As water supplies grow more scarce in western Kansas, an increasingly important water source may prove to be the Dakota aquifer.
This fall, water experts from across the state will meet at Kansas University to discuss current research on the Dakota aquifer in a symposium sponsored by the Kansas Geological Survey in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Kansas geology department.
The Dakota aquifer is a series of water-bearing rock layers mostly sandstones and clays that underlie much of the western half of the state and parts of Colorado, Oklahoma and New Mexico. The Dakota lies beneath the Ogallala aquifer, which once contained vast volumes of high-quality water. The Ogallala has been pumped heavily, and in places water-levels have greatly declined in recent years. Now drillers have begun looking to the deeper Dakota as a potential water source.
USE OF THE Dakota for irrigation, public water supply and industry has increased over the past 20 years. Much of that increase came in southwestern and central Kansas.
"Because water from the Dakota was not used heavily before, little is known about its quantity or quality," said Kansas Geological Survey geologist Allen Macfarlane.
To address that shortage of information, the Kansas Survey is in the midst of a multiyear study of the geology and ground water of the Dakota aquifer. That research has included measuring water levels, analyzing water samples for water quality and drilling wells to study the geology and hydrology of the aquifer.
Research during the coming years will focus on the Dakota's ability to sustain further development. To learn more about the aquifer, Survey researchers will write computer models of the Dakota to simulate the impact of increased pumping and other factors that affect water availability.
"IN SOUTHWESTERN and central Kansas, the water planning and regulatory agencies in Kansas need to understand how the aquifer functions before realistic management options can be developed," said Macfarlane.
The researchers also plan to search for additional usable water supplies in the Dakota in locations where the aquifer is relatively untouched.
"From our preliminary research, it appears that the greatest potential for additional development of the Dakota is in west-central Kansas," Macfarlane said, "particularly in counties such as Lane, Scott, Wichita and Gove."
This fall's symposium on the Dakota is set for Oct. 2. The researchers will present research results from the first three years of the program, seek input from state and local planning and regulatory agencies, and discuss possible water-policy implications.