Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Another Kind of Deficit Spending: Depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer and What is Being Done About It

Of all the posts that I have written on this blog, one that has consistently gotten a high number of hits is the post I wrote for Blog Action Day in 2007 on the Ogallala Aquifer. To quote from that post:

The Ogallala Aquifer is a vast deposit of water lying under eight states in the High Plains of the U.S.: South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. It is variously estimated to cover between 174,000 and 225,000 square miles, and lies between 50 and 300 feet below the surface. It was formed about 10 million years ago of gravelly soil that holds groundwater down below the water table. Experts believe that the aquifer contains roughly the amount of water contained by Lake Huron.

It is important that you know that the aquifer is being drawn down--more water is being used from it (94% for agricultural purposes in this area of the country)--than can be recovered through recharge.

I just came across a statement that worried me, and made me wonder just what is being done to conserve this resource. I found it in Our Towns; A Community Guide for Curry and Roosevelt Counties. Published by the Clovis News Journal, February 2009) and it stated: [Houston Lee, local farmer] said Curry and Roosevelt counties have flat land and irrigation good for farming, but the lack of water presents a challenge. Still he thinks agriculture will stay in the area for "a good while" because even if the aquifer is depleted, farmers will get enough rain for a crop. [Emphasis mine]

This is the kind of thinking about the aquifer--sure, we may deplete it through our current agricultural practices, but we'll still go on--that doesn't help our water problems at all. I would rather be reading about the steps being taken to preserve the water that we have.

The following statements are all quoted from an article titled The Ogallala; Cooperative Efforts to Preserve It, Protect It, by Mark Walbridge in Agricultural Research, April 2008, vol. 56, issue 4. It gives me hope to read that a 10 percent reduction in water usage could turn around the aquifer depletion problem, and that steps are being taken to achieve that goal.

Nolan Clark says that a 10-percent across-the-board reduction in irrigation would solve the Ogallala Aquifer's overdraft problem. Clark has worked for ARS for 37 of the 50-plus years the agency has been involved in Ogallala area water-conservation research and now oversees the Ogallala Aquifer Program.

All told, more than 100 researchers are involved in 80 projects that cover 1 or more of the initiative's 7 priorities for reducing water use. These are: cropping and tillage systems, crop-livestock operations, improved irrigation equipment and systems, economic analyses, predicting the rate of the aquifer's decline, measuring how much water plants need, and conserving water on feedlots.

Says [Sukant K. Misra, associate dean of research at Texas Tech University in Lubbock], "We also have a group of agronomists who are studying ways to conserve water, using different irrigation technologies. We have a group of GIS people who are mapping the aquifer, its levels, and rates of depletion. And we have researchers working on crop management practices, hydrology, and many other aspects related to conserving Ogallala water.


June Saville said...

Some of our aquifers are depleted too Claire - somehow Coca Cola got the rights to a particularly pure one near Sydney (and probably others). How can this be?
June in Oz

clairz said...

June, you bring up an interesting point--already depleted aquifers, which I don't know anything about. I guess I'm off to do some more research.