Aquifer on decline, even with less water use

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

SOUTHWEST KANSAS – For several years, the state was struggling with drought conditions, but even so, less groundwater was used in 2014 than in previous years, according to results found by the Kansas Geological Survey.

By testing about 1,400 wells across the state, the Kansas Geological Survey is able to get a sense of how much water we have below the ground.

“It’s an important look, not only annually, but long term to see where we are with the trends, to make sure our groundwater models are accurate, and to give local farmers some critical information,” said Mark Rude, a Southwest Kansas Groundwater Management Director.

Because we rely so heavily on groundwater, especially for agricultural irrigation, the aquifer levels continue to drop.

Aqueduct plan
Aqueduct plan to get water to western Kansas. Click image to enlarge

“We’re still using a lot of water,” said Rude. “We see a decline every year, it’s just a matter of how fast, how much, and where.”

The good news after this year’s survey is that the decline slowed.

Overall, levels fell less than a foot. It’s the third year in a row that the aquifer dropped less than the year before.

“The drought has been so bad in 2011 and 2012 that’s when we had some pretty significant groundwater decline, but since then every year it’s gotten a little bit better,” said Brownie Wilson, Water Data Manager with KGS.

The aquifer doesn’t receive much recharge, but because of timely rains last summer, producers were able to pump less water out of the ground, which slows the rate of decline.

Conservation efforts and improved technology have helped as well. From here, the report is used to learn trends and ways to extend the aquifer as long as possible.

The IRS recognizes the decline of water as the loss of equity on an irrigated farm. Farmers can also use the results of the survey to file for tax breaks.

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