Big 12 Universities Water Workshop

Tuesday, November 18 / Kansas Union, 1301 Jayhawk Blvd., Lawrence

Keynote Speaker

Title: Challenges and Opportunities in Water Resources Research and Education

Brief Summary of Talk: The 2012 NRC report “Challenges and Opportunities in the Hydrologic Sciences” noted that research and education in water resources will be different in the future than today primarily because humans have become such a dominant part of the water cycle. This observation leads to several conclusions. In addition to important work in the many disciplinary areas that are part of water resources science and engineering, there is a need for interdisciplinary research that takes advantage of cutting edge technologies to grapple with the complex water related challenges of today and tomorrow. To solve today’s complex water problems, scientists, engineers, and water managers need disciplinary depth and intellectual breadth to bridge disciplines and the ability to communicate science to policy makers effectively. Multi-way interactions among scientists, engineers, water managers, and decision makers (termed “translational hydrologic science” in the NRC report) are needed to connect science and decision making more closely in order to address increasingly urgent water policy issues. Several examples will be used to illustrate the role that universities can play in helping to address important water problems that face society.

George M. Hornberger (pdf) is Distinguished University Professor at Vanderbilt University, where he is the Director of the Vanderbilt Institute for Energy and the Environment and Chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences. He has a shared appointment as the Craig E. Philip Professor of Engineering and as professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences. He previously was a professor at the University of Virginia for many years, where he held the Ernest H. Ern Chair of Environmental Sciences. His research is aimed at understanding complex water-energy-climate interrelationships and at how hydrologic processes affect the transport of dissolved and suspended constituents through catchments and aquifers. Dr. Hornberger is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), a fellow of the Geological Society of America, a fellow of the Association for Women in Science, and member of the National Academy of Engineering (elected 1996). He serves on numerous boards and committees. For the National Research Council, he was chair of the Board on Earth Sciences and Resources (BESR) from 2003-2009 and he currently is chair of the Water Science and Technology Board (WSTB). He currently also chairs the Advisory Committee for the Geosciences Directorate at the National Science Foundation and the Government and Public Policy Committee at the American Geosciences Institute. Professor Hornberger received his B.S. and M.S. from Drexel University and his Ph.D. from Stanford University.


Big 12 Representative Technical Presentations

Title: Can We Eat, Drink AND Turn on the Lights?

Brief Summary of Talk: Water is central to our economy. It takes water to produce energy and energy to transport and treat water. In addition, the growth in productivity in agriculture over the past century has largely been driven by irrigation. The economy and water demand throughout much of the Midwest and Western US was to support agriculture but increasingly the economy and water use is driven by municipal, commercial and industrial needs. Despite this, agriculture remains the dominant consumptive demand for water. The challenge we face is effectively transitioning water use to meet critical needs in the developing economy. The opportunity for the academic community is identifying the technical barriers to this transition and how to best satisfy all demands for water through a combination of conservation, reuse, and development of alternative water resources. The presentation will identify some of the technical barriers and potential collaborative opportunities with federal and private research support.

Danny Reible (pdf) is the Donovan Maddox Distinguished Engineering Chair at Texas Tech University. He holds a PhD in Chemical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology. He is a Board Certified Environmental Engineer, a Professional Engineer (LA) and in 2005 was elected to the National Academy of Engineering for the “development of widely used approaches for the management of contaminated sediments”. His research is focused on the fate, transport and management of contaminants in the environment and the sustainable management of water resources. He has authored or edited six books and more than 150 journal articles and book chapters. Research support as a principal investigator has totaled more than $30 million.


Title: Shale Gas Development in the Appalachian Basin-water requirements, management and quality implications

Brief Summary of Talk: Large-scale development of the Appalachian Basin shale gas resources began in 2008. Waste water, its characterization and handling have emerged as critical components in the industry’s environmental management strategy. We studied six horizontal hydro fracturing wells, their flowback streams and associated fresh and process water impoundments. This study summarizes our results and places them in the context of other studies that sought to characterize flowback. We also discuss likely drinking water and aquatic exposure pathways and practical measures for controlling associated risk.

We found that inorganic contaminants were dominated by extremely high concentrations of Na, Cl, Ca, Mg, Br, Ba, Sr with total dissolved solids concentrations approaching 200,000 mg/L. While many organic compounds were found at high concentrations, only benzene was consistently found in excess of its drinking water standard (MCL 5 µg/L). Naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) were also examined and α, β, 226Ra and 228Ra were consistently found above their primary drinking water MCLs in flowback water.

Concentrations of all of these contaminants increased during the flowback cycle and concentrations of all measured parameters were much higher in flowback water than in the injected hydraulic fracturing fluids. This indicates that the bulk of contaminants are acquired through fluid contact with the formation and not from the injected hydraulic fracturing fluid.

Storage and handling of flowback water was identified as the key to controlling accidental environmental release of liquid wastes. Control measures are thus recommended that would address well integrity, impoundment construction, on-site containment, and process water distribution between well sites and impoundments.

Paul Ziemkiewicz (pdf) is the Director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute. Dr. Ziemkiewicz received a BS and an MS from Utah State University and his PhD from the University of British Columbia. After graduation from UBC he worked for ten years in the Alberta Department of Energy directing environmental programs in coal, oil sands and conventional oil and gas and midstream. He came to West Virginia University in 1988 where he is the director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute. The institute develops and manages water related research programs in shale gas, coal, power generation and environmental restoration.


Title: Desalination – Prospective Technology for Mitigating Water Scarcity

Brief Summary of Talk: In many countries desalination has proven to be a reliable and efficient water supply technology, especially in times of water scarcity. The US desalination market has been growing since 1950s, with around 1,336 desalination plants in 2013 providing purified water mainly to municipalities, the industry sector, and for power generation. This presentation will discuss developments on the desalination market in the US and address prospects of the technology to secure reliable water supply in the mid- and long-term. It will also point out challenges and impediments that need to be overcome for desalination to become an integral part of community water supply portfolios.

Jad Ziolkowska (pdf) is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability at the University of Oklahoma. She was a scholar at the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Texas at Austin. Her research areas include policy evaluation and decision-making support in the field of natural resource, environmental, bioenergy, agricultural economics and sustainable resource management. Her current research focus is on optimizing water management systems, desalination, biofuels, geospatial and spatio-temporal analyses. She is also a faculty team member for the EPSCoR NSF project and works on socio-economic and ecological system models to examine interactions of climate variability, ecosystem services and cultural values in Oklahoma.


Title: Reservoir Sedimentation: A Focus on Upstream Sources

Brief Summary of Talk: Reservoirs are critical infrastructure for managing available water supplies including flood control, water supply, power generation, and recreation. Issues with long-term sediment loads to these reservoirs have decreased available storage capacity and may inhibit flood regulation and protection for millions of acres. This presentation will include a discussion of upstream, in-reservoir, and downstream aspects of reservoir sediment dynamics with a focus on identifying and preventing upstream sediment loading. Upstream sources of sediment are typically assumed to be from upland watershed areas. However, it has recently been recognized that streambank retreat and gully erosion can be significant contributors to the total sediment and nutrient loads to streams and downstream reservoirs. In many watersheds throughout the United States, significant amounts of sediment in streams and reservoirs originate from gully, channel, and streambank erosion as compared to upland soil erosion. Sediment loads must be addressed by considering potentially linked upland, in-stream, streambank, and riparian management strategies that are socially, economically, and ecologically feasible. Furthermore, major upstream sediment loading events are commonly not correlated with streamflow but dependent upon the linked processes of fluvial erosion undercutting and geotechnical instability when gullies and streambanks are primed for erosion. Process-based instruments and design tools are needed to quantify this sediment loading and the impact of conservation practices over a range of hydraulic and hydrologic conditions. More information is also needed on appropriate in-reservoir sediment-reduction techniques including removal techniques and transport dynamics within reservoirs, and on the short- and long-term effects of reservoirs on downstream flow and transport processes.

Garey Fox (pdf) is a Professor and Buchanan Endowed Chair in Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering at Oklahoma State University (OSU) and also the Interim Director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Center. His research is in the field of surface water/groundwater interactions relative to both hydrology and water quality, including cohesive sediment transport due to both fluvial and seepage forces. He has published 88 peer-reviewed journal articles, been awarded over $6 million in research funding, and has mentored/advised 26 graduate students and 18 undergraduate research scholars.


Title: Nutrients in Agriculture and the Environment

Brief Summary of Talk: Nutrient inputs are required to produce food for the growing world population. Nitrogen and phosphorus are the two leading nutrients responsible for high yielding crops. However, both of these nutrients can also degrade water quality if lost to surface or ground water. Historical recommendations for nutrient management were made independent of the environmental costs associated with nutrient loss. The grand challenge ahead of us is to develop management practices and educational programs that meet both agronomic and environmental objectives for sustainable food production and protection of water resources.

Nathan Nelson (pdf) is an Associate Professor in the Kansas State University Department of Agronomy. He teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in soil fertility and nutrient management. His research interests are developing methods of nutrient management that help producers increase crop yields while reducing nutrient loss and protecting water quality. His research projects include conservation practice development and evaluation, improved manure management, and modeling fate and transport of phosphorus in agroecosystems. He is a Kansas native and received his B.S. degree from Kansas State University and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from North Carolina State University.


Title: Assessing the major drivers of water-level declines: New insights into the future of the High Plains aquifer

Brief Summary of Talk: The High Plains region hosts some of the most productive irrigated agricultural land in the United States, if not the world, due to the vast High Plains aquifer. However, much of this aquifer system is on a fundamentally unsustainable path due to extensive pumping of groundwater for irrigated agriculture. Over the last 50 years, this pumping has resulted in large declines in water levels that have called into question the viability of the aquifer as a continuing resource for irrigated agriculture, a linchpin of the region’s economy, and placed great stress on riparian ecosystems. A grand challenge for the water resources community is to address what the future holds for such highly stressed aquifer systems and to provide a sound scientific foundation for water management and policy decisions. Timeliness, however, is a critical practical consideration so a parallel effort must also be pursued that is directed at identifying the key relationships driving large-scale aquifer behavior and incorporating them into tools that can be readily used by water managers and planners for rapid assessment of the impact of future climatic and anthropogenic stresses. The power of one such tool, a simple, first-order approach that captures the primary excitation-response relationships driving aquifer behavior, will be demonstrated for the portion of the High Plains aquifer in western and central Kansas. Correlations between water-level changes and climatic indices can be used to develop insights into the impact of future droughts of varying severity on water-level decline rates. More importantly, correlations between water-level changes and reported pumping can be used to demonstrate that practically feasible pumping reductions should stabilize water levels, at least temporarily, over much of the aquifer in Kansas, a finding of considerable significance given the recently devised Local Enhanced Management Area (LEMA) framework. This correlation-based approach is not envisioned as a replacement for process-based modeling but rather as a complementary tool that can often provide insights of great practical value.

Jim Butler (pdf) is a Senior Scientist and Chief of the Geohydrology Section of the Kansas Geological Survey at the University of Kansas (KU), where he has worked since 1986. He holds a B.S. in Geology from the College of William and Mary, and a M.S. and Ph.D. in Applied Hydrogeology from Stanford University. Jim was the 2007 Darcy Distinguished Lecturer of the National Ground Water Association and the 2009 recipient of the Pioneers in Groundwater Award of the Environmental and Water Resources Institute of the American Society of Civil Engineers. He also serves as an associate of the KU Center for East Asian Studies and a courtesy professor in the KU Department of Geology.

Current and Upcoming Events

The 65th Annual KU Environmental Engineering Conference
The Kansas Union
Wednesday, April 22, 2015.

NovCare 2015: Novel Methods for Subsurface Characterization and Monitoring: From Theory to Practice
The Oread Hotel
May 19-21, 2015
More info

Past Events

Big 12 Universities Water Workshop
The Kansas Union
Tuesday, November 18th,
7 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Confronting The Continuing Depletion of the High Plains Aquifer in Western Kansas
The Oread
Monday, November 17th,
5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

59th Annual Midwest Groundwater Conference
Lawrence, KS Holiday Inn
October 1 and 2, 2014 
More Info

6th Annual Joint Conference of the Kansas Water Environment Federation (KWEA) 
Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka
August 26th, 27th and 28th, 2014
More info

Future of Water in Kansas
Kansas Room at the KU Union
Thursday, April 24, 2014
4-6 p.m.

Chi Zhang from Rutgers University​ seminar​
103 Lindley Hall
Friday, April 18th, 2014
11:00 am

The 64th Annual KU Environmental Engineering Conference
The Kansas Union ($30)
April 16, 2014
More information

Advances in Solute Transport from Electrical Geophysics
103 Lindley
Monday, April 14th, 2014
4:00 pm

Sedimentation Research Workshop
Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka ($25 fee)
Monday, April 14th, 2014
9:00 am to 4:10 pm

Geologic CO2 Sequestration in Low-Volume Basalt Reservoirs
Lindley 103
Thursday, April 10, 2014
4 p.m.

Characterizing the subglacial hydrology of Thwaites Glacier, West Antarctica Using Airborne Radar Sounding
Lindley 103
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
4 p.m.



If you are interested in joining the water research community or you have information that you would like to make available to the this community please contact either individual listed below:

Bob Rummer,
Director of Research Development,,
Tricia Bergman,
Director of Strategic Partnerships,,

One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
44 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
23rd nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets," Military Times
KU Today