Other Projects Aim To Bring High Tech Down Home: The Ogallala Aquifer: Saving A Vital Us Water Source

water We use cookies to provide you with a better onsite experience. On America’s high plains, crops in early summer stretch to the horizon. This is the breadbasket of America the region that supplies at least one the total fifth annual agricultural harvest. The Ogallala Aquifer, the vast underground reservoir that gives life to these fields, is disappearing. In So in case the aquifer goes dry. On top of this, they face a tugofwar between economic growth and declining natural resources, as landowners strive to conserve what’s left. The challenge of the Ogallala is how to manage human demands on the layer of water that sprawls underneath parts of eight states from South Dakota to Texas. High Plains farmers were blissfully unaware a generation ago that a dilemma was already unfolding. When Rodger Funk started farming near Garden City, in the early 1950s Kan, everyone believed the water was inexhaustible. Of course, people were drilling wells, he says. It’s gone, Funk says, when it’s gone.

What changed everything for Funk, now age 81, was a public meeting in the late 1960s at Garden City Community College.

They did.

waterThey said it’s geologic water. State and federal geologists, who had been studying where all that water was coming from, announced grim findings. The cause is obvious, says Mark Rude, executive director of the Southwest Kansas Groundwater Management District. While forcing many farmers to abandon their wells, Groundwater level has dropped 150 feet or more. Today his community in southern Kansas, 180 miles west of Wichita, is amongst the High Plains areas hardest hit by the aquifer’s decline. Usually, farmers here and across the region have made a Faustian bargain giving up longterm conservation for shortterm gain, with a liquid treasure below their feet and a global market eager for their products. Choosing to use water from amid the world’s largest aquifers rather than leaving it in the ground ain’t irrespon­sible, says Andrew Stone, executive di­rector of the American Groundwater Trust in Concord, Like coal or natural gas, groundwater is a valuable resource. There is no benefit to mankind to keeping it unused in cold storage, Stone says.

In Garden City, however, the severity of their circumstances is already forcing farmers to take action.

The community of water users needs to figure this out, he adds.

They are grappling with how to maintain successful agricultural operations while relying on less and less water, a significant problem that water users throughout the region, and the world, must eventually face, Rude says. He marched his iron clad men to the brink of exhaustion, never rates, cattle drives in the 1860s and 1870s collapsed in a perfect storm of drought. With all that said… Native American tribes who used the open plains for seasonal hunting retreated to river valleys to pitch their tents. Until recently, lots of the region had no permanent settlements. Nonetheless, industrialscale extraction of the aquifer did not begin until after World War I.

While increasing output from a few gallons a minute to hundreds, pumps replaced windmills. Over the next 20 years the High Plains turned from brownish to dark green.

In the central and southern parts of the High Plains Did you know that the miracle of new pumping technology was taking its toll below the prairie. Concerned public officials turned to the Geological Survey, that has studied the aquifer since the early 1900s. In 1975 the overdraft equaled the flow of the Colorado River. Fact, in most places nature can not keep up with human demands, despite precipitation and river systems are recharging a few parts of the northern aquifer. What they found was alarming. While nature was putting back half an inch, In now is depleted at an annual volume equivalent to 18 Colorado Rivers. Also, we have optimistic locations. The scientific certainty of Ogallala’s decline has spurred an interest in conservation throughout the region.


The Ogallala Initiative, a Department of Agriculture project, funds studies designed to make the agricultural industry and the rural communities that depend on it more sustainable.

Funk is part of a small but steady movement away from groundwater dependence.

Their goal is to reduce the quantity of water corn crops require by at least 10 percent, says Wenwei Xu, a research scientist at Texas AM. Researchers are developing less thirsty crops, including drought tolerant corn. There is some more information about it here. Other projects aim to bring high tech down home. Whenever allowing the plants themselves to tell computercontrolled irrigation equipment when they are thirsty, The sensors are calibrated to measure leaf temperatures. Now regarding the aforementioned fact… At a scientifically determined threshold, the sprinklers turn on automatically.

Engineers have installed 16 wireless infrared sensors on the arm of a centerpivot system used to irrigate cotton in a research plot. At a USDA research station near Amarillo, Tex, scientists are compiling data that encourage Funk and identical farmers to use lowor ‘notill’ techniques, says Nolan Clark, station director and an agricultural engineer. The greater the turbulence, the more water plants need. Evapotranspiration is another way plants can communicate with high tech irrigation systems. That’s interesting. Researchers are designing equipment that uses lasers to measure the turbulence caused by heat waves above crops. For instance, the laser equipment will eventually estimate daily evapotranspiration rates on a regional scale. Clark says. On top of that, in West Texas, where the Ogallala is in rapid decline, they are critical, such devices may not save dramatic amounts of water. On top of this, boone Pickens, the billionaire oilman and recent alternative energy advocate, is among the entrepreneurs who have entered the domestic water market.

Growing populations throughout the Great Plains region are also demanding more municipal water from the main available source.

The 654 mile pipeline he plans to build to El Paso would cost $ 1 billion.

Texas law granting landowners unrestricted rights to the water beneath their property makes it possible for Pickens to sell groundwater from his 24000 acre Mesa Vista Ranch in the Texas panhandle to metropolises as far away as Dallas and El Paso. Although, looming over these new demands for the Ogallala’s finite water supply is climate change. In the face of these combined demands on the already overtapped aquifer, loads of High Plains water users are joining Funk in reassessing their futures. Basically, and identical crops that do not require irrigation. Generally, shan’t meet their economic needs, like Funk.

Other farmers are turning to native grasslands for economic alternatives.

Blue grama, greenish needle grass and identical drought resistant plants thrived in the short growing season.

Accordingly the billion acres of grasses that blanketed the High Plains were home to pronghorn antelope and swift fox, lesser prairie chickens and burrowing owls as well as buffalo, before European settlers arrived. Amy Hardberger, an attorney with the EDF in Austin. On top of this, once a national carbon market is established, farmers could sell credits for storing carbon in grassland soil. Needless to say, it is a tough group of people, says Hardberger, whose grandfather raised cotton near Lubbock. Eventually, providing wildlife habitat, grasslands may be grazed by cattle or even buffalo. Hunting, ecotourism and dude ranches are other potential sources of income from grasslands. Anyway, in a project she is coordinating, farmers are experimenting with grassland restoration on fields they been forced to retire because of groundwater depletions. You should take this seriously. While sequestering carbon, and providing habitat for the lesser prairie chicken and identical endangered species, Several federal government programs provide economic incentives for conservation of existing grasslands recognizing their role in reducing erosion. Although, these programs often work at crosspurposes with federal price support incentives to produce corn and similar commodities. Nation will need a strategy to end its dependence on this finite resource, says Stone, the Groundwater Trust executive.

The contradictions in these federal programs reflect America’s ambivalence about the Ogallala Aquifer. For now, across much of the High Plains it’s business as usual. Forever? Using technology and foresight, he has transformed his farm into a business he believes can continue into the distant future without draining the Ogallala. For Funk in Garden City, it already has. We hope so, he says.


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