Ogallala Aquifer Depletion is Causing High Plains Farmers to Conserve

Ogallala Aquifer Depletion is Causing High Plains Farmers to Conserve

Ogalla Aquifer depletion is causing many High Plains farmers to change their practices in order to conserve as much water as possible and try to save the aquifer.

Ogallala Aquifer depletion rates are causing the aquifer to run dry in parts. The drawdown, caused in large part by agricultural irrigation, is especially troubling in the Texas Panhandle and parts of Kansas and Nebraska.

What Happens When the Ogallala Aquifer Runs Dry?

The aquifer was once thought to be an endless supply of water that helped transfer the Midwest with the invention of center pivot sprinkler technology (that’s what created all those green crop circles seen from the air when flying over the middle parts of the country). In the 1980s, however, scientists alerted Congress to the potential for depleting the aquifer and Congress ordered the United States Geological Survey to start monitoring wells that draw on the aquifer.

Some sections of the aquifer can’t be replenished (they can but it would take 6,000 years to make it happen), whereas some sections can be quickly replenished. This has put farmers in the sections that can’t be replenished in a bind. Many have made the decision to essentially go for broke, pump all the water they can now and figure something else out once the water is gone. Others have decided on a more sustainable path, where they try to figure out now how to change their farming practices to improve their soil quality which helps use the water more efficiently and sustainably, thereby making it last much longer.

Agriculture and food production in the United States take a lot of water so sustainable practices are crucial. The Ogallala Aquifer, which spans 174,000 acres spread amongst eight states, supports one-fifth of all wheat, corn, cotton and cattle farming in the United States. It is also a critical source of drinking water for many communities. As aquifer levels continue to plummet, let’s hope more farmers see the wisdom of improving their practices.

[Civil Eats]