind energy 0.00
Solar thermal energy 0.27
Hydropower 22
Biomass energy 70 (range: 10-250)

Source: Water Footprint Network

So, when you pause to decide whether or not to turn that light off, you might think about how you’ll be donating some water to the Chinook salmon fry in the nearest river.  Turn it off.  (During Earth Hour this past weekend (March 26, 2011 at 8:30 pm), people across the planet did just that as a stand against climate change.  See what you can do to Go Beyond the Hour.)

The Hydroleaf

A Solar-Powered Rainwater Purification System and Drinking Fountain

By Katherine Gloede on January 12, 2011

Mostafa Bonakdar
, a design student from Tehran, recently launched a design for a solar powered rainwater catchment system. The Hydroleaf is a unique device that collects rainwater, then uses solar energy to power a water purification system which supplies a fountain on the same device.

The public hydration station features a photovoltaic solar canopy at the top of the structure that uses solar energy to power a water purification system. Rainwater is collected at the top of the structure and funneled through the purification system. A drinking fountain on the bottom of the Hydroleaf supplies the public with the purified water. The container is able to store up to approximately 60 liters of filtered water. The solar panels also offer a small shelter, perfect for covering a park bench or acting a bus stop.

The Hydroleaf has come with some critique including possible impracticality of the device due its high energy use. The ability for the structure to withstand harsh winter weather or high wind has also been called into question. The design has also merited much praise as it is a self-contained system that utilizes clean energy for water purification. Should the design prove efficient and practical, the Hydroleaf might someday provide safe drinking water to the masses, greatly reducing dependence on plastic water bottles and giving more people access to clean drinking water. We hope to see these in cities everywhere in the future.

Coolest Water Fountain


This spacey looking device is a real working public rain water filtering system called SKYWATER, developed in South Korea. Rain is collected from the ring and sent to holding tanks underground. When the flexible house is manipulated, water is sent back up thru the filtration system and out comes fresh drinking water. I have no idea why it looks the way it does but aesthetics aside, this is about the coolest water fountain I’ve ever seen.

Designer: Ji-youn Kim

Yanko Design


























There Will Be Water

T. Boone Pickens thinks water is the new oil—and he’s betting $100 million that he’s right

Pickens hopes to run a water pipeline over 250 miles and 650 tracts of private property from the Texas Panhandle to thirsty Dallas Nancy Newberry

by Susan Berfield


Roberts County is a neat square in a remote corner of the Texas Panhandle, a land of rolling hills, tall grass, oak trees, mesquite, and cattle. It has a desolate beauty, a striking sparseness. The county encompasses 924 square miles and is home to fewer than 900 people. One of them is T. Boone Pickens, the oilman and corporate raider, who first bought some property here in 1971 to hunt quail. He’s now the largest landowner in the county: His Mesa Vista ranch sprawls across some 68,000 acres. Pickens has also bought up the rights to a considerable amount of water that lies below this part of the High Plains in a vast aquifer that came into existence millions of years ago.

If water is the new oil, T. Boone Pickens is a modern-day John D. Rockefeller. Pickens owns more water than any other individual in the U.S. and is looking to control even more. He hopes to sell the water he already has, some 65 billion gallons a year, to Dallas, transporting it over 250 miles, 11 counties, and about 650 tracts of private property. The electricity generated by an enormous wind farm he is setting up in the Panhandle would also flow along that corridor. As far as Pickens is concerned, he could be selling wind, water, natural gas, or uranium; it’s all a matter of supply and demand. “There are people who will buy the water when they need it. And the people who have the water want to sell it. That’s the blood, guts, and feathers of the thing,” he says.

In the coming decades, as growing numbers of people live in urban areas and climate change makes some regions much more prone to drought, water—or what many are calling “blue gold”—will become an increasingly scarce resource. By 2030 nearly half of the world’s population will inhabit areas with severe water stress, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development. Pickens understands that. And while Texas is unusually lax in its laws about pumping groundwater, the rush to control water resources is gathering speed around the planet. In Australia, now in the sixth year of a drought, brokers in urban areas are buying up water rights from farmers. Rural residents around the U.S. are trying to sell their land (and water) to multi- national water bottlers like Nestlé (BW—Apr. 14). Companies that use large quantities of the precious resource to run their businesses are seeking to lock up water supplies. One is Royal Dutch Shell, which is buying groundwater rights in Colorado as it prepares to drill for oil in the shale deposits there.

Into this environment comes Pickens, who made a good living for a long time extracting oil and gas and now, at 80, believes the era of fossil fuel is over. So far he has spent $100 million and eight years on his project and still has not found any city in Texas willing to buy his water. But like many others, Pickens believes there’s a fortune to be made in slaking the thirst of a rapidly growing population. If he pumps as much as he can, he could sell about $165 million worth of water to Dallas each year. “The idea that water can be sold for private gain is still considered unconscionable by many,” says James M. Olson, one of America’s preeminent attorneys specializing in water- and land-use law. “But the scarcity of water and the extraordinary profits that can be made may overwhelm ordinary public sensibilities.”


Pickens, an Oklahoma native, geologist, and someone who calls himself the luckiest guy in the world, is the quintessential entrepreneur. He started as a wildcatter in 1956; three decades later his Mesa Petroleum was the largest independent exploration company in the U.S. But that’s not how Pickens made a name for himself—it was his hostile bids, one after the other through the 1980s, for oil companies far more powerful, far wealthier than his own. Pickens thought they could do more for their shareholders. He never took over any of them. He did, however, push them into deals they might not have considered otherwise, which helped reshape the oil industry.

He did, sometimes, make hundreds of millions when he sold his stakes. And shareholders did, often, benefit. He was briefly the most famous businessman in America, a corporate raider who always wished people would call him a shareholder activist.

By the mid-1990s, though, Pickens had fallen. After a brutal and expensive fight with Unocal, he gave up his raiding. He lost control of Mesa Petroleum after a series of financial and managerial miscalculations. He went through an expensive divorce from his second wife and retreated to his ranch. It was in the midst of this that he acquired a newfound regard for water as a commodity that should be bought, sold, and traded for the benefit of those who own it and those who can afford it.

In 1996 a local water utility made its first big purchase of groundwater rights in the Panhandle. The utility, known as the Canadian River Municipal Water Authority (CRMWA), bought nearly 43,000 acres of water, some of it just south of Pickens’ ranch, for $14.5 million. (Property owners in Texas, and elsewhere, can sell their water separately from the land above it.) That Roberts County would become the stomping ground for the Panhandle water wars was perhaps inevitable. Underneath it lies one of the world’s largest repositories of water, moving slowly among layers of gravel, sand, and silt. The Ogallala Aquifer stretches from Texas to South Dakota and contains a quadrillion gallons of water—enough to cover the U.S. mainland to a depth of almost two feet. Yet the extensive irrigation necessary to grow corn, cotton, and wheat in west Texas has left the Ogallala nearly depleted in some places. It is not an aquifer that is easily or quickly replenished. But the land in Roberts County is unsuited for agriculture, and so the Ogallala there is largely untapped.

Since the early 1900s, groundwater use in Texas has been governed by what’s quaintly called the rule of capture, otherwise described as the biggest pump wins. It lets landowners pump as much water as they can, even if doing so drains neighboring properties. This put Pickens in an uncomfortable position: If he didn’t sell his water to CRMWA, the utility could potentially suck some of it right out from under his ranch. So he tried. But “they told me to kiss off,” he says. Kent Satterwhite, who was then assistant general manager, says: “Boone was fairly insistent that we buy his water. It made him mad that we didn’t have the money to buy it.” That was the first of several contretemps between Pickens and various local water authorities. Pickens next approached the city of Amarillo, which also had begun to acquire water rights in Roberts County. It wasn’t interested, either, though it did purchase water from several other nearby landowners. “Amarillo was pissed off at me,” says Pickens, who has a long and fraught history with the city. When Amarillo turned him down, Pickens felt surrounded. “I had to find a buyer for my water,” he says, “or I was going to be drained.”


There’s a saying in Texas: “Whiskey’s for drinking. Water’s for fighting.” Pickens decided to fight. In 1999 he created a company called Mesa Water and began to accumulate water rights so he could strike a deal with another city altogether. The hell with Amarillo. Pickens was confident he could sell his water: The population of Texas was expected to jump 40% by 2020, mostly in urban areas one dry season away from drought.

Pickens’ decision to get into the water business was regarded by some in the Panhandle as nothing more, or less, than a shrewd move by a man who knows the value of commodities. The economy of the High Plains region is based on people taking out the natural resources and selling them. If water that can’t be used for farming ends up in the taps of city residents hundreds of miles away, that’s fine. Pickens says he’s buying stranded, surplus water that needs to be rescued. Kim Flowers, who runs an 8,300-acre ranch in Roberts County, speaks for many landowners when she says: “People can do with their water as they wish as long as they’re not wasting it.”

In all, Pickens, CRMWA, and Amarillo have spent about $150 million to buy up nearly 80% of the water rights in Roberts County, undermining and outbidding one another along the way. One unsurprising effect of their competition is that the price of an acre of water has in some places doubled, to $600. That’s something in which Pickens takes pride. Much as he did in the 1980s, when he went after big oil companies he believed weren’t doing right by their shareholders, Pickens now talks about creating value for Roberts County landowners. They make money from selling their water while continuing to live, run cattle, and hunt on their property. “I told them I was going to raise the value of the land, and I accomplished that. The landowners are all tickled to death. I made our water worth something. And anybody with any sense would sell it.”

Not all Roberts County landowners wanted to do business with him, though. Pickens intended to pull water from an aquifer that is pretty much the sole source for the Panhandle, and that isn’t refilled quickly, and sell it to a place like Dallas, whose water use is the highest of any city in Texas. This seemed ludicrous, even reckless, to some. C.E. Williams runs the Panhandle Groundwater Conservation District, which is responsible for managing the competing demands on the region’s share of the Ogallala. He puts it this way: “As a district, we cannot pick and choose where the water goes. But personally I am concerned. I have a son who is an irrigated farmer, and I have grandkids, and I want to make sure that they can conduct commerce when they want to.”

Pickens has a way of dismissing the complexity of a situation, sometimes even the possibility of an opinion contrary to his own. In this case, any opposition to his plan from anyone who is not a Roberts County landowner, who is not essentially a shareholder in this venture, he deems irrelevant. Williams, he points out, doesn’t himself have any property. “Water is a commodity,” he says. “Heck, isn’t it like oil? You have to come back to who owns the water. The groundwater is owned by the landowner. That’s it.” When it comes to potential buyers, Pickens cares about only one thing: how much they’re willing to pay. “Do I care what Dallas does with the water? Hell no.”

Republican State Representative Warren Chisum is a Roberts County rancher who owns 12,000 acres next to Pickens and sold his water to Amarillo in 2001. He would seem to be a natural ally. He’s not. “My water will remain local,” he says. “It’s controversial to ship it out of the Panhandle. When we run out, we’re done. The long-term value is to keep it here. That’s contrary to what Pickens wants to do. It’s his water. But he won’t be here in 50 years.”

In 2002, Pickens began approaching several of Texas’ sprawling cities, all of which share one defining feature: Their populations are growing so quickly that they are constantly in need of new supplies of water. But with water, as with so much else, location is critical. And Pickens’ water is far, far away from anyplace that might buy it. Pickens knew he’d have to build a pipeline, and to do so at anything resembling a reasonable cost, he’d need the power of eminent domain—the right of a government entity to force the sale of private property for the public good. Water utilities have that right. If Dallas agreed to buy Pickens’ water, it could extend such authority to him. But Dallas deemed Pickens’ price too high and declined to do a deal. So Pickens and his executives tried to create a Fresh Water Supply District—a government entity that would have that power. But they couldn’t get it through.

Over the next several years, Pickens continued accumulating water rights and began to lease other land, this time with the idea of creating the world’s biggest wind farm. “One of the great wind areas is right up where we are,” says Robert L. Stillwell, Pickens’ general counsel. “You can set it right on top of where the water is.” And since, one day anyway, Dallas may well buy both, Mesa could use a single right-of-way for the water pipeline and the electric lines.

In Roberts County there would be real economic benefits from the wind farm. “The wind is meant to sweeten the deal,” says Representative Chisum. “The big money for Pickens is in the water.”

It had been a decade since Pickens first realized the potential value of the water deposited eons ago in the sand below the High Plains. Now it was time to employ the one resource he hadn’t yet used: his lobbying clout.


In January, 2007, the Texas Legislature convened in the grand statehouse in Austin. The 80th session turned out to be very productive, and one person who kept busy during that time was J.E. Buster Brown, a former state senator and one of the most powerful lobbyists in town. Among Brown’s clients is Mesa Water. “My job is primarily defensive,” Brown says of his work for Pickens. “I’m watching to make sure there is no legislation passed that creates obstacles to Pickens doing what he wants to do. I’m supposed to make sure nothing bad happens.”

Brown did more than that: He helped win Pickens a key new legal right. It was contained in an amendment to a major piece of water legislation. The amendment, one of more than 100 added after the bill had been reviewed in the House, allowed a water-supply district to transmit alternative energy and transport water in a single corridor, or right-of-way. “We helped move that along,” says Stillwell. “We thought it would be handy and helpful to everyone.”

After the bill passed, Tom “Smitty” Smith, Texas director of Public Citizens, an advocacy group, says several legislators were drinking coffee and reading through it. “Uh-oh,” one said. They’d just realized the amendment would help Pickens build his pipeline. “Many legislators were watching for this play,” Smith says, “and it still snuck by.” State Senator Robert Duncan, a Republican who represents Lubbock, says: “It probably should have raised our suspicions, but we were moving a lot of bills. And it would have been hard to hold up this one even if we’d discovered the amendment.”

Pickens still needed the power of eminent domain if he was going to build his pipeline and wind-power lines across private land. And by happy coincidence, the legislators passed a smaller bill that made that all the easier. The new legislation loosened the requirements for creating a water district. Previously, a district’s five elected supervisors needed to be registered voters living within the boundaries of the district. Now, they only had to own land in the district; they could live and vote wherever. The bill, as it happens, was put forth by two legislators from Houston; Brown says he and Mesa had nothing to do with it. “That wasn’t our bill,” says Brown. “I wish I could take credit for it.”

Pickens moved quickly to take advantage of the new rules. Over the summer of 2007, he sold eight acres on the back side of his ranch to five people in his employ: Stillwell, who resides in Houston, two of his executives in Dallas, and the couple who manage his ranch, Alton and Lu Boone. A few days later, Mesa Water filed a petition to create an eight-acre water-supply district with those five as the directors and sole members. On Nov. 6, Roberts County held an election to decide whether to form the new district. Only two people were qualified to take part: Alton and Lu Boone. The vote was unanimous. With that, Pickens won the right to issue tax-free bonds for his pipeline and electrical lines as well as the extraordinary power to claim land across swaths of the state.

No one at Mesa regards Roberts County Fresh Water Supply District No. 1 as an unusual arrangement. “We’re no different from any other water or electricity supplier,” says Stillwell, meaning they, too, would use the power of eminent domain only as a last resort and for the public good. As for the suggestion that he wouldn’t have qualified to be a board member under the old rules, Stillwell says: “It doesn’t matter that I’m on the board. It would have been another me, just a local me.”


Pickens was ready to reach out to landowners along the route. In April, 2008, Mesa sent out some 1,100 letters to people along the 250-mile proposed right-of-way, from Miami, Tex.

, to a town called Jacksboro, just short of Dallas. The letters included a Texas landowners’ bill of rights, information on the condemnation procedure, a map of the route, and a list of open houses they could attend for more information.

One stifling evening in May, about 50 people showed up at the Twin Lakes Community Activity Center just outside Jacksboro. When the ranchers arrived, more than a dozen of Mesa’s public-relations consultants, hydrologists, and land men were waiting for them. Standing behind tables laid out with pens, cups, hats, and bags with the District No. 1 logo, the officials were available to answer questions about the 250-foot-wide corridor Mesa would use to construct, maintain, and possibly expand the pipeline and electric lines. While this arrangement allowed everyone to get information specific to their property, it also precluded any public questioning of the Mesa standard-bearers. This did not go unnoticed by the ranchers. “We’re not happy,” said one. “Pickens is pushing his power trip on us. I can’t fight his money. But if he asked first, I might have thought better of it.” Another said: “Land goes way back for a lot of people here. If you tell people you want their land, Texans raise their guns.” At the end of the evening, most of the pens and hats and cups still lay on the tables.

Pickens isn’t bothered that by his invoking the right of eminent domain, Mesa has inflamed landowners up and down the route. “It always does,” he says. Mesa expects to acquire the land it needs in the next 18 months and pay about $30 million for it; Pickens wants to begin construction on the $1.2 billion pipeline right afterward. It should take about three years to complete. If all goes according to plan, Mesa will be able to pump enough water to satisfy the needs of some 1.5 million Texans every day.

Pickens hopes to strike a deal with Dallas or the urban areas around it before Mesa starts building the pipeline. “Eventually they will need it,” he says. So far, though, the talks might best be characterized as preliminary. “We continue to meet with Pickens’ staff and engineers to get a better understanding of the proposal and so they can understand what our needs are,” says Mike Rickman, assistant general manager of the North Texas Municipal Water District, which supplies water to 13 cities north and east of Dallas. “Mesa has a lot of water. But how much will it cost to buy it and deliver it?” Rickman says that at some point he would have to consider the consequences for the Ogallala: “Does it make sense to take water from an arid portion of the state? We don’t want to harm our neighbors out there.”

In Roberts County, people hold on to the hope that pumping from the Ogallala can be controlled. In 1998, as Pickens and local water utilities began buying up water rights, the groundwater conservation district placed some restrictions on the rule of capture that it calls the 50-50 rule: Anyone who receives a new permit to pump can draw down the aquifer by only 50% over the next 50 years. Later, an additional limit of 1.2% per year was set. These essentially manage the depletion of the Ogallala under Roberts County; there, it is replenished at a rate of only 0.1% a year. Williams, who put the rules into place, says: “It’s like taking dollar bills out of your bank account and putting nickels back in. Even with a big bank account, there’s an end. That’s pretty much what’s happening in the Ogallala.”

Pickens has promised to abide by the 50-50 rule. “I don’t have any concerns about depleting the aquifer. All I’m doing is selling surplus water,” he says. “I’m not about to drain all the water out of Roberts County. I have my ranch there. But I could sure take it down 50% and not hurt anybody. And it could make a lot of people a lot of money.”

Join a debate about bottled water.

Berfield is an associate editor at BusinessWeek .

Ga. reservoirs bill headed to Governor’s desk

Atlanta Business Chronicle – by Dave Williams , Staff Writer

Date: Thursday, March 31, 2011, 12:17pm EDT

Dave Williams
Staff Writer

The Georgia General Assembly’s most significant water-policy legislation of 2011 is on its way to Gov. Nathan Deal.

The Georgia Senate voted unanimously Thursday to agree to House amendments to a reservoirs bill senators already had approved early this month. The Senate agreement gave the measure final passage, avoiding a risky return trip the House, which had approved the bill by a razor-thin margin on Wednesday.

The reservoirs legislation is a follow-up to last year’s passage of a water conservation bill, as Georgia’s political leaders seek to come to grips with a need for additional water resources that has become more critical since a 2009 federal court ruling threatening Lake Lanier’s future as a regional water supply.

The reservoirs bill would authorize local governments and water utilities to form public-private partnerships to finance and build reservoirs and other water-related improvements.

Public-private water projects could be financed completely on the local level, using local government funds and private investment, or receive state assistance through loans from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.

On Thursday, Sen. Ross Tolleson, R-Perry, chairman of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, told a colleague during a brief discussion that GEFA loans would not constitute an unconstitutional gratuity to private entities.

The most significant change the House made to the bill was to remove a requirement that disputes over contracts involving water projects be settled only through binding arbitration.

So Much Rain! Why Not Put It To Work?

Exasperated that our wet winters turn into water-scarce summers?              Get your own 1000-gallon rain barrel.

By Christopher Pollon, 24 Mar 2011,

DANGER: Drinking this toilet water could be hazardous to your health.

That’s the message required above every rainwater-flushing toilet installed at Vancouver’s Olympic Village, where water is collected from the roof, stored in a giant holding tank, and pumped as needed for each flush.

The sign is necessary, because bringing rain indoors breaches a fundamental orthodoxy of the North American plumbing world: behind the walls, pipes carrying potable municipal water mingle with those carrying potentially unsanitary rain. On paper, building codes for Vancouver and elsewhere in B.C. do not currently allow the practice of indoor rain water plumbing. In a post-Walkerton regulatory environment, there is immense discomfort on the part of building inspectors at the prospect of mixing private and public water supplies. (See sidebar.)

In spite of this, there are about 25,000 rain water capture systems operating across B.C. today — used to water lawns and crops, flush toilets and provide drinking water for people and livestock. There are about 5,000 rain systems on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands alone, in areas where seasonal droughts and dodgy well water make it a necessity.

As municipalities and cities explore ways to work with the deluge of water that falls from the sky (more than a metre of rain typically falls annually in Vancouver), the most promising use will be for irrigation of lawns and gardens in the near future. This could be good and bad.

“I have a worry that rainwater is starting to get trendy,” says Bob Burgess, a B.C. rainwater harvesting pioneer and founder of The Rainwater Connection which designs and builds all sorts of rain capture systems. “More and more people are doing it, and doing terrible jobs of it. It may not be too long before we have our little Walkerton for rainwater.”

Looking to the skies

A basic rain harvesting system captures water from a roof and channels it to a storage tank, where it is then pumped to where it is needed. Along the way, the rain undergoes any number of different filters and cleaning methods depending on the end use: to make it potable for drinking, it will require filtration and any combination of UV sanitizing and chlorine-injection; water strictly for watering plants will be cleaned less.

Big municipal fleets are among the early adopters: White Rock currently washes some of its trucks with rain, as does Vancouver; the Regional District of Nanaimo captures rain off two large Parksville recycling transfer buildings and uses it to wash their interior concrete floors.

Commercial greenhouses in places like Delta and Langley have already taken rainwater recycling to a high art: many operations capture and use rain for watering, then continually recapture from the soil, filter and reuse.

Toilet flushing with rain is more complicated, often requiring a separate indoor plumbing system to move it within the building, as well as time-consuming consultations with municipal building officials to get approval. (See sidebar.) Such projects often occur in big “green” building developments like the Olympic Village. Developers often earn points toward LEED certification for such water conservation measures, providing the incentive to go through all the trouble.

Then there are those who use rain water out of dire necessity — usually for drinking. As early as the 1960s, farmers in theLower Fraser Valley and on Vancouver Island started to notice their groundwater was being contaminated by synthetic fertilizers and manure. Burgess still gets regular calls from farmers looking for cleaner sources of water for their cattle, horses, and families.

Many rainwater drinkers started out like Burgess himself: he retired to a piece of land served by a bad well (he lives and works on Thetis Island in the Gulf Islands) — and looked to the sky for solutions.

He says 75 per cent of the people currently using rain for potable water in B.C. have no choice; another 25 per cent have the option of drilling a well (with no guarantee of success), but choose rainwater. There is also a tiny but growing number of people who want to conserve water for the sake of conservation — a move that also provides more control over the contents of the water. (See sidebar for ballpark rain system costs, including potable.)

A barrel of possibilities

Burgess says using rain for irrigation holds the greatest promise in changing how residential consumers and many municipalities consume and conserve water.

Each summer, the demand for treated water almost doubles across the Lower Mainland, due almost entirely to lawn watering, at the very time when rainfall is lowest. Peak summer water demand typically occurs sometime in July each year, when the masses are soaking their lawns to keep their grass green. It is this peak demand that drives the costs of our entire water system — everything from budgeting water needs to determining the size of our pipes.

“The single best thing municipalities could be doing is providing the means for Mr. And Mrs. Smith to have a 1,000 gallon rain barrel full of water in July,” says Burgess. He says ubiquitous rain watering systems, fitted with a simple fixture to allow rain tanks to be topped up with municipal water as needed at night, would solve the costs and strains of meeting this peak demand.

A high quality rain irrigation system: rain travels down the roof, through a black debris box (which filters out fir needles and organics) into the 520 (imperial) gallon tank. The tank has an overflow to storm water drain, and a first flush diverter pipe (to same drain) to flush away the initial water that comes off the roof during a rain — which is the most polluted water.

Many others agree. As lawn sprinkling rules get moreonerous, rain harvesting is going to start making more sense, says Bruce Hemstock, a principle at Vancouver landscape architects PWL Partnership — which designed the Vancouver Convention Centre’s 2.4-hectare “living roof.” “Summers are starting to get a little longer and drier, and we’ll get to a point where we won’t be watering our lawns [with potable water] at all.”

What needs to change?

Kenneth Chow says rainwater irrigation has a bright future, and he should know. Chow is a “building code consultant” with Pioneer Consultants — basically an enabler who helped Olympic Village developers earn the “equivalencies” required to get rain water toilets installed and approved. He says using rain for irrigation is much simpler, cheaper and safer than trying to put it in toilets — and you don’t have to post those silly hazard signs either.

“If we use rain harvesting for irrigation, it’s very low risk, and much easier to control the hygenics of the water… if there’s a mistake, the consequences are minimal. A plant might get a little water with bacteria in it, but there’s already lots of bacteria in the soil.”

He says regulatory agencies need to sit down with experts and “publish” the basic rules that will govern how rain water systems are designed and built — instead of evaluating each system on a case-by-case basis, and forcing developers and other aspiring rain harvesters to devise custom “solutions” every time.

Discussions to this end are already happening: last year the City of Vancouver engaged in talks with Metro Vancouver, industry and neighbouring municipalities exploring sanitation standards for rainwater. This includes adding chlorine to stored rainwater to protect municipal potable water supply — in the same way we currently use chlorine to treat water for swimming pools.

Burgess has practical suggestions of his own. “Allow the use of [rain storage] tanks as tall as the legislated fence height, (like this one) and make it so they can go anywhere within a foot of the property line. That one little change would take away a whole bunch of hassles for people.” [Tyee]