KU scientists find Kansas groundwater levels drop by largest amount since 2012, as drought persists

photo by: Courtesy: Kansas Geological Survey

Rick Miller performs work for the Kansas Geological Survey as part of its well monitoring program.

Groundwater levels in western and south-central Kansas fell by their largest amounts since 2012, new testing from the University of Kansas has found.

The region saw water levels fall for the third straight year as a drought has spread across the state, scientists with the KU-based Kansas Geological Survey said.

“We anticipated and saw declines pretty much across the aquifer,” said Brownie Wilson, KGS water-data manager. “Because of the ongoing drought, the pumping season lasted a little longer this past year, and there were a notable number of wells pumping in January and February.”

The average decline in groundwater levels was 1.89 feet for the High Plains aquifer that stretches all the way to the Kansas-Colorado border and has fingers that stretches as far east as Wichita.

The aquifer, which includes the Ogallala aquifer that is critical to the agricultural industry and rural communities, posted in 2022 its third largest decline in the last 25 years. Only 2012, with a 2.01 foot drop, and 2011, with a 1.93 foot drop, recorded larger declines.

Southwest Kansas, which includes portions of Grant, Gray, Finney, Stanton, Ford, Morton, Stevens, Seward, Hamilton and Meade counties had the largest drop in 2022 with an average water level decline of 2.77 feet. However, the geological survey also noted that the aquifer in southwest Kansas still has more storage in it than other parts of the state.

Western Kansas, which includes portions of Wallace, Greeley, Wichita, Scott and Lane counties, had an average drop of 1.27 feet. The geological survey said storage levels in the Western Kansas district are becoming thin, and that water levels have fallen to a point that “yields from wells have greatly diminished,” Wilson said.

Northwest Kansas, which includes parts of Sherman, Thomas, Sheridan, Cheyenne, Rawlins, Decatur, Graham, Wallace, Logan and Gove counties, saw a drop of 1.31 feet.

A region around Wichita, known as the Equus Beds, saw an average drop of 2.03 feet, its steepest decline since 2016. The Equus Beds serve as a major source of water for both Wichita and Hutchinson.

The Kansas Geological Survey measures water levels in more than 1,100 wells across 49 counties to come up with the averages. Most of the measurements occur in January.


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