Title: Technical Aspects of Water Management Practices for the Paw Paw River Basin By Norman F. Billings
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/WL00003154/00001
 Material Information
Title: Technical Aspects of Water Management Practices for the Paw Paw River Basin By Norman F. Billings
Physical Description: Book
Language: English
Publisher: The Conservation Foundation
Spatial Coverage: North America -- United States of America -- Florida
Abstract: Richard Hamann's Collection - Technical Aspects of Water Management Practices for the Paw Paw River Basin By Norman F. Billings
General Note: Box 12, Folder 11 ( Conservation Foundation - Symposium Papers on Water Allocation in Eastern U. S. - 1956 ), Item 7
Funding: Digitized by the Legal Technology Institute in the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida.
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Bibliographic ID: WL00003154
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Holding Location: Levin College of Law, University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.

Full Text


Draft for discussion



Cosmos Club, Washington, D. C.
October 4-6, 1956

Technical Aspects of Water Management Practices
for the Paw Paw River Basin


Norman F. Billings

30 East 40th Street
New York City

Technical Aspects of Water Management Practices
for the Paw Paw River Basin

Norman F. Billings
Michigan Water Resources Commission

The purpose of this paper is to explore the role of applied hydrology in the

development of water and the regulation of water uses in the Paw Paw Basin as ex-

emplary of Michigan areas where consumptive and non-consumptive uses are coming

into competition. It considers this role both with respect to the development of

legislation, in which hydrology is involved chiefly from the standpoint of its

general, basic principles, and to- the actual administration of water management

practices, where the science finds very detailed application.

Introductory Remarks

Physical Conditions

The Paw Paw Basin consists of some 446 square miles of glacial drift near the

extreme southwestern corner of the state. The topography is gently undulating to

moderately hilly, the soils generally loamy to sandy, and the water table within

a few feet or dozens of feet below the ground surface as a general rule. The

stream system is relatively stable in stage and discharge, with an estimated ratio

of 3.6 to 1 between the 10% and the 90% points on the flow duration curve for the

U.S.G.S. stream gaging station at Riverside. The basin contains many lakes, ranging

in size from a few acres up to 900 acres for Paw Paw Lake, the largest. Some of the

lakes outlet permanently or, more generally, intermittently, to the stream system.

Others have no surface outlet. From information elsewhere in the state, it is assumed

that some of the very smallest ponds, marshes, and "wet spots" express perched water

tables. Water levels of the larger lakes and swamps, the main stream of the Paw Paw

and its permanent tributaries approximate the true ground water table.

A few small reservoirs have been developed by building dams on the larger streams

Topographic maps indicate the possibility of some additional dam sites with storage

for several hundred acre feet of water. Fairly large numbers of small farm ponds

could probably be constructed and undoubtedly some sites exist that would lend

* .

themselves to storage of the rather significant water volumes necessary for operating

supplemental irrigation systems.

Ground water resources may be somewhat above average for the state, both in

area distribution and in potential yield. It is believed that very substantial

quantities are available in the glacial drift throughout much, but not all, of the


Present water use and development

Soils, climate, proximity to markets and other factors in the vast complex that

determine resource usage have led to the development of an agricultural industrial -

recreational economy.

Agriculture is devoted, in a large degree to growing small fruits, tree fruits,

and truck and specialty crops, with a consequent somewhat unusual adaptability to

irrigation. Average annual applications of water are in the neighborhood of 6

inches. The practice is growing steadily and rapidly, doubling both in acreage

and numbers of systems about every 3 years. In 1954 the total area under

irrigation was about 5,563 acres and the total water use about 2,340 acre feet or

1,170 day second feet. On the other hand, artificial drainage has been necessary

to make some agricultural lands arable.

Recreational water usage centers about the lakes, whose shores are becoming

heavily built up with cottages and year round dwellings. Stable lake levels are

most desirable for all types of recreational use. Information is not available

as to the extent of recreational developments on streams but such use is undoubtedly

growing, both for residential and sports fishing purposes.

Hydro power is developed at one downstream site, at Watervliet. The degree

of water use there is not known but in Michigan generally hydro power plants use

all medium and low flows.

Industries and municipalities, mostly on the lower reaches of the river, use

the Paw Paw for waste disposal. Their combined waste loading results in pollution


of the river to the extent that it is injurious to the public health, lawful enter-

prise or fish and aquatic life during periods of low stream flow. The pollution

is accordingly unlawful and is being reduced under orders of the Water Resources

Commission. Those orders must be reasonable and cannot require that the reduction

of waste loading be carried any farther than is necessary to abate existing injury.

However, if the low stream flow on which pollution control orders are based is

depleted, the waste loadings, even though reduced, may again cause injury and there-

fore be unlawful and subject to further Commission orders.

The Paw Paw thus contains all the types of water conditions, water and land

relationships, aad water use problems that are found in the state. Because each

river basin has its own physical and economic individuality, the degree of those

conditions, relationships and problems varies from basin to basin. Those variations

do not imply the need for different laws or administrative practices in the various

basins. The need, instead, is for flexibility and responsiveness to needs whenever

and wherever they occur.

Hydrology as an Aid in Developing Legislation

Preparatory to enactment of legislation, the hydrologist will be called upon

to report the general magnitude of water resources available, in terms of the uses

they will supply, and how those quantities may be expected to vary from time to

time. This he can do, with respect to surface water, from the records of existing

key lake and stream gaging stations. With respect to ground water, he is limited

to making broad generalizations because data are so deficient. In the Paw Paw

basin, for example, little more can be said than that the ground water resources

appear to be capable of meeting substantial municipal, industrial, and irrigation

needs throughout much of the area. As to lakes and streams in the Paw Paw, like

in most other river basins of southern Michigan, it can be said that recreation,

power development, and mnnicipal/and industrial waste dilution fully utilize the

resources during ordinary drought. The recreation use is widely distributed but



the others are mostly at downstream locations. At other seasons, great quantities

of water escape unused as flood and freshet flows enough, in fact, to meet all

presently conceivable consumptive and non-consumptive uses, if it could be stored

and released as needed.

Under the principles of Michigan pollution control law, the use of streams

for waste disposal is effectively limited by their ordinary low flow. Thus the

Paw Paw in an ordinary spring carries far more water than can be used for waste

dilution. This excess gradually diminishes until at seasonal low, the flow

approaches or reaches the rate upon which pollution control orders have been based.

When and in what quantities the excess flow occurs will be important to the legis-


In addition to knowledge about the resource and its current uses, the legis-

lature will want to have the best possible basis for estimating future needs. The

hydrologist can aid here by investigating recent and current water use trends.

Forecasting likely extension of those trends will call for collaboration by agri-

cultural, municipal, industrial, and conservation authorities.

The legislature will want to know what things can be done to improve the

natural water situation in order that provision for them may be made in the law.

The hydrologist will need to explain the various possible improvement practices

so that their implications may be fully understood, even though the law itself

cannot deal with them in any detail. For example, one such practice, on-channel

storage of excess water, involves some rather complicated management problems

in distinguishing stored water from natural stream flow that need to be appreciated

by the law-drafters if they are to provide properly for such projects.

Hydrology as an Aid in Post-Legislation Water Management

Far different from these simple duties are the tasks facing the hydrologist

in actual administration of water rights law. Now, instead of dealing with general

principles he must occupy himself with very specific facts.



Establishing minimum stream flows and lake levels

The law will provide in some way for the protection of time-honored rights -

of that we can be certain. The first job in water management at the Paw Paw basin,

then, will be to identify and evaluate those rights in exact terms cubic feet

per second, acre inches, hundredths of feet in water level elevation. This will

be necessary even though the rights in question may never before have been recognized

with such exactitude, in order that additional needs may be filled to the greatest

possible extent.

It is to be hoped that the law will at least say how such determinations shall

be made. That can be done as in the new Mississippi law, which calls for the use

of past stream-discharge records in computing or estimating minimum flows to be

reserved for non-consumptive uses. But because some streams even at low flow

carry much more water than is needed for any present use, the law should also

provide an alternate basis for deciding how much the flow of such streams might

safely be depleted.

Possibly that alternate could be expressed in the law as a rate of stream flow

per unit of drainage area, as, for example, ".4 cfs/sq.mi." In that case, as with

the past-record approach, the hydrologist's work is mainly collecting and analyzing

a great deal of stream-flow data. If, however, the law only relates the propriety

of diversions to limits which are set by the needs of fish life, then the hydrologist

together with the fish habitat authority have a very difficult job. The writer's

understanding, from Michigan fisheries authorities, is that only research and ex-

perience will show how much water is required under the various possible conditions,

to sustain fish life on this stream or that.

The problem of ascertaining minimum lake level conditions that are compatible

with existing rights and needs is appreciably simpler than the identification of

minimum acceptable stream flow. Michigan has considerable experience under statu-

tory law in the establishment of "normal" levels, which are reasonably susceptible

of determination with respect to the record of past levels, to existing development

of shore properties, and to fish spawning conditions.

Regulation of diversions

After minimum stream flow rates and lake level elevations have been set,

the administrative functions come into full play with the allocation of priorities

to consumptive uses and the regulation of those uses with respect to each other

and to minimum flow or levels. Hydrologic activity requisite for this phase

consists of maintaining very accurate and up-to-the-minute knowledge of stream flow

throughout the entire system especially when the flow declines to rates where

termination of lowest priority diversions is imminent. Such knowledge is, of

course, absolutely essential to permit all uses when possible and to terminate

such uses in order of their priorities exactly when stream conditions so require.

Many low-flow stream gaging stations and lake level gages will have tote main-

tained and checked frequently during critical periods.

A situation that will complicate stream flow appraisal is the intermittent

nature of irrigation pumpage as practiced in this state. As pumps are started

or stopped, the effect on flow of a stream moves downstream rather slowly at

rates that depend on the characteristics of that particular stream. The

hydrologist will have to learn those rates for every critical reach of stream

so that he can know how much the flow at a check station at any particular time is

influenced by the various upstream pumping activities. Metering devices on the

pump outlets may be necessary to permit accurate accounting of water consumption.

Excess Water Storage On-Channel

Where on-channel reservoirs for the storage of excess water are developed

on permanent streams a problem of distinguishing the stored quantities from those

represented by the natural stream flow will be presented. The limitations in

accuracy of stream measurement techniques may make it very difficult to balance inflow

against outflow and thereby to evaluate the volume being released from storage at

any time. Another way of getting at the answer to this problem might consist of


developing a storage-curve for each reservoir and permitting use at the rate by which

reservoir storage is depleted. Same computed evaporation loss should, theoretically,

be subtracted from the allowable use quantity. We doubt the practicality of attempt-

ing to assess actual evaporation losses and are at present inclined to think that

a flat monthly loss rate might logically be applied, on an area basis for example,

5" per month or whatever other figure careful study indicates is proper, times the

reservoir's average water surface area for the month.

Excess Water Storage Off-channel

It would seem that the law should authorize the detention of overland runoff

for beneficial uses. Little administrative supervision over such projects would

be necessary and the main type of hydrologic consultation indicated would be advice

as to pond construction and drainage area requirements for best results.

Ground Water Problems

The Paw Paw basin, like many other irrigable areas in Michigan, offers sub-

stantial potentialities for obtaining water from the ground. Except as ground

water supplies are permanently depleted, their production is largely at the expense

of stream flow. Where pumping lowers the water table beyond reach of phreatophytes,

evapo-transpiration losses will be reduced. Significant water savings may result

in some cases. However, widespread and heavy pumping is bound to cause some

reduction in stream flow and lake levels. The effect will not be as drastic as

from direct surface water diversions, but will tend to be spread over weeks or months.

It will be least at the beginning of the irrigation season and will increase as

the season progresses.

Pumping tests will be useful in estimating the degree of diminution in flow

or lake levels which may result from ground water production. Such tests are

laborious, expensive, and require highly skilled technicians for their interpreta-

tion. We would look for them to be employed in the development of general guides

to ground water management rather than on a wholesale basis.


It is difficult at present to visualize the criteria which might be selected

as bases for regulating ground water pumping. It seems unavoidable that production

from the ground must enjoy a favorable position in relation to direct diversions

from surface water. When streams and lakes reach base conditions, the enforced

cessation of diversions therefrom will at once terminate their effects. But

ordering a well shut off at that time, half a mile distant from a stream, will

produce no observable response at all in the stream. Shutting off a hundred

wells might cause some improvement in stream flow after a period of weeks, but the

critical conditions may well have been ended by then. Unless a benefit is pro-

duced, we can see no point in requiring the cessation of pumpage. If wells are to

be allowed at all, they might as well aW allowed to operate continuously. A more

logical approach might lie in limiting the total allowable monthly pumping from

wells within the drainage basin. But every well's pumpage reduces stream flow to

some degree and thereby aggravates the conditions which we seek to prevent in reserv-

ing base flows from direct diversion. No benefit would result from reserving a

greater flow in an attempt to anticipate and accommodate the effects of ground water

pumping. The effect of diversions on a surface stream can be terminated very quickly

by stopping the diversion. The effect on stream flow of pumping from the ground, on

the other hand, will persist long after the pumping is stopped. But who can fore-

cast stream flow conditions with sufficient accuracy to substantiate, in court, the

need for shutting off wells weeks ahead of time?

Indirect improvement through cooperative effort

Although we use the word "inter-related" a great deal in discussing the

basic principles of water management, we must remember that in many cases, the

relationship is highly unilateral, with most if not all the effects of a given

practice occurring downstream. Downstream interests seeking to improve their water

resources can hardly expect upstream interests to foot the bill, however meritorious

a particular project may be. Where the benefits accrue to a large number of people

it may accordingly be worthwhile for them to subsidize such indirect improvement

measures as reforestation, soil conservation, infiltration reservoirs, ground water

recharge and even in some cases, drainage. Procedures for carrying out such group-

sponsored action should be provided in the law. The hydrologist, soil conserva-

tionist and geologist in collaboration can provide useful advice as the best

location and choice of such practices.


It is apparent that the systematic management of water resources in the

Paw Paw basin will involve enough continuous data collection and study to con-

stitute some expense. The day to day regulation of uses that is necessitated by

natural flow variations will certainly be a nuisance to the water users. However,

the more guesswork is permitted and the more casual regulation is, the less fair

will be the management to all concerned. The writer anticipates little active

opposition to a system that is handled with scrupulous care and the greatest

possible accuracy. The need for water is growing so critical that all parties to

the problem can be expected to insist on such accuracy, which can be maintained only

by keeping very close watch on water resource conditions.

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