Ogallala Aquifer Summit Opens Discussions

KSCB News - July 22, 2011 8:32 am

The focus at the Ogallala Aquifer economic summit hosted by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback was how to extend the life of an aquifer that would be a major economic issue for the state if lost. Roughly 94 percent of the groundwater is used for irrigation, which supports livestock, meatpacking, ethanol and other agricultural industries in Kansas.

The governor’s meeting aimed to design a so-called action plan for the aquifer. It comes during a time and at a place where drought has raised public awareness of this finite resource.

For years, the Kansas Geological Survey and the state’s Division of Water Resources have measured water levels in 1,400 wells in the aquifer. The overall rate of decline going back to the 1960s continued to drop, but while it was still declining then it just was not doing so as fast. That changed after 2000 when another drought cycle hit western Kansas.

Drought-plagued farmers again began pumping a lot more water out of the aquifer. In southwest Kansas where the drought has been particularly bad, well testing this past January showed the aquifer had dropped in places by more than 5 feet in a single year. The aquifer generally recharges only about half an inch a year.

Geologists now talk in terms of the lifetime of the Ogallala Aquifer, he said. Some parts of the aquifer have 25 years of life remaining, while other parts may have 100 years or more.

Tracy Streeter, the state’s Water Office director, said he hopes the Kansas summit will lead to policy changes in state water rights, particularly the so-called "use it or lose it" water rights law now on the books. Some want to get rid of that so conservation is not a disincentive for water rights holders.

State officials are hoping the summit will produce some ideas for policy, legislation and incentives to prolong the life of the Ogallala.


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