Aquifer levels could stabilize in next couple of years

Soil moisture probes help decrease the use of pivots

GARDEN CITY, Kan. (KSNW) – The warnings have gone out for years that the Ogallala Aquifer was being depleted faster that it could be recharged.

Now, there’s good news to report thanks to technology. That was the message behind the governor’s water tour today.

“We’re using less than half,” said farmer Dwane Roth. “We’re at less than 50 percent. Staggering, a staggering amount.”

Roth was able to cut his water use in half thanks to soil moisture probes — in addition to some timely rain — which he’s been using for three years now to regulate irrigation.

“We’ve actually got five Ogallala wells shut off,” he said, demonstrating the direct effect the technology has on the aquifer.

Roth’s 50 percent reduction far exceeds a goal by the Kansas Geological Survey, which says southwest Kansas needs to reduce water use by 28 percent to preserve the aquifer.

“It turns out the aquifer is recharging more than we thought,” said Governor Sam Brownback, “and the technology is such that we can use less water and still produce a crop that yields comparable to what we’ve had in the past.”

The study is meant to show producers that adopting tech can have a long-term impact.

“We need to science the hell out of it,” said Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer, saying using soil moisture probes will help preserve the aquifer. “We’re doing this with new technology that is actually making the water table sustainable. That’s really cool tech.”

Brownback stressed the importance of acting now to preserve the future of farming.

“How do we pass this on to the next generation and the generation after them to have a chance,” he said, “and can we do it? And the answer is yes we can.”

Officials say that by adopting water conserving technology now, we’re just a couple of years away from reaching sustainable aquifer levels that will last for the next 10 to 20 years.

The Ogallala Aquifer levels dropped a lot during the drought years of 2011 and 2012, but since then, the amount that it’s gone down by has actually been less than the year before. Experts say that shows technology is working.

Governor Sam Brownback released the following statement on Wednesday about the new data:

Earlier in my Administration I called for a 50 year vision for water in Kansas. Preserving our water resources is vital to the success of our state. Without water, there is no future. That call has been met with enthusiasm and action. It’s spurred debate and discussion. It resulted in Kansans coming together, discussing how to make changes, how to make a lasting impact, and how to secure this precious resource of water for future generations. A significant focus has been on the Ogallala Aquifer, and this focus has been rewarded. A recent study found that the Aquifer is replenishing itself faster than we previously realized. This means that with some reduction in water usage, we can reach sustainable aquifer levels for the next one to two decades over about two-thirds of the Aquifer. This bears repeating: sustainable water use is attainable in the near term over much of the Ogallala Aquifer! This news is phenomenal because it means that future generations will have access to the water resources that we enjoy today. We’ve changed our mentality towards water in this state to a sustainable resource, not one we are just going to use up. So today, we are announcing a new and achievable vision for much of the Ogallala Aquifer region in Kansas. We are moving from a ‘conserve and extend’ vision to sustainability. With water management tools like Local Enhanced Management Areas, to Water Conservation Areas, to Water Banking, with the repeal of ‘use it or lose it’ water laws, coupled with new irrigation techniques like deep soil moisture probes, drop nozzle and mobile drip irrigation and sophisticated irrigation water management, it is possible to reduce our demands on the Aquifer to a level of sustainability and still grow our crops to feed the world. I congratulate and thank all of those who have made this new vision and new day possible. It is our legacy to future generations to take this information and put it to productive use in the conservation of this precious resource. We want to be remembered as the generation who took the proactive steps and not the generation who didn’t. In twenty, thirty, forty years or more, we will be judged by what we did, or did not do.

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