Archive for Monday, December 23, 2013

Geologists to measure aquifer levels

December 23, 2013


Last year, when researchers from the Kansas Geological Survey traveled to western Kansas to measure groundwater levels in the High Plains Aquifer, they found those levels had dropped by an average of about three and a half feet.

It was the second largest single-year decline they had ever recorded, exceeded only by the one the year before, when water tables had fallen an average of 4.25 feet.

Now those researchers are preparing to head out again for another round of measurements, and they don't expect to see any change in those trends.

"I've only been doing this about eight years, and historically it's declined year after year," said Brett Wedel, manager of the KGS water-level-data acquisition program. "Some areas are worse than others. Two years ago was definitely the most drastic drop I've seen."

Weather permitting, KGS crews and the Kansas Division of Water Resources plan to measure 1,407 wells in the aquifer region of central and western Kansas this winter, from Colby and Goodland in the north, down to Liberal and Garden City in the south.

Most of the wells draw water from the High Plains aquifer, a large network of underground water-bearing rocks that stretches from South Dakota and Wyoming to Texas and New Mexico. It includes the Ogallala aquifer in western Kansas, the Great Bend Prairie aquifer in west-central Kansas, and the Equus Beds aquifer north and west of Wichita.

That system is the primary source of water for cities and industries in the area. But the heaviest demand by far for the water is agriculture, which was fundamentally transformed in that region with the invention in 1948 of center-pivot irrigation, those devices that create large circular crop fields in an otherwise flat and grid-like landscape.

Over roughly the past five years, an extended drought in the central plains has forced farmers there to rely even more heavily on irrigation, drawing down two to three feet of water each year, while nature replaces only a few inches per year.

“Although parts of west-central and southwest Kansas received significant precipitation amounts in late July and August 2013, drought conditions persisted across roughly the western third of the state,” KGS water-data manager Brownie Wilson said. “Most of northwest Kansas missed out on those rains.”

Data collected during the annual survey are intended to help landowners and other water users evaluate local trends and plan for managing groundwater resources.

But most people acknowledge that those management plans will only buy time, and unless farming practices in the region change dramatically - or until the weather does - water in the aquifer is a finite resource.

"At some point it no longer becomes a continual process," Wedel said. "You're going to eventually bleed that resource dry."


Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 2 months ago

About the Ogallala aquifer, clipped from the above article: "nature replaces only a few inches per year."

That is not at all what I recall from my reading about the subject, which is a big topic if you're from western Kansas. I recall reading that the aquifer is replenished by only a fraction of an inch per year, if that. In other words, it's an underground fossil lake that is not being replenished at all!

Clipped from:

"The Ogallala Aquifer is not replenished by rain or tributaries. The system is known as “fossil water,” a limited supply beneath the earth that is fast disappearing."
- end clip -

If it is not being replenished by rain or tributaries, what process is replenishing it? The same process that replenishes dinosaur bones, maybe?

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 2 months ago

And now it empties into Lake Mead, which is used to supply water for Las Vegas and the surrounding communities. The future does not look good, and it may not be a viable source for water in the future. And, there are no other options in sight to supply water for Las Vegas.

The white sides of Lake Mead show how low the reservoir is today.

The white sides of Lake Mead show how low the reservoir is today. by Ron Holzwarth

Beator 4 years, 2 months ago

Maybe they can angle drill into the Ogallala ?

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 2 months ago

That wouldn't change the situation at all.

Brad Greenwood 4 years, 2 months ago

The bulk of the water in the Ogallala is most likely runoff from the last ice-age or even before that... long before we were around to tap into it. It currently only replenishes naturally from precipitation at a rate of about 0.5 inches per year, if we're lucky. So, we either hope for another ice-age to fill it back up or switch to more sustainable farming methods to make it last as long as we can.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 2 months ago

For the last few generations, since 1880 - 1917, my father's family successfully farmed in western Kansas without tapping the Ogallala aquifer at all. No one in his family ever irrigated because it did not appear to be cost effective.

But I will admit, it was tapped just a bit to supply water for household purposes. If everyone had limited their use of it for that, this would be a non-issue.

Brad Greenwood 4 years, 2 months ago

I'll bet if all the farmers were as frugal as your family was, we wouldn't have this problem.

Michael LoBurgio 4 years, 2 months ago

Turning Off The Spigot In Western Kansas Farmland

Across the High Plains, many farmers depend on underground stores of water, and they worry about wells going dry. A new scientific of western Kansas lays out a predicted timeline for those fears to become reality. But it also shows an alternative path for farming in Kansas: The moment of reckoning can be delayed, and the impact softened, if farmers start conserving water now.

, a water expert at Kansas State University, says that he and his colleagues started this research project with a specific kind of person in mind: "The family farmer who's trying to see into the future, and trying to pass on his or her land to their grandchildren."

Farmers in western Kansas have good reason to worry about the future. They know that big irrigated fields of corn in this part of the country are taking water out of underground aquifers much faster than rain or snow can fill those natural reservoirs back up.

Steward decided to come up with better estimates for how soon the aquifers will go dry and how that will affect farmers. He got together with experts on growing corn and raising livestock. "We were trying to provide a little bit better glimpse into the future, so that people would have a better idea how to plan," he says.

According to their calculations, if Kansas farmers keep pumping water out of the High Plains aquifer as they have in the past, the amount of water they're able to extract will start to fall in just 10 years or so. They'll still be able to continue harvesting more corn for another generation, though, because technology — better irrigation systems and genetically improved corn — will let them use that water more efficiently.

But after that, even the latest technology won't save the corn fields. Irrigated fields will start to disappear, followed by cattle feedlots. The long expansion of agricultural production in western Kansas will end.

Michael LoBurgio 4 years, 2 months ago

7 States Running Out Of Water:

  1. Kansas
    Pct. of state in severe drought: 96.4% Pct. of state in extreme drought: 64.6% (3rd highest) Pct. of state in exceptional drought: 21.4% (2nd highest)

Severe drought conditions persist in more than 96% of Kansas. Furthermore, nearly two-thirds of the state is experiencing extreme drought, while more than one-fifth is experiencing exceptional drought. The good news for Kansas is that rain in March has eased the drought, although National Weather Service meteorologist Andy Kleinsasser told the Associated Press earlier this week that the state is still experiencing “precipitation deficits” of as much as 20 inches in many parts of the state. Kansas produces about 20% of the nation’s wheat, more than any other state. Wheat production was up 38% in 2012 compared to 2011, although the drought affecting the state probably will make this level of production unsustainable for 2013.

The Seven States Running Out of Water - 24/7 Wall St.

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