The Ogalla Aquifer has dropped 274 million acre-feet since since the 1950s


From the International Business Times (Pierre Bertrand):

The High Plains (or Ogallala) Aquifer spans 111 million acres totaling 173,000 square miles. It’s a veritable underground ocean and is used to irrigate crops and support livestock in eight states from South Dakota to Texas.

The crops produced in the region are shipped everywhere throughout the world. It is one of the globe’s major agricultural producing regions – and it’s drying up.

Since the 1950s, when advancements in well technology and water pumping meant agriculturalists could extract record amounts of water, the aquifer has dropped roughly 274 million acre feet, the bulk of the decline happening since the mid-1980s.

Such a drop means water levels have dipped by more than 150 feet in parts of Texas’ Panhandle and South West Kansas, according to a United States Geologic Survey 2011 report that compared water level declines in recent years with levels 60 years ago…

Brownie Wilson, Kansas Geologic Survey’s water level database administrator, said out of 8.6 million acres of Ogallala-irrigated land in Kansas, 1.2 million acres of farm land will be at minimum threshold, or the level at which water can no longer be pumped from the ground for irrigation, within less than 25 years. That will add to the already 2.2 million acres of that state already at minimum threshold…

In 2009, 13 percent of the aquifer had sustained more than a 25 percent drop in its saturated thickness – or the depth of the aquifer. Another 5 percent sustained 50 percent drops, according to the report…

Water recharging the aquifer flows West to East. Depending on how much rainfall the area receives, less than 2 millimeters at times flows back into the aquifer a year, McGuire said. That’s less than one tenth of an inch…

[Troy Dumler, an agricultural economist with Kansas State University] said he suspects the state’s hodgepodge watering issues makes it hard for large-scale farming reform in the area to gain traction. While he remains cautiously optimistic, he adds policies will have to eventually be drafted to help encourage even less water use.

“I don’t think we can just stick our head in the sand and say ‘Oh everything will be fine,'” Dumler said, who anticipates watering issues could prompt some movement within the agricultural industry away from the state.

More ogallala aquifer coverage here and here.

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