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Conservation: Focus on saving water

More than 300 people gathered recently in Baton Rouge for the first ever Louisiana Water Summit, hosted by the LSU AgCenter.

The summit at the Lod Cook Alumni Center on the LSU campus focused on sharing ideas about how to save existing water supplies, and it saw the state's top official and others say such issues must be addressed. Gov. Mike Foster told those present “the time has come” to address the water problems the state is experiencing.

“The thing that comes to mind is this is a subject we should've started addressing earlier,” Foster said.

“Now that we are looking at it, we want to be sure we create policies based on science and not politics.”

LSU AgCenter Chancellor Bill Richardson agreed, saying he expects such issues to become even larger parts of the research and educational programs of the AgCenter.

“Our ultimate goal is to do what is best for the entire state,” Richardson said. “We fully expect water to be one of the issues that gets a lot of attention during the next legislative session. We need to come up with policies that everyone will benefit from.”

Among other speakers, Ronald Kaiser from Texas A&M University spoke about Texas' experience with groundwater management practices.

“Groundwater is an important water source for Texas that is generating significant legal and political debate over how it should be managed,” Kaiser said. “Although groundwater provides drinking water for a number of Texas cities, it is especially important for irrigated agriculture.”

Irrigation consumes about 80 percent of all the groundwater pumped on an annual basis in Texas, Kaiser said. Municipal and manufacturing uses account for the remaining 20 percent. The legal and political issues being debated clash with the longstanding Texas tradition of treating groundwater as an unregulated private property right, he said. In contrast to the unified regulatory system for surface water, the Texas Legislature has followed a decentralized approach to groundwater regulation and has deferred management to about 60 local groundwater management districts.

Those districts generally are organized around political boundaries and do not encompass aquifer boundaries, he said.

Among the core groundwater management issues that need to be addressed are resolving conflicts over high-capacity wells, withdrawing too much water from aquifers and promoting safe and sustainable yields from aquifers, Kaiser said.

“When examined in this context, the issues shift from protecting private property rights in groundwater to effectively managing aquifers and groundwater in order to sustain an agricultural economy,” Kaiser said. “We need to rethink the way we deal with water. We need to figure out what is in our best interest.”

One aquifer that has generated a lot of interest is the Sparta Aquifer in northern Louisiana and southern Arkansas. Ben McGee of the U.S. Geological Survey said this aquifer supplies all or part of the groundwater for 16 parishes in north-central Louisiana and several counties in southern Arkansas. Since the late 1800s, domestic and municipal supply wells have used the Sparta for drinking water. Large withdrawals for industrial use began in the 1920s with the construction of numerous paper and lumber mills in North Louisiana, McGee said. Now the aquifer is depleting at a rate of about 2 feet per year, experts say.

“Data show that in 2000, groundwater withdrawals from the Sparta aquifer totaled 77.20 million gallons per day,” McGee said.

“The Sparta provides water for a variety of purposes; however, the major users are public supply with 37.62 million gallons per day and industry with 37.32 million gallons per day. The remaining 3 percent, or 2.26 million gallons per day, were used by agriculture, rural domestic and power generation withdrawals.”

Current information indicates water use from the Sparta has increased 37 percent since 1985, McGee said.

If current water-use trends continue, a water-use increase of about 50 percent is likely by 2005, he said.

According to historical and recent computer models of the Sparta aquifer, southern Arkansas could experience a lack of water within its portion of the Sparta aquifer by the year 2005 — with a 50 percent increase in water usage over the 1985 figures, he said.

“It's not just Louisiana's problem,” McGee said. “And it's not just Arkansas' problem. It's everybody's problem, and we've got to work together to see that it is solved.”

Like the Sparta Aquifer in North Louisiana, the Chicot Aquifer in southwestern Louisiana also is showing problems associated with water use. John K. Lovelace, also of the U.S. Geological Survey, said the Chicot Aquifer is the most heavily pumped aquifer in Louisiana.

“An estimated 830 million gallons per day were pumped from the Chicot Aquifer for public supply, industrial, agricultural and other uses in 2000,” Lovelace said. “More than half of this water was used for rice farming. Other users included petroleum refineries and petrochemical industries.”

Pumping from the Chicot Aquifer began around 1900 and increased steadily until about 1980, Lovelace said. After 1980, pumping decreased as many farmers reduced their acreage and installed underground irrigation systems, which reduced the amount of water lost on the way to the fields. In addition to water lost from the aquifer by pumping, saltwater intrusion also has become a problem, Lovelace said. As water levels decline, the potential for inland movement of the salt water increases.

Although there has been little evidence of lateral land movement of the salt water, wells in some areas have been affected by salt water that has come up from the base of the aquifer because of heavy prolonged pumping, he said.

The Chicot aquifer system covers about 9,000 square miles in Louisiana and extends into southern Texas. Moving across the southern portion of the state, aquifers in the Southern Hills system — a series of 30 named aquifers that supply southeastern Louisiana — also have declined as much as 300 feet since the 1940s, officials said.

Thomas Merrill is a communications specialist with the LSU AgCenter.

Cattle producers battle short hay supplies

Last summer's drought and this winter's bitter weather have left beef cattle producers in a bind. George Davis, livestock nutritionist for the Cooperative Extension Service, University of Arkansas, says, “Most producers are short on hay at a time when their cattle need extra energy to cope with the winter weather.”

Davis said producers either have to buy hay at a premium price or find ways to reduce their dependency on hay.

“One way to reduce the amount of hay required is to supplement the cattle's diet with a by-product feed such as soybean hulls, corn gluten or wheat midds. You can also supplement hay with corn.

“If you're feeding a high concentrate like corn, you can limit daily hay intake to maybe 1 percent of the animal's weight, but no less than 0.75 percent.”

Davis warns that if you're feeding high levels of by-product feed or corn, “be sure to keep the level of calcium and phosphorus balanced. Feeding cattle a ration low in calcium and high in phosphorus reduces performance and can even kill animals.”

Davis said producers can also reduce hay use by feeding another source of roughage such as rice millfeed or cottonseed hulls.

Ice storm damage may be tax deductible

IF YOU suffered property damage from the December ice storms, you may be eligible for income tax casualty deductions, says Judith Urich, Arkansas Extension family resource management specialist.

“They're always complicated, but claims from this winter's ice storms may be more so because the damage occurred late in tax year 2000,” said Urich. “Any deductions go on your tax return for tax year 2000 or tax year 1999. You can file an amended 1999 tax return or your regular 2000 tax return by April 16, 2001. No filing extensions are allowed.”

Urich said if you live in a disaster county, it shouldn't be a problem to prove the ice storm was destructive, but you're still required to have proof of your damage such as pictures.

“Save receipts because the costs for appraisal fees and photography used to establish the amount of loss are deductible.

“Save any records to support your loss deduction.”

If you're fortunate enough to have property insurance, be sure you file a timely claim for reimbursement of your loss. Otherwise, you won't be able to deduct the loss as a casualty or theft on Schedule A of your 1040 form.

“If your property was not covered by insurance, you can claim the loss subject to a $100 deductible,” Urich said.

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