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Ogallala Aquifer: Water Pumping Could Dry It Up

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A LiveScience story picked up by NBC News has dismal news regarding the United States’ water supply: the High Plains Aquifer, which runs from South Dakota to Texas and provides 30 percent of the nation’s irrigated groundwater, will dry up in under 50 years unless we dramatically reduce our water usage.

According to researchers from Kansas State University, who just wrapped up a four-year study on a section of the High Plains Aquifer, over two-thirds of the water will be gone in 50 years. The study was published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team collected data on groundwater levels past and present, and assembled models based on their data that can predict water depletion over the next 100 years. Their model estimated 3 percent of water was used by 1960, and 30 percent by 2010. By 2050, that number becomes 69 percent.

The study’s principal author and a professor of civil engineering at Kansas State University, David Steward, said that “I think it’s generally understood that the groundwater levels are going down and that at some point in the future groundwater pumping rates are going to have to decrease… however, there are lots of questions about how long the water will last, how long the aquifer will take to refill and what society can do.”

The study estimated that an average of 500 to 1300 years without use would be needed to completely refill the High Plains Aquifer.

The groundwater issue can be a sensitive one because it cuts right to the American heartlands: our food producers. “Farmers are trying to make a living, and they’re responding to economics… Asking them to drastically reduce water might be like asking me to retire now because there are so many unemployed people,” said Bridget Scalon, leader of the Sustainable Water Resources Program at the University of Texas at Austin and a senior research scientist.

The practice of creating accurate “projections [is] so difficult because I think we’re clueless about a lot of things, like extreme weather events,” Scalon also said, highlighting the independent variable of sudden drought or excess rain, which was not taken into account in the Kansas State University study.

If you want to read more, a relevant study from LiveScience earlier this year may shed more light on the irresponsible use of pumped groundwater.

[Image via an educational Youtube about groundwater]

Ogallala Aquifer: Water Pumping Could Dry It Up
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  • Michael B.

    Ocean levels are rising, so why aren’t we more aggressive about desalinization? And a pipeline to the High Plains — like we do with oil. This seems justifiable when you consider the alternative (severe depletion of the aquifer).

  • William harkey

    I’ve heard that Aquifers can be replenished. If this is true why hasn’t someone looked into pumping flood level waters from the Mississippi River into the Ogallala Aquifer for future use and to prevent flooding downstream?

  • http://b.com/Anon Anon

    We need NAWAPA now!
    Google NAWAPA, and you’ll be aghast as to what we can do to the southwestern USA and the arid western plains states, by bringing Alaskan mountain water(200+ inches rainfall per yr) down the Rocky Mountain Trench into Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, & even 2 new rivers in Texas!
    You think NASA was JFK’s legacy? He planned to sign for NAWAPA in April 1964.
    NAWAPA would’ve made America thrive for 150+ more years.
    With canals and multiple navigable aquaducts stretching from the Mississippi & Great lakes, to the Pacific in California, Oregon, & British Columbia, there would be NO WORRIES for water shortages anywhere west of the Mississippi.
    With water-diversion, even flooding will be elsewhere channeled.
    70+ Gigawatts of Hydro-power will be available for enhanced lifestyles in the mountains and blossoming prior deserts along new mountainwater lakes and clean waterways.