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Does Southwest Missouri Face a Future Water Shortage?


Southwest Missouri faces a water crisis. If nothing is done, demand will exceed current supply by 2030. However, sufficient additional water to meet demand through 2060 appears to be available, and could be accessed at a relatively low cost. Whether doing so would impact the regions ecosystem is not known.


In the previous post, I reported that current stresses on water supply along the Missouri River depend primarily on human decisions about how to manage competing demands for the river’s water. The future effects of climate change are not yet known.

What about regions of the state that don’t depend on the Missouri River for their water supply? Are demands projected to exceed supply?

To answer that question, we must start by distinguishing between water resources and water supply. Water resources consist of the total water available in a region. Water supply is the amount of water that the infrastructure is capable of delivering.

Water resources consist of surface water and groundwater. Some regions of the state depend primarily on surface water. In fact, surface water supplies 8 of Missouri’s 10 largest cities, and 62% of the state’s total water consumption (44% from the Missouri River alone). Groundwater supplies about 38% of Missouri’s water consumption. Some regions, however, rely more heavily on groundwater, especially in the southern part of the state.

Figure 1. Southwest Missouri Counties Expected to Experience a Future Water Shortage. Source: Adapted from a map at Wikimedia Commons.

No region of the state is currently experiencing a sustained shortfall in water supply compared to demand. Perhaps the region most likely to experience one in the future is a 16 county area in Southwest Missouri. Figure 1 shows a map of the 16 counties.

The region has historically depended primarily on groundwater, as it is underlain by the Ozark Aquifer. Aquifer levels fluctuate depending on how much precipitation occurs to recharge them. In addition, over-pumping can deplete the water supply in a local region of the aquifer faster that water can flow in to replace it, causing a cone of depression. It can leave neighboring wells high and dry, but does not affect the whole aquifer. Severe over-pumping from multiple sources can deplete the entire aquifer, which is occurring in California.

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Figure 2. Missouri Population Density. Source: Tri-State Water Coalition.

The region’s constraints on water supply have occurred because of growth. Figure 2 is a map of population density in Missouri. It shows that Southwest Missouri is one of the more densely populated regions.

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Figure 3. Source: Tri-State Water Resource Coalition.

Figure 3 shows that from 1990-2000 the region was the fastest growing in the state. Between 2000 and 2010, the trend continued, with Christian County growing an astounding 43% and Taney County growing by 30%.

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Figure 4. Source: Tri-State Water Resource Coalition

The result has been over-pumping, and Figure 4 shows the results. In Southwest Missouri, most areas have experienced some decrease in the groundwater level. A few regions in Green County (the City of Springfield), Jasper County (the City of Joplin), and Stone and Taney Counties (the Branson area) have experienced cones of depression, dropping the water table more than 300 feet. The worst affected area is the large red area on the left side of the map. It is in Oklahoma, centered on Miami, OK.

Using a mid-level growth forecast, studies have calculated that current water resources will be overrun by demand by 2030. Even reducing demand through conservation would only meet needs through 2040.

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Figure 5. Projected Water Demand and Supply by 2060 in a Drought Year. Source: Tri-State Water Resource Coalition.

The region has significant surface water resources, however, and could supplement its water supply. Three significant reservoirs could supply water to the region: Stockton Lake, Table Rock Lake, and Lake Taneycomo. The first two are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the latter is owned and operated by Empire District Electric Company. These organizations would have to approve the reallocation of water, but the water is there. Figure 5 shows projected available supply and demand if surface water resources were tapped. It would require the construction of pipelines and pumping stations, but the dams and reservoirs already exist.

Climate change is not projected to cause a decrease in precipitation in the region. The worst drought on record occurred in the 1950s, and if anything, the trend in precipitation has increased slightly since 1895. The temperature is projected to increase significantly, however. If increased temperature were to lead to less water reaching the aquifer to recharge it, then it could have implications for the regions water supply. But so far, those projections have not yet been calculated.

Unfortunately, none of the reports I contacted discuss the environmental impacts that the increasing demand for water will place on the ecosystem in the region. In fact, so far as I could tell, possible effects were not even considered. Will dropping water tables cause springs, creeks, and rivers to go dry? Will reallocation of the water from the regions reservoirs affect the health of the White and Osage Rivers? Will subsidence occur? These effects have occurred elsewhere, why Missouri would expect to be immune from them? But I just don’t know.

Thus, it appears that Southwest Missouri does face a water crisis. If nothing is done, demand will exceed current supply by 2030. However, sufficient additional water to meet demand through 2060 appears to be available, and could be accessed at a relatively low cost. Whether doing so would impact the regions ecosystem is not known.

Sources:

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Springfield Plateau Groundwater Province. Downloaded 5/23/2017 from https://dnr.mo.gov/geology/wrc/groundwater/education/provinces/springfieldplatprovince.htm?/env/wrc/groundwater/education/provinces/springfieldplatprovince.htm.

State of Missouri and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 2012. Southwest Missouri Water Resource Study – Phase I. Downloaded 5/23/2017 from http://www.swl.usace.army.mil/Portals/50/docs/planningandenvironmental/Phase%20I%20-%20Southwest%20Missouri%20Water%20Study%20Final%20Report%20.pdf.

State of Missouri and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 2014. Southwest Missouri Water Resource Study – Phase II. Downloaded 5/23/2017 from http://tristatewater.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Phase-II-FINAL-Southwest-Missouri-Supply-Availability-Report-Final_March_2014-from-Mike-Beezhold-9-16-14.pdf.

Tri-State Water Resource Coalition. 2015. Securing Water for Southwest Missouri. Downloaded 5/30/2017 from https://waterways.org/wordpress1/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Securing-Water-for-Southwest-Missouris-Future.pdf.

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Will Climate Change Affect Water Supply on the Missouri River?


How climate change will affect water supply from the Missouri River is not yet known. Current problems with Missouri River water supply principally affect the barge transportation industry, and the agricultural and industrial clients that use it to transport their goods and supplies.


The Missouri River is important for Missouri. More than half of Missouri residents get their drinking water from the Missouri River or the alluvial aquifer it directly feeds. Not only that, the river’s water is used for agricultural irrigation, for industry, to support barge traffic along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, for recreation, and to support the ecosystems that depend on the river for their survival.

Figure 1. Dams and Other Locations Along the Missouri River. Source: Google Earth.

In the previous post, I reported that the snowpack in the western United States has declined by 23%, and it is forecast to decline more by 2038. The eastern border of the study area forms the western boundary of the Missouri River Basin. Will the changing western snowpack impact the Missouri River’s ability to supply Missouri’s needs?

The answer is complicated. Precipitation in the Upper Missouri River Basin has historically fallen mostly as snow, building a winter snowpack that slowly melts during the spring. The snowmelt is gathered into reservoirs created by 6 large dams along the Missouri River, plus more than 40 smaller ones on tributaries. The 6 large dams begin at the Gavin’s Point Dam on the Nebraska-South Dakota border, and extend upriver to the Ft. Peck Dam in Montana. (See Figure 1.) The result is that water flow below the reservoirs is largely controlled by man, not nature.

Figure 2. Data source: Wikipedia.

The annual water yield from the Missouri River is small compared to the size of its basin. The data is given in Figure 2, where the red columns represent the length of the rivers, and the blue line represents their average discharge. No other river in the USA serves such a large basin with so little water. In drought years it is already too small to fully meet all of the demands that are put on it, resulting in conflict over how to manage the river, and over which values to give priority. The conflict has primarily been between up-river interests, which would like to see water allocated to support irrigation, drinking water, and mitigation in their states during periods of drought, and down-river interests, which would like to see water released to support commercial navigation on the river.

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Figure 3. Source: Hansen Professional Services, Inc. 2011.

In 2004, the Army Corps of Engineers changed the rules by which the river is operated to reduce water releases during drought. During drought years, this better supports up-stream interests, but results in a shorter season during which the river can support barge traffic. The result has been a decrease in annual tonnage moved on the river (Figure 3).

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Figure 4. Well Drilling in Western North Dakota. Source: Vanosdall 2013.

In addition, development in the Upper Missouri Basin has increased water demand in that region. A prime example would be the development of the oil and gas reserves in North Dakota. Well drilling uses large quantities of water. (See Figure 4). Given that the water yield from the Missouri River is already too small to fully support all of the demands placed on it, any increase in demand is bound to constrain supply even further.

The constraints discussed above, however, are all man-made constraints. How will climate change and the declining western snowpack affect all of this?

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Source: National Centers for Environmental Information.

The snowpack decline has occurred because of increasing temperature, not decreasing precipitation. Figures 5 repeats a chart I published in January 2016, showing that precipitation has increased in the region over time.

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Figure 6. Source: Melillo 2014.

Figure 6 shows that the 2011 National Climate Assessment projects that the annual flow on the Missouri River will actually increase by about 15% by 2070. However, more precipitation will fall as rain instead of snow, and the snow that does fall will melt sooner. This means that more water will enter the reservoirs during winter and early spring, and less during late spring and summer. In addition, increased temperature will increase evaporation from the river and reservoirs, and it will increase water consumption by crops, leading to earlier and increased demand for water. There is a potential mismatch between when the water is available and when it is needed.

The question will be whether it will be possible to manage the reservoirs successfully under the new conditions. When looking at the water situation in California (here), we discovered that water authorities expected climate change to create reservoir management problems that would result in an increased water deficit during the summer and autumn. It is possible that the reservoirs along the Missouri will encounter similar problems, but it is not certain.

One potential difference is that California has multiple, relatively short rivers, leading to only one large reservoir per river, and perhaps one or two small feeder reservoirs. The Missouri River, however, is a single long river. It has 6 large reservoirs chained along it, plus at least 40 feeder reservoirs on tributaries. This may give managers flexibility in managing the river that is not possible in California.

Five separate water resource studies have been undertaken to determine how climate change will impact the ability of the Missouri River to meet the demands placed on it. Unfortunately, they have not all been completed, and I can find no comprehensive analysis.

For the time being, problems with water supply on the Missouri River involve human decisions about how to manage the river. To date, in the State of Missouri they have primarily impacted the barge industry, plus the farmers and industries that depend on the barge industry to transport their goods and supplies.

Sources:

Drew, John, and Karen Rouse. 2006. “Missouri Water in High Demand.” Missouri Resources, Winter, 2006. Downloaded 5/31/2017 from https://dnr.mo.gov/geology/wrc/docs/Water-InHighDemand.pdf?/env/wrc/docs/Water-InHighDemand.pdf.

Bureau of Reclamation. 2016. Basin Report: Missouri River. Downloaded 5/25/2017 from https://www.usbr.gov/climate/secure/docs/2016secure/factsheet/MissouriRiverBasinFactSheet.pdf.

Bureau of Reclamation. 2016. SECURE Water Act Section 9503(c) – Reclamation Climate Change and Water. Prepared for United States Congress. Denver, CO: Bureau of Reclamation, Policy and Administration. Downloaded 5/25/2017 from https://www.usbr.gov/climate/secure.

Hanson Professional Services, Inc. 2011. Missouri River Historic Timeline and Navigation Service Cycle. Missouri River Freight Corridor Assessment and Development Plan. Downloaded 5/31/2017 from https://library.modot.mo.gov/rdt/reports/tryy1018.

Melillo, Jerry M., Terese (T.C.) Richmond, and Gary W. Yohe, Eds., 2014: Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment. U.S. Global Change Research Program, 841 pp. doi:10.7930/J0Z31WJ2. Available online at http://nca2014.globalchange.gov.

Vanosdall, Tiffany. 2013. Missouri River Water Supply. US Army Corps of Engineers. Downloaded 6/1/2017 from https://denr.sd.gov/coewatersupply22Apr2013.pdf.

Wikipedia. List of U.S. Rivers by Discharge. Data retrieved online 5/31/2017 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._rivers_by_discharge.

Missouri Fish Advisory for 2017

Table 1. Source: Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, 2017.

Eating fish is thought to have healthful benefits, including cognitive benefits for the young and a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular disease in adults. However, environmental toxins limit the amount of fish you should eat. The principle of bioaccumulation, which explains why, was reviewed in the previous post.

Whether fish are safe to eat depends on the water where they were caught. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services publishes a report identifying lakes, rivers, and streams where environmental contamination requires a fish advisory. This post looks at the report for 2017.

Table 1 lists the bodies of water for which fish advisories have been issued, the species of fish affected, the sizes of fish affected, the contaminants, and the limit that should be observed (serving advice).

Looking at the table, the toxins include chlordane, lead, mercury, and PCBs. In some cases the fish are safe to eat once weekly, in other cases only once monthly, and in some cases they should not be eaten at all. Several species from rivers near Missouri’s old lead belt tend not to be safe at all. I’ve posted on the Big River previously (here).

The advisories are separated into those that apply to all consumers, and those that apply to “sensitive populations.” Please look at who is included under “sensitive populations”: children younger than 13 and women who are either pregnant, nursing, or of childbearing age. Wow, that is a huge portion of the population! For them, there is no fish caught in any body of water in the United States that is safe to consume more than once weekly. And for them, several important species of game fish caught in Missouri waters should only be consumed once monthly.

Figure 1. Source: Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.

Figure 1 shows a map of the affected bodies of water. Looking at the bodies of water affected, you can see that they cover a lot of territory: the entire lengths of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers in the state, the major portion of the Big River, the Blue River, Clearwater Lake (ironic, no?), and Montrose Lake.

The contaminants of concern listed by the Missouri report include chlordane, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), lead, and methylmercury. Chlordane was an insecticide. It was widely used as a termite control in residences, and it was used widely on crops. Starting in 1988, sales of chlordane were banned in the United States. However, chlordane persists in the environment. It adheres to soil particles in the ground and very slowly dissolves into groundwater, where it migrates to rivers and lakes. Once in the water of rivers and lakes, it bioaccumulates. That is why, even though banned in 1988, it is still a contaminant of concern in Missouri fish. Elevated levels of chlordane in the blood are associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline, prostate cancer, type-2 diabetes, and obesity. According to the Missouri report, levels of chlordane are gradually decreasing, but remain a concern in some bodies of water.

PCBs are a family of chemicals that were once widely used as insulating and cooling liquids in electrical mechanisms. PCBs were banned in the United States in 1979, however they are extremely long-lived compounds, and it is estimated that 40% of all PCB ever manufactured remain in use. Toxicity varies among specific chemicals in the family. Exposure to PCBs is capable of causing a variety of health effects, including rashes, reduced immune function, poor cognitive development in children, liver damage, and increased risk of cancer. PCBs in the environment generally enter bodies of water, where they enter the bodies of aquatic species and bioaccumulate up the food chain. According to the Missouri report, levels of PCB are gradually decreasing, but remain a concern in some bodies of water.

Lead is a heavy metal that was once heavily mined in Missouri. Lead mining continues, and as recently as 2014, more lead was released into the environment in Missouri than any other toxic chemical. (See here.) Lead used to be released into the environment through the inclusion of tetraethyl lead in gasoline, and through lead paint. Both of those uses have been banned in the United States. Today, lead enters the environment through mine tailings. Thus, it is of greatest concern in locations that either have or had significant lead mining activities (portions of Southeastern Missouri, for instance). Tailings containing lead were (are) dumped on the ground. From the tailings lead washes into nearby bodies of water, where it is ingested by aquatic species and then bioaccumulates. Lead is readily absorbed by living tissue. It affects almost every organ and system in the body. At high levels it can be immediately dangerous to life and health. At lower levels, symptoms include abdominal pain, weakness in fingers, wrists, and ankles, blood pressure increases, miscarriage, delayed puberty, and cognitive impairment.

Mercury enters the environment from many sources. One important source is coal. When coal is burned, it is emitted up the flue. Though the amount in any lump of coal is tiny, so much coal is burned to produce energy that tons and tons are emitted every year. The mercury falls out of the atmosphere, where it gets washed into bodies of water. There, it is converted by microbes into methylmercury, which is then ingested into aquatic species, and it bioaccumulates. In children a high level of methylmercury has been associated with language and memory deficits, reduced IQ, and learning disabilities. In adults, it has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and autoimmune conditions.

It seems to me that for all of these contaminants, the situation may be slowly improving, though it is still problematic. The persistence of these contaminants in the environment, in many cases decades after their manufacture was banned, demonstrates an important environmental principle: the environmental problems you create may not go away quickly. They are likely to remain with you for a long, long time.

Sources:

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. 2017. 2017 Missouri Fish Advisory: A Guide to Eating Missouri Fish. Downloaded 3/9/17 from http://www.health.mo.gov/fishadvisory.

Wikipedia. Chlordane. Viewed online 3/15/2017 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chlordane.

Wikipedia. Lead. Viewed online 3/15/2017 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lead.

Wikipedia. Methylmercury. Viewed online 3/15/2017 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Methylmercury.

Wikipedia. Polychlorinated biphenyl. Viewed online 3/15/2017 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polychlorinated_biphenyl.

Environmental Toxins Limit Fish Consumption

Eating fish may be good for you, or it may poison you. (Pick one)

In the 1970s, researchers reported that native people living in Greenland (Inuits) had very low rates of heart disease compared with counterparts living in Denmark. Scientists attributed these health benefits to the consumption of fish and sea mammals containing high levels of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. Recently, however, research has questioned the accuracy of these early studies, as more recent research shows that the rate of heart disease and heart attack among the Inuit are similar to those in non-Inuit populations. Thus, there has been some question regarding how strong the association is between reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and fish consumption. The situation reminds me of one of my favorite sayings: It ain’t what we don’t know that’s gonna hurt us, it’s what we do know that just ain’t so.

Over the years, thousands of research studies have been conducted, with the result that the consumption of fish is included in most dietary guidelines. The benefits are primarily considered to be the previously mentioned reduction in the risk of coronary heart disease in adults, but also an improvement in cognitive development in infants and young children.

The current dietary guidelines in the USA have moved away from the concept of the minimum daily requirement. Instead they describe recommended patterns of healthy eating. The recommendation for seafood has not changed, however: 8 oz. of seafood per week. (Dietary Guidelines, p. 18)

It is generally recognized, however, that some fish species contain significant levels of contaminants. These contaminants include a number of really nasty poisons, including chlordane, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), lead, and methylmercury. These compounds can be toxic even in very small amounts, and they are bioaccumlative.

Bioaccumulation is an important concept in understanding environmental toxins. The basic idea is that even tiny amounts of toxin can build up in the body. Here’s how: at any given feeding, a toxin may be eaten in such tiny amounts that there is no immediate effect on the animal that consumes it. However, it is absorbed by the body, and it is not readily eliminated by natural processes. Thus, over time, the amount in the body builds up each time the animal eats a little more.

Imagine a lake. Mercury emitted by coal-burning power plants falls into the lake, where microbes convert it to methylmercury. Algae living in the lake take in some of that methylmercury. Along comes a tiny fish fry, and it eats some of that algae. Now with each mouthful of algae, the fish fry ingests a dose of methylmercury. And it starts to build up. How many mouthfuls of algae does a fish fry eat? I don’t know, but it is quite a lot. Now, along comes a medium-sized fish, and it eats the fish fry. With one bite, it has ingested not just a tiny amount of methylmercury, but all the methylmercury that built up in the body of the fish fry during its lifetime. How many fish fry does a medium-sized fish eat? I don’t know, but it is quite a few, and the medium-sized fish ingests all of the methylmercury built up in the bodies of each fish it eats. Now, along comes a large fish, and it eats the medium-sized fish. With one bite, it has ingested not just a tiny amount of mercury, but all the methylmercury built up in the body of the medium-sized fish. How many medium-sized fish does a large fish eat? I don’t know, but it is quite a few, and the large fish ingests all of the methylmercury built up in the bodies of each fish it eats.

Now, let’s imagine that our fish are living in a Missouri lake. Along comes a fisherman, and he catches one fish per week and eats it. That will be 52 fish per year. Now, I don’t know what the actual numbers are, but let us assume that a fish fry eats 1,000 individual alga, while a medium-sized fish eats 100 fry, and a large fish eats 100 medium-sized fish. These estimates may be wildly wrong, but the point is to illustrate the principle of bioaccumulation, and they will allow us to do so.

Using the estimates above, each fish fry will ingest the methlymercury contained in 1,000 algae; each medium-sized fish will ingest the amount contained in 100,000 algae; each large fish will ingest the amount contained in 10 million algae, and in a year, our fisherman will ingest the amount contained in 520 million algae. If he continues for 10 years, he will consume the amount contained in 5.2 billion algae.

Over time, the amount of methylmercury in our fisherman’s body will build up, perhaps eventually reaching the point where it starts to poison him.

Now, my presentation is over-simplified; in real life bioaccumulation is much more complex. Further, the numbers I chose for my progression were totally arbitrary. Nonetheless, they illustrate the basic idea of bioaccumulation. And the principle applies not only to methylmercury, but also to lead, PCBs, and dioxins.

The result is that, however good for you eating fish may be in theory, there are limits due to environmental contaminants. The next post will look at what those limits are in Missouri.

Sources:

Committee on a Framework for Assessing the Health, Environmental, and Social Effects of the Food System; Food and Nutrition Board; Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources; Institute of Medicine; National Research Council; Nesheim MC, Oria M, Yih PT, editors. A Framework for Assessing Effects of the Food System. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2015 Jun 17. ANNEX 1, DIETARY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FISH CONSUMPTION. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK305180.

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. 2017. 2017 Missouri Fish Advisory: A Guide to Eating Missouri Fish. Downloaded 3/9/17 from www.health.mo.gov/fishadvisory.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture.
2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines.

Missouri’s Water Consumption Decreasing Slower Than the Nation’s


Missouri’s water consumption declined in 2010. The decline was smaller than the decline for the nation as a whole, and it may be due to economic factors rather than conservation.


Missouri is not one of the regions of the country where water supplies are most tightly constrained. Thus, Missouri is not under as much pressure to reduce consumption as some states are, California for instance. Nevertheless, water consumption is an important environmental variable, and it is useful to know what the trends are in Missouri.

The data for this post comes from the U.S. Geological Survey’s Water Use Data for the Nation data portal. The portal’s data for Missouri extends back to 1985.

Data source: USGS Water Use Data for the Nation.

Figure 1. Data source: USGS Water Use Data for the Nation.

Figure 1 shows Missouri’s water consumption by end use, including thermoelectric power, for 1985-2010. Missing data makes comparisons across years difficult: data for thermoelectric power is missing for 1985, and data for livestock is missing for 1985, 1990, and 1995. With those caveats, Missouri’s water consumption appears to have increased through 2005, and then declined slightly in 2010. This contrasts with national consumption, which peaked in 1980.

The decline in 2010 may represent the beginning of a trend, but before assuming that it does, recall that 2010 was during the depths of the Great Recession, and the decline in water consumption may be related to a decline in economic activity, not conservation efforts.

Thermoelectric power is by far the largest consumer of water in Missouri. Missouri’s largest power plants (Labadie, Iatan, Thomas Hill, Rush Island, New Madrid, Sioux, Hawthorne, Meramec, and Callaway) are all located on rivers or reservoirs, and they withdraw water for cooling and for making steam. Thermoelectric water withdrawals peaked in 2005 at 6,181 million gallons per day, and declined in 2010 to 5,915 million gallons per day, a decline of 4%.

Irrigation was the second largest consumer of water in Missouri. The peak year for irrigation consumption was 2000 at 1,431 million gallons per day, and it was about 2% lower in 2010 at 1,402 million gallons per day.

Data source: USGS Water Use Data for the Nation

Figure 2. Data source: USGS Water Use Data for the Nation

Figure 2 shows Missouri’s water consumption by end use with thermoelectric power excluded. I think that thermoelectric power is not a proper end use for two reasons. First, most water withdrawn for thermoelectric power is used for cooling, and it is returned to the environment. When returned, it may cause local problems because it is hot, but generally it is not contaminated. Second, electricity is not generated for its own use, it is sold to customers for their end uses. Thus, it may be useful to understand Missouri’s water consumption with thermoelectric power excluded.

Once thermoelectric power is excluded, irrigation and public supply become by far the largest consumers of water in Missouri. Irrigation was discussed above. Public supply represents all water that is delivered to customers by a public water utility. Here, things get a little complex. Some domestic and industrial water consumers supply their own water themselves. These consumers represent a small fraction of the total, and are shown on the chart in red and green. Most domestic and commercial consumers, and some industrial consumers, are supplied water by public water utilities, and these are the consumers represented by the dark blue public supply category on the chart. Both irrigation and public supply peaked in 2000, and by 2010 had declined 2% and 4% respectively. Because the trend is consistent from 2000 to 2005 to 2010, I am less inclined to suspect it is a function of the Great Recession.

Data source: USGS Water Use Data for the Nation

Figure 3. Data source: USGS Water Use Data for the Nation

Stacked column charts are great for showing categorized data over time, but pie charts show more dramatically the percentages belonging to each category in a given year. Figure 3 shows Missouri water consumption in 2010 by end use, thermoelectric power included. It shows that thermoelectric power accounted for 70% of all Missouri water withdrawals. Irrigation accounted for 17% and public supply for 10%. Together, the three accounted for 97% of Missouri water withdrawals.

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Data source: USGS Water Use Data for the Nation

Data source: USGS Water Use Data for the Nation

Figure 4 shows the same data with thermoelectric power excluded. If one considers thermoelectric power withdrawals a non-consumptive use, then irrigation and public supply together accounted for 91% of the water consumed in Missouri in 2010.

Because of the drought in California, I have also been following water supplies out there. I will post on California’s water situation after the start of the new year.

Sources:

Maupin, M.A., Kenny, J.F., Hutson, S.S., Lovelace, J.K., Barber, N.L., and Linsey, K.S., 2014, Estimated use of water in the United States in 2010: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1405, 56 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/cir1405.

U.S. Geological Survey. 2014. Water Use Data for the Nation. USGS National Water Information System. Search criteria: Years 1965,1970,1975,1980,1985,1990,1995,2000,2005,2010; Area UNITED STATES; Catogory ALL. Data accessed 12/3/2016 at http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/wu.

USA Water Consumption Declined in 2010


Water consumption in the United States declined 18% between 1980 and 2010.


Water consumption is an issue of concern in areas where water supplies are constrained. Constructing a comprehensive study of how much water is consumed in the United States is a gargantuan task, but the United States Geological Survey does it every five years. It takes several years to put together, and the report Estimated Use of Water in the United States in 2010 came out in 2014. Historical data are also available on the USGS National Water Data Information System data portal.

Data source: USGS Water Use Data for the Nation

Data source: USGS Water Use Data for the Nation

Figure 1 shows that water consumption in the USA grew rapidly from 1965 to 1980, but since then has declined. The peak in 1980 was 430 billion gallons consumed per day and by 2010 it had declined 18% to 355. The decline occurred despite the fact that during the period Gross Domestic Product grew by 229% and population grew by 36%.

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Data source: USGS Water Use Data for the Nation

Data source: USGS Water Use Data for the Nation

Figure 2 shows similar data, except it is separated into end uses. The shape of the trend matches the one in Figure 1. It is impossible, however, to separate water consumption by end use without either missing some that you should count, or double counting some that you shouldn’t. The result is that, for any given year, if you total the amount used by each end use in Figure 2, it won’t precisely match the amount shown in Figure 1. The disagreement is small, never as much as 5%, and often much smaller than that. It would probably matter if you were doing research, but for our purposes here, it probably doesn’t.

Figure 2 shows that more water is withdrawn for thermoelectric power (nuclear and coal-burning power plants, primarily) than for any other use. Second is irrigation. Both have decreased since 1980. I don’t know the precise reasons why, but if I had to guess, I would say that retiring nuclear and coal-burning power plants in favor of natural gas and renewable energy, improved irrigation practices, and switching to soil cover/crops that require less water were all part of the story.

Public Supply did not peak in 1980, it increased right through to 2005. That makes sense, given that population and GDP have increased. Public supply includes all water delivered by a public water utility.

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Data source: USGS Water Use Data for the Nation

Data source: USGS Water Use Data for the Nation

I don’t consider water withdrawn for thermoelectric power to be a true end use. For one reason, it is returned to the environment and used again without much treatment. For another, electricity is not generated for its own use, it is provided to customers for their end uses. Thus, it might be useful to look at water consumption with thermoelectric power excluded. Figure 3 shows the data. Now it becomes clear just how much of our water consumption really goes to irrigation: 60-67% in any given year. And suddenly, public supply looks more significant, accounting for up to 24% of consumption. Industry has made impressive progress in reducing water consumption.

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Data source: USGS Water Use Data for the Nation

Data source: USGS Water Use Data for the Nation

Figure 4 shows water consumption by the source of the water: fresh or saline, surface water or groundwater. By far the largest amount is sourced from fresh surface water, and the second largest amount is sourced from fresh groundwater. If dry regions of the country turn to desalination to augment their water supply, look for the saline fraction to grow.

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Data source: USGS Water Use Data for the Nation

Data source: USGS Water Use Data for the Nation

One final chart: these stacked column charts are good for showing categorized data over time, but they don’t show the categories for any given year as powerfully as does a pie chart. So Figure 5 is a pie chart showing water consumption in the USA by end use, thermoelectric power included, for 2010. It very powerfully shows that almost half of all water withdrawn in the USA that year went into nuclear and coal-burning power plants. About 1/3 of it went for irrigation.

In the next post I’ll look at water consumption in Missouri. I’m going to take a week off for the holiday, however, so it will appear in January.

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Sources:

Bureau of Economic Analysis. Current Dollar and Real GDP. National Economic Accounts. Downloaded 12/4/2016 from http://www.bea.gov/national/index.htm#gdp.

Maupin, M.A., Kenny, J.F., Hutson, S.S., Lovelace, J.K., Barber, N.L., and Linsey, K.S., 2014, Estimated use of water in the United States in 2010: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1405, 56 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/cir1405.
U.S. Census Bureau. Part II. Population of the United States and Each State: 1790-1990. Downloaded from http://www.census.gov/population/www/censusdata/Population_PartII.xls.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2011. Table 1. Intercensal Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2010 (ST-EST00INT-01. Downloaded from http://www.census.gov/popest/data/intercensal/national/nat2010.html.

U.S. Geological Survey. 2014. Water Use Data for the Nation. USGS National Water Information System. Search criteria: Years 1965,1970,1975,1980,1985,1990,1995,2000,2005,2010; Area UNITED STATES; Catogory ALL. Data accessed 12/3/2016 at http://waterdata.usgs.gov/nwis/wu.

Harmful Algal Blooms

Figure 1. Algal Bloom Covers A Lake. Photo Source: Zwerneman 2014.

Figure 1. Algal Bloom Covers A Lake. Photo Source: Zwerneman 2014.

In 2014 and 2015 toxic algal blooms on Lake Erie caused the City of Toledo to warn residents not to drink the city’s public water. This algal bloom has become a more-or-less annual event.

In 2015, a plume of algae spread along the Ohio River, covering 636 miles, about 2/3 of the entire river, from Wheeling WV, to Cannelton IN. For more than a month it curbed boating, caused problems for water utilities, and drove swimmers out of the water.

This year (so far, at least) the headlines were grabbed by a toxic algal bloom in Florida. The green slime originated in Lake Okeechobee, then spread via rivers to the Fort Meyers area on the west, and especially to the Stewart area on the east. States of emergency were declared in Martin, Lee, St. Lucie, and Palm Beach Counties.

These are all examples of Harmful Algal Blooms, or HABs. What’s going on, and how has Missouri been affected?

(Click on graphics for larger view.)

Algal blooms are caused by microorganisms. They occur naturally in all water, and are only absent if you purify and treat the water. Even in purified water, as every swimming pool or aquarium owner knows, they will multiply and slime your water if you don’t give the water constant vigilance.

The most common of the microorganisms is often called blue-green algae. Despite its common name, it is not algae at all, but a phylum of bacteria, called cyanobacteria. Most species of it are harmless, but some species are toxic. Sometimes conditions conspire to cause these bacteria to multiply explosively, causing what we call an algal bloom. These blooms sometimes contain significant numbers of toxic microorganisms, which make drinking the water, or even swimming in it, hazardous. The most common of these is a genus called microcystis. For some reason HABs are increasing in frequency.

In most cases, casual contact with the water causes mild reactions like rashes. Drinking it, however, can cause liver damage, and can even be fatal. They are harmful to wildlife as well as humans, and can cause large fish kills.

Many of the HABs occur along our nation’s seacoasts. Missouri is an inland state, however, so for the rest of this post I will concern myself only with algal blooms on freshwater systems. HABs are a relatively recent subject of study, so nobody knows how often they have occurred and where. Similarly, in a state like Missouri, many of them occur in relatively small bodies of water that may not be monitored. Thus, the blooms may go undetected.

Figure 2. Source: Lopez et al, 2008.

Figure 2. Source: Lopez et al, 2008.

HABs causing significant large-scale disruption have not yet been reported in Missouri, but as Figure 2 shows, they have been reported in many of our neighboring states. There is no reason to believe that Missouri is immune.

In 2007, the United States Geological Survey completed a study looking for the presence of toxic species of cyanobacteria and for the toxins they produce in the nation’s lakes and reservoirs. They found that:

  • Cyanobacteria are ubiquitous, occurring in 98% of the samples they collected;
  • One or more toxic species of cyanobacteria were present in 67-95% of the waters samples collected;
  • Toxins were present in only 4.0-7.7% of samples, depending on the toxin. Thus, the presence of algae, and even of toxic species of algae, does not necessarily mean that the water is unsafe. Only when a bloom causes the number of toxic cyanobacteria to increase does the situation become problematic.

Figures 3, 4, and 5 show the sites tested, and the locations of sites where the cyanobacteria toxins were found. Figure 3 shows Cylindrospermopsin, Figure 4 shows Saxitoxin, and Figure 5 shows Microcystin. The color codes for the concentration: clear means none detected, blue means detected at low concentrations, yellow means detected at moderate concentrations, and red means detected at high concentrations. Microcystin and Cylindrospermopsin were detected in Missouri, the latter at a high concentration.

Figure 3. Source: USGS 2016a.

Figure 3. Source: USGS 2016a.

Figure 3. Source: USGS 2016a.

Figure 4. Source: USGS 2016a.

Figure 4. Source: USGS 2016a.

Figure 5. Source: USGS 2016a.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Click on graphics for larger view.)

Photo by John May, 2016.

Figure 6. Photo by John May, 2016.

Some of this should not be surprising. I suspect that any of us who have spent time near bodies of water in Missouri have seen algae on them. Indeed, Figure 6 shows an algal bloom occurring on a lagoon in Forest Park in St. Louis on the day I wrote this article (7/21/16). The light green material in the water is the algae.

Missouri tests lakes for the concentration of chlorophyll-a, but not streams. Chlorophyll-a is a green pigment associated with organisms that do photosynthesis. It is present in cyanobacteria, and the assumption is that chlorophyll-a levels indicate the amount of cyanobacteria in the water. In 2014, excess levels of chlorophyll-a impaired more acres of Missouri lakes than any other cause. Lakes in all regions of Missouri are showing increasing trends in chlorophyll-a levels, with trends in the Glaciated Plains and Osage Plains regions being statistically significant.

While a useful water quality standard, the reported concentration of chlorophyll-a only represents the level at the time testing occurred. It cannot be translated into the presence or absence of an algal bloom at other times during the year. Further, the USGS assessment found that chlorophyll-a is not a reliable indicator of the presence of algal toxins. Neither algal counts nor algal toxins are tested in Missouri’s surface water or in Missouri’s drinking water. The Department of Conservation encourages the reporting of fish kills in the state, but there is no system for reporting or tabulating algal blooms.

Phosphorus appears to be the factor that most limits algal growth in Missouri’s lakes. Where algae has access to phosphorus, it grows more vigorously. Phosphorus is a pollutant that flows into Missouri’s lakes from some industrial or urban sources, but it is especially an agricultural chemical that runs off from fertilized farms.

Much of Missouri’s population draws its drinking water from the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin are among the nation’s most intensively farmed states, and Missouri is downstream from all of them. Could our two rivers experience HABs as did Lake Erie and the Ohio River? Could HABs make our water undrinkable? For how long?

Is there a reason to think that Missouri should be immune from such problems? I don’t know of one. So far we have dodged the bullet. When or how a seriously disruptive HAB might occur in Missouri is anybody’s guess.

Sources:

Dewey, Eliza. “Where Will the Green Slime Go? Florida Tracks Spreading Algae.” The Miami Herald. 7/7/2016. Viewed online 7/21/16 at http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/environment/article88302462.html.

Lakes of Missouri Volunteer Program. Blue Green Algae in Missouri. Downloaded 7/21/16 from http://lmvp.org/bluegreen.

Lopez, C.B., Jewett, E.B., Dortch, Q., Walton, B.T., Hudnell, H.K. 2008. Scientific Assessment of Freshwater Harmful Algal Blooms. Interagency Working Group on Harmful Algal Blooms, Hypoxia, and Human Health of the Joint Subcommittee on Ocean Science and Technology. Washington, DC. https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/frshh2o0708.pdf.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2015. Missouri Integrated Water Quality Report and Section 303(d) List, 2014. Downloaded 4/20/2016 from http://dnr.mo.gov/env/wpp/waterquality/303d/303d.htm.

Neuhaus, Les. “Miles of Algae and a Multitude of Hazards.” The New York Times. 7/18/2016. Viewed online 7/21/16 at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/19/science/algae-blooms-beaches.html.

United States Geological Survey. 2016a. New Science Challenges Old Assumptions about Harmful Algal Blooms. Viewed online at https://www.usgs.gov/news/new-science-challenges-old-assumptions-about-harmful-algal-blooms.

United States Geological Survery. 2016b. New Study on Cyanotoxins in Lakes and Reservoirs Provides Insights into Assessing Health Risks. Viewed online 7/22/2016 at http://toxics.usgs.gov/highlights/2016-05-31-cyanotoxins_in_lakes.html.

Wines, Michael. “Toxic Algae Outbrteak Overwhelms a Polluted Ohio River.” The New York Times. 9/30/2015. Viewed online 7/22/16 at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/01/us/toxic-algae-outbreak-overwhelms-a-polluted-ohio-river.html.

Zwerneman, Annie. 2014. Monitoring Harmful Algal Blooms? There’s an App for That! The EPA Blog, 7/17/14. Downloaded 7/22/16 from https://blog.epa.gov/blog/tag/usgs.

Yearly Variation in Missouri River Flow Increasing

In the previous post I looked at average flow on the Missouri River over time at two locations: Kansas City and Hermann. Streamflow at Hermann is larger than at Kansas City, as would be expected. Streamflow at both locations seems to be gradually trending higher, and the variation in streamflow between years is large.

Figure 1. Data sources: United States Geological Survey, National Centers for Environmental Information.

Figure 1. Data sources: United States Geological Survey, National Centers for Environmental Information.

Figure 1 is reproduced from the previous post. It shows average streamflow by year as measured at Kansas City (in blue) and Hermann (in red). These lines should be read against the scale on the left vertical axis. The chart also shows yearly precipitation in the Northern Rockies & Plains, the climate region that approximates the drainage basin of the Upper Missouri River, and it should be read against the axis on the right. I had Excel calculate linear regression trend lines for all three, and they are shown as dashed lines.

One might expect that precipitation in the Missouri River drainage basin is the most important factor impacting river flow. One might also expect that precipitation early in the year (winter and spring snowfall and summer rain) are more important than fall rain, giving the water time to run off into the river. Thus, the precipitation would affect the river most during the year it fell. If these two hypotheses are correct, then one would expect there to be a moderately large correlation between yearly precipitation and annual average water flow. Indeed, if one compares the shape of the green line to the other two, you can see that, though the relationship is not perfect, they do tend to follow each other, especially during later years. For instance, they all have a low valley in 1988, a high peak in 1993 (the year of the Great Flood), a valley in 2002, and a peak in 2010-11.

The statistical technique used to determine if values of one data series are related to those of another is called correlation. Correlation values run from -1.0 to +1.0. A value of 0.0 means there is no relation at all. A value of -1.0 means there is a perfect relation, but it is inverse – one data series has low values when the other has high, and vice-versa. A correlation of +1.0 means there is a perfect relation, and it is direct – when one data series is high, the other one is too, and when one is low, so is the other. The correlation between rainfall in the Northern Rockies & Plains and Missouri River discharge at Kansas City is 0.53. That is a moderate direct correlation, meaning that precipitation plays a major role in determining Missouri River flow at Kansas City, but by no means the only role.

Figure 2. Data sources: United States Geological Survey, National Centers for Environmental Information.

Figure 2. Data sources: United States Geological Survey, National Centers for Environmental Information.

Just looking at the data, it appears that annual variation in the flow of the Missouri River has increased over time. This seems counterintuitive, as one would expect that completion of the dam system, plus increased experience in operating it, would lead to a smoothing of the yearly variation. To check more carefully, I computed a chart showing the average variation between years by decade (Figure 2). As before, the blue line represents Missouri River flow at Kansas City, the red line at Hermann, and these should be read on the left axis. The green line represents annual variation in precipitation in the Northern Rockies & Plains, and should be read on the right axis. As in Figure 1, I had Excel compute trendlines for all three, and they are shown as dashed lines.

First, variation is larger at Hermann than at Kansas City. This should be expected for two reasons. First, the flow at Hermann is larger than at Kansas City, and thus, the magnitude of the variation should be, also. Second, Hermann experiences the influence of several unregulated Missouri tributaries (e.g. the Gasconade and the Grand), while Kansas City is more completely influenced by the release of water from upstream reservoirs.

Second, at both locations, the size of the annual variation has increased over time. While the individual data points bounce around a bit, the trendlines are very similar.

Third, the annual variation in rainfall has also increased over time. In fact, the pattern of variation in rainfall is very similar to the pattern in variation in river flow at Kansas City: the shape of the two lines is almost identical.

I conclude that rainfall in the Northern Rockies and Plains is probably the largest and most important factor impacting Missouri River flow, but the effect may not all occur during the year in which the precipitation fell. It may be spread among two or more years. Other factors may impact river flow in any given year.

Increasing variability is also probably a problem for managers of the river. Precipitation is gradually increasing over time, and so is streamflow. Add increased variation to the equation, and you have the potential for increased flooding. At the same time, the fact that the all-time low flow year was 2006 (see previous post) suggests that the trend towards increased flow has not eliminated the potential for problems with low water flow.

One must use caution interpreting this data, particularly since construction of the dams and reservoirs along the Missouri overlapped the start of the data series. I don’t know how dam and reservoir construction impacted this data. With that said, the data seem to suggest a trend toward increased precipitation in the Northern Rockies and Plains, resulting in a trend toward increased annual flow in the Missouri River at both Kansas City and Hermann, and increased variation in the flow from year-to-year.

Sources:

For river flow: United States Geological Service. National Water Information System: Web Interface. USGS Surface-Water Annual Statistics for Missouri. This is a data portal. Working your way through this data portal is tricky and complex. The sites used above are sites 06893000 (Kansas City) and 06934500 (Hermann). The parameter used was Discharge (sometimes called streamflow) in cubic feet per second. The dates used were 1958-2015. Data was downloaded 6/8/16, and the starting point for the data portal was at http://waterdata.usgs.gov/mo/nwis/annual/?referred_module=sw.

For precipitation: National Centers for Environmental Information. Climate at a Glace. This is a data portal. I selected Parameter: Precipitation, Time Scale: Year-to-Date, Month: Annual, Start Year: 1958, End Year: 2015, State/Region: Northern Rockies and Plains, and Climate Division/City: Entire Region. Data downloaded 7/9/16 from http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/time-series/us.

Missouri River Annual Flow 2016

The last time I looked at water flow on the Missouri River was 2013; it’s time for an update.

Water flow on the Missouri is an important question. Floods on the river have cost untold millions of dollars of damage over the years, it is the source of drinking water for more than half of Missouri’s population, including the cities of St. Joseph, Kansas City, Columbia, and St. Louis, it is used for irrigation, and it is used as a an artery for the shipment of food and other commodities.

Figure 1. Source: Google Earth.

Figure 1. Dams Along the Missouri River. Source: Google Earth.

Missouri is downstream from 15 dams on the mainstem of the Missouri River, and more on tributary rivers. One of the most important functions of these dams is to regulate the flow of the river, holding back water during times of flood and releasing reserved water during times of drought. As you go up river, the most important dams are the Gavins Point Dam (1957), the Fort Randall Dam (1956), the Big Bend Dam (1966), the Oahe Dam (1962), the Garrison Dam (1953), the Fort Peck Dam (1940), and the Canyon Ferry Dam (1954). All but Gavins Point impound more than a million acre-feet of water.

The flow of the river is so important that conflict has arisen between upstream states, which want enough water conserved in their reservoirs for drinking and farming, and downstream states, which want enough water released to keep navigation systems open. Throw into this mix the environmentalists, who want to return the river to its natural state as much as possible to support important species and the riverine ecosystem.

The United States Geological Survey maintains stations for monitoring our nation’s surface water, including gauges along important rivers. The gauge in Kansas City and the gauge in Hermann both record the annual average discharge of the river at their respective locations going back to 1958 (See Figure 1). Though not perfect, the Kansas City gauge can give a rough estimate of the flow of the Missouri River entering the state. After passing Kansas City, several important tributaries enter the Missouri, including the Gasconade River, the Grand River, and the Osage River. The Hermann gauge can give an estimate of the flow after all of the major tributaries in the state have added their water to the total.

Figure 1. Data sources: United States Geological Survey, National Centers for Environmental Information.

Figure 2. Data sources: United States Geological Survey, National Centers for Environmental Information.

Figure 2 shows the average flow of the Missouri River in cubic feet per second, with Kansas City in blue and Hermann in red, and the scale against which you should read them is on the left. The third line, in green, is the annual precipitation in the Northern Rockies and Plains climate region, the approximate drainage basin of the Missouri River. Its scale is shown on the right, in inches of precipitation per year. I also had Excel calculate linear regression trend lines on all 3 series, and these are shown as dashed lines. In the interest of full disclosure, be sure to notice that the final data point in all 3 series represents only 7 years, not 10.

First, the flow at Herman is higher than at Kansas City. This is expected, because several tributaries add their flow to the river between Kansas City and Hermann.

Second, the trend for each series is slowly rising. With the severe droughts of recent years, this seems surprising.

Third, the variation in flow over time is very large, and the yearly variation dwarfs the change in the trend over time. At Hermann, the average yearly variation is 30% of the average streamflow. In fact, at Hermann, the highest annual streamflow (1993) was more than 4 times the lowest (2006).

Fourth, periods of high and low flow can last for five or more years.

Fifth, as I have noted in posts on climate change, the annual precipitation in the Northern Rockies & Plains also seems to be slowly increasing.

Just “eyeballing” the chart, the variation in streamflow between years seems to have increased over time, and so does the variation in precipitation. As noted above, the years of both the highest and lowest streamflows have occurred since 1990. If streamflow variation is, indeed, increasing, it opens both the potential for increased flooding and problems due to low water. I will look at this question in more detail in the next post.

Sources:

For river flow: United States Geological Service. National Water Information System: Web Interface. USGS Surface-Water Annual Statistics for Missouri. This is a data portal. Working your way through this data portal is tricky and complex. The sites used above are sites 06893000 (Kansas City) and 06934500 (Hermann). The parameter used was Discharge (sometimes called streamflow) in cubic feet per second. The dates used were 1958-2015. Data was downloaded 6/8/16, and the starting point for the data portal was at http://waterdata.usgs.gov/mo/nwis/annual/?referred_module=sw.

For precipitation: National Centers for Environmental Information. Climate at a Glace. This is a data portal. I selected Parameter: Precipitation, Time Scale: Year-to-Date, Month: Annual, Start Year: 1958, End Year: 2015, State/Region: Northern Rockies and Plains, and Climate Division/City: Entire Region. Data downloaded 7/9/16 from http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/time-series/us.

Missouri Monitors More of Its Lakes, Less of Its Streams, than the Nation as a Whole

An acquaintance who serves as a volunteer water quality monitor dropped by to regale me with stories of the many meetings and intense lobbying that occurred over the writing of the regulations that govern water quality monitoring in Missouri. These regulations determine what becomes a classified stream or lake (see the last 5 posts), and how they determine what beneficial uses each are used for. Classified streams and lakes come under water quality protections established by the federal government. Unclassified streams come under water quality protections established by the state, which may be significantly more lax.

According to my source, the Department of Conservation does most of the actual water quality monitoring, but it is the Department of Natural Resources that is responsible for preparing the biennial 503 report and submitting it to the EPA. The state was evidently under pressure from the EPA to tighten and improve what EPA regarded as inadequate water quality monitoring. In opposition were lobbying groups representing the farmers, utilities, and other interests.

I thought it might be useful to see whether Missouri was significantly out of step with the rest of the country in terms of the amount of its surface water that is assessed for quality, and in terms of the results of the assessments.

Figure 1. Data source: Environmental Protection Agency. Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Figure 1. Data source: Environmental Protection Agency. Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Figure 1 shows two charts. The top chart shows the percentage of classified stream miles that were assessed for quality in Missouri and in the USA as a whole in 2014. The chart shows that nationally, 31% of classified streams were assessed, while in Missouri only 9% were. Missouri is badly lagging behind on that one. The bottom chart shows the percentage of assessed stream miles that were assessed as impaired vs. unimpaired. Missouri’s data may be less accurate because so few miles are assessed, but of those that are assessed, results roughly parallel national results. In both cases, somewhat more than half of assessed stream miles are impaired.

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Figure 2. Data Source: Environmental Protection Agency. Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Figure 2. Data Source: Environmental Protection Agency. Missouri Department of Natural Resources 2015.

Figure 2 shows similar data for lake acres. Here, Missouri assessed a significantly higher percentage: 85% of lake acres vs. 44% for the USA as a whole. And only 27% of Missouri’s lake acres were impaired, whereas nationally a whopping 70% of lake acres were.

I wouldn’t run too far with this data. There is a lot of controversy over what constitutes clean water. For instance, if at a cove on a lake, the water tests clean 50 weeks of the year, but contaminated 2 weeks of the year, is it clean or impaired? A lot of dollars are on the line, and truth always becomes hard to find in such situations.

At first glance, it is heartening that Missouri assesses such a large percentage of its lakes, but then again, Truman Reservoir, Missouri’s largest lake, has 0.2% of the surface area of Lake Superior. You wouldn’t expect Minnesota to be monitoring the water quality way out in the middle of Lake Superior as intensively as you might expect Missouri to be monitoring the quality of its smaller lakes. Even Kentucky Lake and Lake Mead are 3 times Truman Reservoir’s size.

It is rather disheartening that Missouri assesses such a small percentage of its stream miles when other states seem to be able to do much better.

[Addition 6/19/16: The same acquaintance suggests to me an alternative explanation for why Missouri has surveyed a relatively high percentage of lake acres: Missouri has relatively little lake acreage to survey. All our large lakes are man-made reservoirs, and it may require less effort to survey such a small acreage of lakes. To check this out, I did some quick research on the Internet. Indeed, Missouri is below average in the total number of lake acres, coming in 32nd out of 50 states. This is unusual for such a large state as Missouri, and indeed, only about 1.4% of Missouri’s total area is water. This puts us 40th out of 50 in the fraction of our state that is surface water. Minnesota touts itself as “the land of 10,000 lakes.” Well, that is certainly not us here in Missouri. Perhaps my acquaintance is on to something. Thanks for the suggestion.]

Sources:

Environmental Protection Agency. National Summary of State Information. Data retrieved 5/28/16 from https://ofmpub.epa.gov/waters10/attains_nation_cy.control#STREAM/CREEK/RIVER.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources. 2015. Missouri Integrated Water Quality Report and Section 303(d) List, 2014. Downloaded 4/20/2016 from http://dnr.mo.gov/env/wpp/waterquality/303d/303d.htm.

List of Largest Lakes of the United States by Area. Wikipedia. Viewed online 5/28/16 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_lakes_of_the_United_States_by_area.