It’s easy to get caught up in the political issues that consume our media and our conversations: gun policy, fiscal control, school finance. Even trivial matters such as what caused the power failure at the Super Bowl and who should have known that such a “disaster” was possible to distract our attention.
Every once in awhile, if but for a fleeting instant, something such as reservoir sedimentation or depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer may capture a bit of our time and consciousness.
A generation in the future is almost certain to demand to know why we were paying more attention to football than to water.
The entire state remains in a drought condition, and residents in northeast Kansas can readily observe it with a drive to any nearby reservoir, checking the depletion of farm ponds along the way. In western Kansas, it may not be quite so obvious, but the plight may be even more serious.
What little surface water there is also is affected by the drought, but underground, the evidence points toward a looming disaster. A story Tuesday about the aquifer, prompted by data gleaned by the Kansas Geological Survey at Kansas University from about 1,400 wells, illustrated the severity of the problem.
Water is being consumed from the Ogallala at the rate of 2 to 4 feet per year — sometimes more. The water table dropped more than 3 feet in 2012. It recharges at about half an inch annually. It doesn’t take a genius to see the problem or the ultimate outcome of this equation.
“There’s no question about it, we’re running smack dab into the limitation of the aquifer itself today and the demand placed upon it by those pumping wells,” acknowledges the executive director of the groundwater management district that governs water resources in a large area above the Ogallala.
What’s the answer?
“So you either say we’re done and we have no more economy, which we’re not going to do, or you say let’s make every drop count. That’s the focus of the conversation. The only other option is the importation of water,” the executive says.
“Good to the last drop,” the old coffee slogan went. Let’s hope this isn’t the fate of the Ogallala, but it appears to be, given the attitudes of those responsible.
Some historians look back at the 1930s Dust Bowl and blame greedy farmers for plowing and destroying the land, but it seems likely those farmers would have acted differently if they had known the disaster their actions would cause. The farmers who now are pumping water out of the Ogallala can’t make the same excuse of ignorance. They know exactly what they’re doing and what the outcome’s going to be. But if they believe that, after the aquifer runs out, they will be able to import enough water to continue the same profligate use of a finite resource, they must be drinking something stronger than H2O.
The state deserves better. But in the meantime, let’s get back to Beyoncé or that debate about the mortgage interest deduction.