Ogallala Aquifer

Typically dry Arkansas River flowing water, for now

May 24, 2017
Valarie Smith / High Plains Public Radio

There has been a rare sight in the normally dry Arkansas River south of Garden City lately – flowing water.

As The Garden City Telegram reports, as much as two feet of water has been running through the normally dried out river bed – the result of wetter weather conditions upstream.

Farmers eye LEMA proposal to curb aquifer depletion

May 8, 2017
Kansas Geological Survey

There is an old saying “Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting over.”

It rings true in southwest Kansas, were a group of irrigators are fighting for the Ogallala Aquifer.

For years, irrigators and others have been sipping the region’s groundwater reservoir faster than it can recharge. Thinking of his nephews who are returning to the farm, Finney County farmer Dwane Roth is helping spearhead an effort to curtail pumping through a Local Enhanced Management Area – a program implemented in the past five years to help extend the life of the state’s water resources.

Across much of the western part of the state, conversations are happening about what to do about the future of water.

It’s an overdue conversation in an area that relies heavily on the declining reserves of the Ogallala Aquifer for its economic prosperity. In some areas, the decline of the aquifer has been dramatic – with the water level dropping more than 70 to 80 feet in some parts of Kearny and Finney Counties.

Dwane Roth knows the worth of water. 

Peering 20 years into the future, the Finney County farmer can see the outcome clearly if nothing changes.

“The Discovery Channel will be out here doing a documentary on us,” he said, adding the synopsis would be “ ‘What the hell were you guys thinking?’ “

With his water levels declining, Roth wants to make sure there is water for the next generation, including his nephews who all recently returned to the farm.

“We are going to have to do something if we want to continue irrigating,” Roth said.

Full Circle or Not

Mar 20, 2017
SUSAN STOVER

Who owns the water, who speaks for future generations’ right to water and what comes after the Ogallala aquifer is gone? William Ashworth raises these questions in his book, Ogallala Blue, the High Plains Public Radio community read, as he ponders what a “post-Ogallala economy” will look like.

We likely won’t recognize the day when the High Plains states enter a “post-Ogallala economy,” as adjustments happen continually. Some changes are triggered when individual wells fail, producers age and get out of farming, or low commodity prices force hard decisions.  Other changes are being made by people with vision and opportunities to adjust their businesses to a long-term reality of less available water.  

Honest Questions

Mar 17, 2017
JONATHAN BAKER / Canyon, Texas

I’m Jonathan Baker, a writer in Canyon, Texas, and I’ve been asked to talk a little bit about Ogallala Blue by William Ashworth, the latest selection in the HPPR Radio Readers Book Club. The book concerns the Ogallala Aquifer, the vast body of groundwater that exists beneath the feet of High Plains residents and is sometimes referred to as an “underground ocean,” though it’s more akin to a sponge made of permeable rock and silt.

Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Oklahoma is looking to store water underground, in hopes of staving off future catastrophe.

Will we be here when the river returns?

Mar 3, 2017
MAX McCOY / Emporia, Kansas

I’m hiking down a dry riverbed on a cold morning in winter, and with each step my boots make a sharp sound in the gravel. This is Cimarron Crossing, where travelers along the Santa Fe Trail had a serious choice: They could continue up the Arkansas River on the mountain route, which would take them to Bent’s Old Fort and then south over the Raton pass. Or, they could choose the middle crossing. They might ford the river here, or at points nearby, and follow the Cimarron Route, which was shorter but had less water and poorer grass, often called “The Waterscrape.” Neither route was easy, and the consequences of a bad choice could mean hardship or even death.

Water & Replenishment - A Poet's View

Feb 28, 2017
Denise Low

Ogallala Aquifer

As the water table sinks

mid-range rivers falter.

The Arkansas River loses its way

to Wichita. The Smoky Hill

lapses into gravel

and long stretches of silence,

like Heraclitus, muffled,

only fragments remaining

from his distant writings.

Or Sappho—her broken

songs are beds of old lakes,

just the outlines visible

like wheel ruts

of the Oregon Trail,

almost imaginary traces

across grasslands.

The Water Beneath Our Feet

Feb 24, 2017
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS

Welcome to High Plains Public Radio Readers Book Club, an on-air, on-line community of readers exploring themes of common interest to those who live and work on the High Plains.  In this, our third Book club series, Water and Replenishment is our theme. 

We’ve been talking about a classic 1970’s novel, John Nichols’ The Milagro Beanfield Wars, where the struggle for water highlights differences in the values and lifestyles of two groups of citizens – those who see the economic possibilities in reservoirs and those who prefer to honor natural topographies. As Nichols brings his novel to a close, offering a tenuous cease-fire in the Beanfield war over water, we readers sense the cease-fire will be short-lived.

I don’t know about you, but Nichols’ novel, for all its satiric bite and sass, really has got me thinking more about the history of water use and access not only in my part of the High Plains but in my own back yard.  Most what I’m thinking about is how shockingly uneducated I am about this.  Should I be doing a better job of conserving water? What are some of the battle lines over water in our region?

Kansas Geological Survey

Thanks to timely rains last year, Mount Hope-area farmer Jeff Winter figures on some of his fields he pumped half the amount of water that he normally uses to irrigate his crops.

So did many central Kansas farmers. And it showed. 

While the Ogallala Aquifer continues to decline, the Equus Beds and Great Bend Prairie aquifers saw rises as irrigators shut down their wells more often in 2016.

"We didn't have to pump as much, and we shut off more frequently," said Winter, who also is on the Equus Beds board. He added that on a few fields, he pumped even less.

Travis Morrise / The Hutchinson News

With Kansas' Ogallala Aquifer continuing to decline, a Haskell County farm family tested the age-old water law adage "First in time, first in right," and won.

Haskell County District Court Judge Linda Gilmore ruled Wednesday in favor of the Garetsons and their more-than-80-year-old vested senior water right in the county, granting a permanent injunction against American Warrior - shutting off the company's two junior water wells that are impairing the Garetsons' right.

An irrigation system waters soybean plants in a field near Larned, as seen in this file photo from 2011.Credit Sandra J. Milburn / The Hutchinson NewsEdit | Remove

TOPEKA – Garden City Mayor Chris Law wasn’t in Topeka Tuesday, but he would have liked what was said.

Amy Bickel / The Hutchinson News

MEADE – Off a dirt road on an abandoned farmstead in Meade County, Rex Buchanan searched for a metal pipe hidden in tall weeds.

Back a few decades ago, the search would have taken much longer – almost like finding a needle in a haystack. But GPS pinpointed the location and sure enough – in the middle of the thickest clump – a tube is sticking out of the earth.

Water and Replenishment

Jan 26, 2017
Karen Madorin - Logan, Kansas

Welcome to High Plains Public Radio Readers Book Club, an on-air, on-line community of readers exploring themes of common interest to those who live and work on the High Plains.  In this, our third Book club series, Water and Replenishment is our theme.   In our region, defined by low precipitation, few running rivers, and aquifers with slow rates of replenishment, water is in great demand.  Can we insure we have enough water -- for cooking and cleaning, for livestock and crops, for feedlots and plants, for reservoirs and swimming pools? for everyone?

cstoddard / Flickr Creative Commons

Aquifers around the world, including the High Plains, provide water for crops, but as National Geographic reports, a new study suggests that some of the biggest grain-producing regions could run dry in the next 50 to 100 years.

USGS.org

After the new year, the Kansas Geological Survey will be measuring groundwater levels in western Kansas to monitor the health and sustainability of the High Plains aquifer.

Flyhighplato

In western Kansas, meanwhile, a farmer and local officials were recently honored for their efforts to preserve water.

A Finney County farmer and the City of Garden City were recognized earlier this month at the Governor’s Water Conference in Manhattan for taking measures to conserve, reuse or adopt practices aimed at preserving the state’s future water resources.

Has either of the two presidential candidates said anything about the Ogallala Aquifer?

As part of its ongoing ag reporting, Harvest Public Media reporters examine questions from readers and this is one of them.

We weren’t able to find any cases where the candidates specifically address the Ogallala Aquifer, but each has each spoken to sustainable water use - mostly with an eye to the West. (Neither the Clinton nor the Trump campaigns responded to a request for comment.)

KHI news service

From the Kansas Health Institute:

Gov. Sam Brownback’s office announced Tuesday he has signed into law a bill allowing the executive branch to suspend indefinitely the water rights of Kansans who fail to file annual water use reports.

Tiffany Stecker / eenews.net

It took 10 million years for the Ogallala Aquifer to fill with water. Now, says a report on eenews.net, after just over a century of pumping and irrigation, a third of the Ogallala is gone, and its future is in grave danger. The Ogallala supplies water to almost 20 percent of the nation's wheat and cotton crops and cattle. But in Haskell County, in the southwest corner of Kansas, water levels have dropped 150 feet since 1950. And that’s just one of many bleak examples.

www.nebraskaeducationonlocation.org

Some interesting facts about the Ogallala Aquifer came to light at the Panhandle-South Plains Water Conservation Symposium in Amarillo last week, reports Amarillo.com. For example, if the water currently in storage in the aquifer only covered the area of a football field, the water would stretch a quarter of the way to the moon.

Texas Tribune

A recent case in Texas pitted landowners against government officials in charge of the Central Texas reservoir known as the Edwards Aquifer. A jury is expected to announce damages soon, reports member station KUT. The case could have repercussions for High Plains landowners by showing how Texas water will be regulated in in the future.

What Is a Playa?

Feb 23, 2016

We grew up on the High Plains thinking of those occasionally muddy pasture depressions as "buffalo wallows," "rainwater basins" or "mud holes." Turns out, scientists are learning those playas play a significant role recharging aquifers such as the Ogallala.

‘Water’ the chances for one individual?

Feb 11, 2016
Kansas Geological Survey

From Agland:

While probably the majority of the people in western Kansas would like to conserve our irrigation water supplies, can one man go it alone?

Almost 40 years ago, I was sitting in the office of Extension ag economist Don Pretzer in Waters Hall on the campus of Kansas State University talking about ways to conserve the Ogallala Aquifer in western Kansas. And he made a very good observation.

mcdarius / Flickr Creative Commons

Beginning early next month Kansas Geological Survey crews will begin studying almost 600 Kansas wells. The research is part of an effort to measure changes in groundwater levels, reports KAKE.

Ogallala Resources Continue to Dwindle

Dec 27, 2015
Steve Elfers / USA TODAY

Time is running out for portions of the Ogallala Aquifer, which lies beneath eight states from South Dakota to Texas, reports NBC affiliate KING 5. The Ogallala makes possible about one-fifth of the country’s output of corn, wheat and cattle. But its levels have been rapidly declining, and with each passing year more wells are going dry.

www.gctelegram.com

Irrigation is no longer an option in Kansas’s smallest county, reports the Baldwin City Signal. After decades of overuse, the water source beneath Greeley County’s arid prairie has been sucked dry. Five years ago, county residents voted to allow a massive corporate hog-feeding operation to move in, thinking hogs use less water than crops.

USDA Continues to Invest in Ogallala Relief

Nov 16, 2015
ne.water.usgs.gov

The US Department of Agriculture will invest $8 million next year toward helping farmers and ranchers conserve water from the Ogallala Aquifer, while still maintaining and strengthening agricultural operations, reports Agri-Pulse.

Creative Commons

From Kansas Agland's "Watchdog":

The Kansas Department of Agriculture is considering increasing fines for people ignoring the state’s mandate to report annually the volume of water they pump from wells or for exceeding limits on water use.

That’s a no-brainer. An even better stick would be to revoke their water rights altogether.

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