Sustainability Water: The Ogallala Aquifer

The Ogallala Aquifer (NBC File Photo)
The Ogallala Aquifer (NBC File Photo)

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WICHITA, Kansas – In Kansas, agriculture is king.

The secret to this land’s bounty is not just the soil that covers it, but also something below ground that no one can see, the Ogallala aquifer, the largest freshwater aquifer in North America.

Today’s irrigation technology is able to pump out water that has been in the aquifer for hundreds of thousands of years in just a matter of minutes, a rate which far outpaces how fast nature can replenish it, threatening the overall sustainability of the aquifer and agriculture.

“Since about 2011, there’s been a significant drought across most of the high plains aquifer but this area, as well as others, you’re now in a period of extreme to exceptional drought,” said Dave Hyndman, Michigan State University.

A team of scientists from Michigan State University is analyzing data from as far back as the 1800’s on changes in climate, irrigation technology and water policy to build models that could forecast what the future holds for the aquifer and for farming.

“We’re able to predict what happens with the water levels,” said Hyndman.

The team is working with local and state government officials, water policy experts and farmers to develop a long-term model for aquifer water use.

“We have to work with both the farmers and the policy-makers, because we have to have a pretty good idea that the scenarios we’re running are feasible,” said Hyndman.

Improving water policy to sustain the Ogallala Aquifer and maintain a way of life in Kansas.

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