Dramatic declines in groundwater levels have been recorded for the last two years in the High Plains Aquifer in western Kansas, and when Kansas Geological Survey crews head west this winter, they likely will find a continuation of that trend.
In the coming months, KGS reserachers hope to measure 1,407 wells in the aquifer region of central and western Kansas. Similar measurements taken for the last eight year have shown a steady decline in the aquifer levels. The 3.5-foot drop recorded earlier this year was the highest for the eight years — exceeded only by the 4.25-foot drop measured in 2012.
Five years of drought in the western third of the state have taken their toll on the aquifer. Declining water levels could threaten not only agriculture, but municipal water supplies.
A lot of people laughed when state water officials rolled out a proposal last month to study the feasibility of the “Kansas Aqueduct Project” to transport water from the Missouri River in the northeast corner of the state to western Kansas. The idea was to draw water out of the Missouri River during high water flows and transport it about 360 miles through a series of lift stations and canals.
The idea, admittedly, is farfetched. Not only is Missouri likely to have something to say about siphoning water out of the river that forms the boundary between the two states, but officials also put the cost of the project at somewhere between $12.5 billion and $25 billion.
Nonetheless, officials with the state and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deserve some credit for looking at long-term solutions for what otherwise could be a disastrous development for western Kansas. A 360-mile canal may not be the answer, but there are no easy answers to this situation short of an unexpected long-term change in the area’s weather patterns.
There are certain things Kansas officials might be able to control, but they can’t control Mother Nature. Keeping an eye on aquifer levels may help them make a case for significant changes in the region’s agriculture and irrigation practices. Or maybe there’s another solution. The canal plan may seem ridiculous, but, considering the bleak picture that seems to be emerging, it only makes sense to look at all the possibilities,