High Plains Aquifer Depletion Threatens Kansas and Midwest Agriculture

By Trish Svoboda

The importance of the High Plains Aquifer, or Ogallala Aquifer, is widely recognized throughout Kansas and the Midwest, with water being a popular topic of discussion among both rural and urban residents.

Susan Metzger, director of the Kansas Center for Agricultural Resources and the Environment (KCARE) and the Kansas Water Institute, stresses the aquifer’s significance as the largest freshwater aquifer globally, serving as a crucial water source for western Kansas.

There are concerns, however, because the aquifer is a finite resource, with projections suggesting potential depletion by 70% within 40 years, posing challenges for irrigation-dependent agriculture.

Brownie Wilson from the Kansas Geological Survey notes the impact of dry conditions on water levels. “2022 was one of the driest years we had on record in Kansas,” Wilson said. “So what happens is that dry conditions lead to a longer pumping season in our state, and so the water levels didn’t have a chance to recover in 2022.”

Earl Lewis from the Kansas Department of Agriculture highlights the importance of data collection and conservation efforts to address water use challenges. He said since the mid-1990s the aquifer’s water levels have remained fairly consistent, and that reducing water use is the key to helping farmers remain successful.

Initiatives such as water conservation areas, local enhanced management areas, and ongoing research have enabled farmers to decrease their overall water usage while maintaining profitability in their operations.

Metzger said the key to farmers’ success will be embracing technological advancements. Moving from flood irrigation to center pivot irrigation, and now to even more efficient drop nozzles, technology has helped in curbing water usag

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