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Wise Water Words - Volume 51, Issue 3 (Fall/Winter 2014)

Director's Report

(Submitted by John S. Olsson - Olsson Associates)

[Editor's note: This is the text of John Olsson's address to the opening session of the Fall Conference, as prepared for delivery]

Good morning everyone. I'd like to welcome you to the 2014 Nebraska AWWA Fall Conference, which is once again being held at the wonderful Younes Conference Center. I can speak on behalf of the entire board of directors when I say we are excited to get this conference rolling, and the program committee in particular is to be commended for putting together a fine collection of speakers and programs over the next day and a half.

You know, this is an exciting time to be involved in the water industry in the State of Nebraska. We have so much to be thankful for in this great state of ours. We are blessed with an abundance of water and seem to have reasonable policy in place that allows us to successfully manage this important resource. But not every state is as fortunate as we are.

Consider the State of Texas as one example. In an August 12th Associated Press article, it was noted that as drought and industrial demand ravages on, the Ogallala aquifer is depleting at a pace that some fear will exhaust it far more quickly than anticipated. Records examined by the Lubbock Journal show the aquifer has been depleted by about 325 billion gallons every year for at least the past four decades, resulting in a 40 ft. decline in the groundwater levels. And a few counties have plunged by nearly 100 ft. during that same time period. Additionally, Texas Tech indicates that four counties have less than 15 years before groundwater is exhausted.

By contrast, here in Nebraska where about two-thirds of the entire Ogallala aquifer is stored, we have generally maintained our water levels on average. Yes, we've had some ups and downs across the state, but on average we are faring far better than some of our neighbors even though we have the most irrigated acres of any state. Certainly Nebraska is benefiting from our early, aggressive approach to managing groundwater which is the source to so many of our public water systems.

With new leadership taking over the reins at the highest level in our statehouse from Tuesday's election, the timing seems right to think about what our message might be to this group if afforded that opportunity. I know we can speak with authority to the value water brings to the direct consumers...which are generally at the far end the supply line, right before it goes down the pipe under gravity. But do we truly understand the place of drinking water in the overall context of the water supply chain in our state?

Let's be honest...we have competing uses for water. We have the needs within our communities, we have the needs of agriculture which manifests itself to us with irrigation demand, and here more recently we have an energy industry that with the advancements of directional drilling, has created a water intensive process which we now know as fracking. This particular technology is being utilized in areas not too far from here. Significant shale deposits exist in nearby Eastern Colorado. As these are developed it is reasonable to expect that Nebraska will be looked to as a source for water given some of the factors that have previously been stated.

So it seems like there is starting to become, or maybe there already is, some type of nexus that puts energy, agriculture and community water uses together. They are all connected and one leads to the other. As you listen in and/or participate in the sessions today and tomorrow, you might give some thought to how a broader view of water may influence your decision making process or how you want to go about communicating with those we are entrusted to serve.

Last year our Association CEO, David LeFrance had this to say "Like a river that is constantly transforming, the water profession has changed over the years. Although today's water professional may have an area of focus, we're not so easily identified as just drinking water, wastewater, or reuse professionals. Current challenges force us to take a broader view and recognize the connectedness of each phase of the water cycle. As a result, we understand that at no time does water stop being valuable."