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Exploring The Sustainability Of The Ogallala Aquifer Erin O’Brien Biological & Agricultural Engineering National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates Mc. Nair Scholar’s Program Kansas State University Summer 2001
Introduction Ø The Ogallala aquifer lies within the Great Plains region. Ø This groundwater source is a part of the High Plains aquifer system. • In Kansas the High Plains aquifer system and the Ogallala aquifer are typically the same.
Ø Western Kansas is a major economic source for Kansas: • 40% of the nation’s packaged beef comes from within 250 miles of Garden City, and • Kansas is 2 nd in the nation in cattle slaughter and 3 rd for red meat production.
Ø “Meeting fundamental human needs while preserving the life-support systems of planet Earth is the essence of sustainable development. ” —(Kates, et al. 2001) Ø Since irrigation from the Ogallala taps ‘fossil’ groundwater there is an issue of sustainability of the current system.
Study Area Ø My study looked at the High Plains with a focus on SW Kansas. Ø The Ogallala aquifer: • Underlies 134, 000 mi 2, • Is the largest body of groundwater in the U. S. • The porous rock layers were formed ~10 million years ago by fluvial deposition.
Ø The High Plains aquifer has 3. 25 billion acft of water, approximately equivalent to Lake Huron. Ø 30% of the water used for irrigation in the U. S. comes from the High Plains aquifer. Ø 10% percent of the drainable water in the High Plains aquifer underlies Kansas.
Ø The High Plains aquifer faces many different concerns, including purity, quality, quantity, and saturated thickness. Ø The Ogallala region has many concerns: • ~19% is covered by sand dunes; • Water consumption is 10 -40 times recharge • Local precipitation does not affect recharge
Ø Ogallala facts: • Only 15 -20% of the water is available for withdrawal and only 60 -80% of this is technologically accessible. • KGS scientists say it may take 35 years for recharge water to reach the aquifer. • The water in the Ogallala is fossil water and is only available through groundwater mining.
History Ø The droughts of the 1930 s and 50 s made people realize that the climate changes of the region were simply cyclical variations. Ø Irrigation rapidly expanded following the drought of the 1950 s. Ø By 1972, ~40% of the available groundwater had been consumed.
Technology Ø In 1896 in Garden City, KS, a centrifugal pump was one of the first attempts at irrigation in Kansas. Ø Another pump was in use by 1911 in Scott City, KS. Ø In 1949, center-pivot systems were developed. Ø Drop tubes & subsurface drip irrigation (SDI) have become common recently.
Rules/Regulations Ø In 1972 KS passed the GMD Act to: • Regulate groundwater, • Grant drilling permits, and • Ensure old water rights are protected. Ø Constraints exist on policies that would decrease water availability. Adjustments must be technically, financially, legally, and socially feasible.
Sustainability Issues Ø Farmers irrigate for many reasons: • • To meet a specific crop need; To increase yearly income; As a result of success by other irrigators; and To maintain their water rights. Ø The number of irrigated acres is declining in all states. Ø Irrigation offers a climate substitute and enables increased yields.
Top: Feedlot at Dodge City, KS. Left: Sign for IBP, a packing plant near Garden City, KS.
Ø Recurrent droughts are a hazard for the region. Ø There were two prolonged droughts in the last century: • In the 1930 s and the 1950 s. Ø What will happen when the water is gone? • Two New Jersey scholars have proposed a “buffalo commons” national park.
Ø The area has already been affected by a decreased flow in the Arkansas River due to diversion and pumping. Ø It has only recently began to flow again, after a Supreme Court ruling limited withdrawals.
Ø These pages show graphs indicating: • • Predevelopment saturated thickness, Current saturated thickness, The amount of groundwater depletion, and The number of years of usage remaining. --Schloss, et al. 2000.
Summary Ø Can the Ogallala aquifer be sustained? Ø History shows that farmers are adaptable to a variable climate. Ø Technological advances have greatly improved water use efficiency.
Ø The current irrigation-based economy can be sustained for several more decades. Ø We must plan for what will happen when irrigated agriculture and the associated agribusiness economy becomes a thing of the past.
Acknowledgements Ø Guru, Manjula V. , and James E. Horne. "The Ogallala Aquifer. ” Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Inc. <http: //www. kerrcenter. com/RDPP/ogallala. htm>. July 2000. Ø Kates, Robert W. , et al. “Sustainability Science. ” Science. Vol. 292, 641642: 27 April 2001. Ø Kromm, David E. , and Stephen E. White, eds. Groundwater Exploitation in the High Plains. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1992. Ø Schloss, Jeffrey A. , Robert W. Buddemeier, and Blake B. Wilson, eds. An Atlas of the Kansas High Plains Aquifer. Lawrence, Kansas: Kansas Geological Survey, 2000. Ø Dr. John Harrington, Jr. , Dept. of Geography, Kansas State University Ø Dr. David E. Kromm, Dept. of Geography, Kansas State University