First #Ogallala Aquifer Summit recap

From The High Plains Journal (Jennifer M. Latzke):

The inaugural Ogallala Aquifer Summit was April 9 and 10. Its goal was to bring together agricultural, municipal, research and industry stakeholders in one room to look at the realities of the aquifer today and create solutions to work toward conserving this vast resource for the future.

The summit was a product of the state of Kansas’s 50-Year Water Vision Plan, created in 2013. It recognized that the Ogallala Aquifer’s future not only directly affects Kansas, but also neighboring states and that any conservation efforts would need to be multi-state.

“People are impacted in all eight states by the aquifer,” explained Kansas Lt. Gov. Tracey Mann in his welcome. “The Ogallala Aquifer is the source of water for one-third of our state, and 44.5 percent of our economy is tied to agriculture. We have 3.5 million irrigated acres in Kansas, and 1.4 million of those are irrigated through the Ogallala Aquifer.”


John Stulp, special counsel to the Governor of Colorado on water, and a former Commissioner of Agriculture of Colorado, farms in eastern Colorado and understands firsthand the importance of the Ogallala Aquifer to agriculture…

Attendees at the first Ogallala Aquifer Summit, April 9 and 10, Garden City, Kansas, were broken into diversified focus groups by the organizers to better hash out issues that affect all eight states that sit above the aquifer. (Journal photo by Jennifer M. Latzke.)

“We have 12 million irrigated crop acres over the Ogallala Aquifer,” Stulp said. “About $12 billion of revenue is created out of this asset that we sit on top of here.”

Robert Mace, associate director and the chief water policy officer at the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, laid out the history and the current status of the Ogallala Aquifer for participants.

Large irrigated region

Today, about 43,000-acre feet of water is pumped each day from the Ogallala Aquifer across the High Plains. It accounts for the largest area of irrigated cropland in the world and is 31 percent of the total irrigated land in the U.S., Mace said.

“We have seen more than 150 feet of decline in parts of Texas,” Mace said. While there are some parts that are rising, overall the saturated thickness of the aquifer has declined. In some areas of Texas, that’s more than 50 percent of the aquifer now depleted.

Over the two-day summit, participants shared information about scientific research into the status of the aquifer, the politics of the eight states above the aquifer, and measures that can be taken to extend its life.

Producers look to innovate

Darren Buck farms on the border between Kansas and Oklahoma, and he is staring at the end of the useful life of the aquifer under his farm ground. To extend the life of his wells to the next generation and beyond, he’s switched to no-till and strip-till farming, which helps him conserve as many drops of 17 inches of annual rainfall as is possible.

“We also have telemetry on our center pivots,” he said. This allows him to be able to stop and change the speed and direction of his pivots. By monitoring his pivots remotely he can catch wasteful situations quicker, thus preserving the water he’s pumping.

“On one of my pivots, I can apply an amount of water comparable to two days water supply for a town of 2,000 people,” Buck said. “One pivot, over 10 hours.”

Additionally Buck practices track management, which sounds simple but can save a lot of water when properly applied in clay loam soils like his.

“We run our pivots routinely 1,500 or more hours a year, and we get tracks,” he said. “At the end of the season, the evapotranspiration need of the corn starts to tail off, so the need for water on the corn goes down. But, if you get a rain shower, you don’t let the pivots stop because they’ll get stuck if you shut them down. And if you need them in a hot and dry snap to help corn fill properly to the end of the season, it could be a problem. That’s why you see pivots running when it’s raining.” Being able to shut down the water and start back up again saves a lot of water.

Summits help, official says

Jim Butler, of the Kansas Geological Survey, brought home the importance of summits like this. The survey has new modeling framework that accounts for the water levels of the aquifer and the water use data from the wells on it to answer the question of how much do we need to reduce pumping on the aquifer to keep it at current levels?

The survey found that on the far western third of Kansas, directly over the bulk of the aquifer, pumping would have to reduce by 27 to 32 percent to keep the aquifer at current levels.

“If you want to reduce the rate of decline by half, then you take those numbers and divide by two and see that a relatively modest reduction in pumping could have a large impact on the decline rate,” Butler said.

Regulating the aquifer through state statutes and policies can be tricky because each state deals with individual water rights by judicial precedence and politics that go back a 100 years or more. Organizers said that was one major reason it’s critical to have summits like this regularly to get stakeholders actively involved in solving problems and sharing knowledge.

Garden City, Kansas, back in the day

From Kansas State University:

Meeting helps citizens, officials from eight states to share ideas and concerns

More than 200 people from agriculture and other industries came together April 9-10 to discuss the challenges and opportunities for preserving groundwater in the Ogallala Aquifer region, a large resource that touches parts of eight states from South Dakota to Texas.

The Ogallala Aquifer Summit marked a key accomplishment in the 50-year water vision for Kansas, a plan set forth in 2013 by then Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.

“The Ogallala was one of the two marquee parts of the governor’s 50-Year Water Vision, along with the reservoirs in the eastern part of the state,” said Tracy Streeter, director of the Kansas Water Office, which organized the summit along with Kansas State University and Colorado State University.

“This conference is very important in helping us achieve our goals under the 50-year water plan that the governor set us on three years ago.”

Dan Devlin, the director of the Kansas Water Research Institute at Kansas State University, noted that the meeting was also in response to citizen’s requests.

“It was really interesting back when Gov. Brownback was doing the meetings for the 50-Year Water Vision for Kansas, we heard at meeting after meeting from citizens that they wanted to talk to the other Ogallala states,” Devlin said. “They said, ‘we want to know what they’re doing. We want to know what we can learn from them and we can also share things.’”

The Ogallala Aquifer underlies 175,000 square miles, or about 112 million acres in parts of eight states. For nearly 80 years, farmers and communities have been using the aquifer for agriculture and public water supplies. The Ogallala supports about 30 percent of all U.S. crop and livestock production, accounting for an estimated $35 billion in agricultural products annually.

But the resource is dwindling…quickly. Southern parts of the aquifer – including many areas of Texas and New Mexico – are nearly dry and in western Kansas, an extremely productive agricultural region, wells are slowing down as the amount of water available to farmers is becoming increasingly scarce.

“When we are dealing with issues like the Ogallala Aquifer, addressing them from one state’s perspective is just not the best way to get something done,” said Jackie McClaskey, secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, who participated in the two-day meeting.

“By pulling together all of the states impacted by the Ogallala it allows us to bring lots of great ideas and lots of minds and lots of folks together to really say how can we work together to address concerns in the Ogallala, whether that be decline or economic conditions surrounding the Ogallala…all the different types of issues that not only Kansans are concerned about, but all of the folks that live on the Ogallala.”

Summit participants heard presentations on science and research, technology, producer practices and water policy, and shared their views on each during small group sessions. Their opinions were compiled and will be part of a report due out later this year.

“For me, the importance of this meeting is just kind of listening to some of the concerns in the other states,” said Harold Grall, a farmer near Dumas, Texas. “We’re all pumping out of the same aquifer. Each of the states has its own set of rules and regulations on how they conserve water and I like hearing those different ideas.”

He added: “At times, it just seems because we’re depleting a finite source, that our time is limited, but talking to the people around here helps us to be hopeful that maybe we’ve got a longer time than we think.”

A common theme at the meeting was that farmers want to do what’s right and sustain the resource for generations to come. It wasn’t a message lost on 16-year-old Grace Roth, an officer in FFA and a Kansas Youth Water Advocate.

“It encourages me and also makes me feel kind of relieved because these people have a genuine care for the future and these people want to do something for our generation,” Roth said. “They want to take action today so that we can ensure our future; we can ensure the future not only of agriculture but also the future of our world.”

Roth, who gave an impassioned 10-minute talk during the meeting, said every person should be interested about issues that help to preserve and protect water.

“Just imagine if one day you turn on your sink and nothing came out,” she said. “How would you continue on with your life? It’s a very scary thought of not being able to prosper in the future.”

Much of the university research currently being conducted in the Ogallala Aquifer region is a result of a Coordinated Agriculture Project (CAP) grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. CAP grants are designed to involve researchers from many universities and organizations, and to communicate information to citizens.

“We want producers to be the voice that is spreading the message,” said the Kansas Water Office’s Streeter. “It’s one thing for ag departments, universities, water office folks to get up and tell these success stories, but it’s much better for the producers themselves to do it, and that voice does get heard by other producers.”

McClaskey added: “What I think is unique about (the Ogallala Summit) is that we have universities engaged, we have government agencies engaged, but most important we have farmers and ranchers engaged. And those are the folks that are going to hold the rest of us accountable to keep moving forward and make sure that progress happens.”

Learn more about work in the Ogallala Aquifer region by visiting

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