Diminishing groundwater in Southwest Kansas threatens farm industry

Tractor (KSN File Photo)

GARDEN CITY, Kansas — Farmer Charles Palkowitsh needs 24 inches of water each year for his crops, but last year Southwest Kansas saw about half of that in rainfall.

“Our yield is always off in a dry year, we never raise a full yield without some rain,” said Palkowitsh.

“We don’t get a lot of rain,” said Hydro Resource’s Bruce Reichmuth, “and of course we need it for the good crop irrigation, so we are depleting the groundwater formation.”

The Ogallala Aquifer is really the only option when there’s no rainfall.  Local farmers can’t look to the Arkansas River because it’s been dry for nearly 20 years.

Groundwater under the region has been dropping over three feet each year, but in 2013 it dropped just 2 feet.  The improvement is likely a result of a couple things.

“I think everybody is doing pretty well to do their part to conserve more water,” said Palkowitsh.

Rains in July and August meant pumping less ground water, and a colder winter meant less farming and irrigation.

Even with an average improvement over the last year there is concern that economics will take its toll.

“Little by little certain areas will stop irrigating because it doesn’t pay,” said Reichmuth.  “It [won’t be] profitable to irrigate anymore.”

“Running out of groundwater will affect the next generation a tremendous amount,” said Palkowitsh.

Industry professionals like Palkowitsh and Reichmuth agree changes need to be made for the future.

“[We need to] come up with a plan of how we can save this water, extend its life so that we can extend the economic benefit that comes from it,” said Reichmuth.

Currently, groups in Kansas and the Governor are working toward a solution.

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