The Ogallala Aquifer

The Ogallala Aquifer

♫MUSIC♫ ANNE THOMPSON: In the state of Kansas, agriculture is king. Along with high yields of corn and soybeans, Kansas is the top wheat-producing state in the U.S., with yields of more than 382 million bushels in 2012, according to the USDA. The secret to this land’s bounty is not just the soil that covers it, but also something below ground that no one can see – the Ogallala aquifer, the largest freshwater aquifer in North America. DAVE HYNDMAN: For decades you’ve had incredible production of agricultural crops on top of this and largely that’s because of the incredible water resources that have been available to it. THOMPSON: The Ogallala Aquifer, also known as the High Plains Aquifer, is a groundwater storage reservoir that stretches 174,000 square miles underneath parts of 8 states from South Dakota to Texas. STAN TOWNSEND: This well here is 303 foot deep. THOMPSON: Stan Townsend, a sixth-generation farmer from Weskan, Kansas, grows corn, wheat, pinto beans and peas on his land. Like many farmers, Townsend depends on the aquifer to irrigate his crops, especially during times of extreme drought. TOWNSEND: This country is about weather, and right now, it’s sure not in our favor. THOMPSON: Today’s irrigation technology is able to pump out water that has been in the aquifer for hundreds of thousands of years in just a matter of minutes, a rate which far outpaces how fast nature can replenish it, threatening the overall sustainability of the aquifer and agriculture. TOWNSEND: This well over on southwest was right at a 2,000 gallon a minute well and now all we’re gettin’ out of it is about 600. THOMPSON: According to the Kansas Geological Survey, groundwater levels in the aquifer have dropped an average of 14 feet since 1996 – about a foot each year. Aquifer drop-rates suddenly doubled, an average of two feet a year, between the start of 2011 and the end of 2012 alone. HYNDMAN: Since about 2011 there’s been a significant drought and this is really across most of the high plains aquifer but this area, as well as others, you’re now in a period of extreme to exceptional drought. THOMPSON: Dave Hyndman, a hydrologist at Michigan State University, is leading a team of scientists funded by the National Science Foundation that is studying the aquifer. The team is analyzing data from as far back as the 1800’s on changes in climate, irrigation technology and water policy to build models that could forecast what the future holds for the aquifer and for farming. HYNDMAN: When we feed the climate into these models, we’re able to predict what happens with the water levels and as long as we have pumping data, we really get a great understanding of the system. THOMPSON: One of the reasons why the aquifer replenishes or recharges so slowly is due to the water cycle itself. When precipitation in the form of rain or snow hits the ground, some of it runs off. Some evaporates back into the air from the ground or as transpiration from plants. What doesn’t run off or evaporate slowly seeps down through the soil and its layers by gravity in a process called percolation. In western Kansas, it can take one year to recharge the aquifer by less than an inch. JIM BUTLER: There’s not enough recharge out here. Not enough precipitation. THOMPSON: During the drought of 2012, Mitchell Baalman, a fourth-generation farmer outside of Hoxie, Kansas, was able to maintain his crop yields only by pumping more water out of the aquifer. MITCHELL BAALAM: In 2012, we were drastically impacted. I mean, it affected our crops, definitely affected the aquifer. We depend heavily on the Ogallala, which is what we’re pumping out for our pivot irrigation. THOMPSON: Now in an effort to extend the life of the aquifer, Baalman and other farmers have started a grassroots effort to cut back pumping by 20 percent over the next five years. BAALAM: I think we’re averaging probably 2.1 foot a year is what we’re droppin’. That’s why we’re lookin’ ahead to the future to try to promote saving, being proactive instead of reactive. THOMPSON: But sustaining the Ogallala aquifer and Kansas agriculture must also include more scientific research. Hyndman’s team is working with local and state government officials, water policy experts and farmers to develop a long-term model for aquifer water use – based on more precise measurements of precipitation, percolation and natural recharge, better monitoring of agricultural pumping, and forecasts of changes in climate and population. HYNDMAN: To do anything about sort of forecasting what happens in the future, we have to work with both the farmers and the policy-makers, because as we do these scenarios of the future, we have to have a pretty good idea that the scenarios we’re running are feasible. TOWNSEND: We’ve gotta start someplace. We gotta get this thing moving. It’s too important. THOMPSON: Improving water policy and reducing water usage are not only key to sustaining the Ogallala Aquifer, but also to maintaining a way of life in western Kansas and across the entire High Plains region. ♫MUSIC♫

Comments (32)

  1. S/o to mr Newman swag

  2. hellow pumpkin butt bff 

  3. GO VEGAN and save the Ogallala aquifer!

  4. "Ack-uifer"? It is Aquifer. As in Aqua.

  5. who is here because of Mrs. Martin??


  7. Is it possible to pump water from a major river with a purification process and then pump it into the aquifer? If it was doable, not only would it solve the aquifer problem but could help in flood control during heavy rains.

  8. Chinese must be doing something, it's certainly not a climate change or water depletion

  9. All of those people better be saving for retirement or learning another trade in between. When that runs out, their entire operation is going in a lot of states.

  10. We have the aquifer that is right under us but we have the worst water to drink lmfao

  11. You can do as many studies as you like and your scenarios can be one hundred % accurate. The water recharge is still not going to allow irrigated farming into the future. If you are drawing down the water at a rate of two feet a year and recharge from rain gives you one inch per year then the future is clear. Reduce the draw down to just two inches per year instead of two feet per year and the result is the same. You are using up a renewable resource faster than it renews itself.

  12. It’s a lake underground where it feeds the well I believe any well and u half to get water from the well for your cottage

  13. I'm glad the water is drying up. It's their own fault.

  14. I didn't hear a hint of the right solution. It's simple. Stop killing the soil with all the chemicals and fertilizers. Save tons of money and use a fraction of the water while producing more food and higher quality food (by fixing the biology in the soil). How do you to that? Just make Dr Elaine Ingham the soil czar in the U.S. and it'll be fixed in no time (I have no affiliation with her except being a fan and following her for many years). This is a sample of her work >>

  15. because we already know whats going on , seems to me the answer is pretty simple. we need a study done to determine how much of what is needed yrly to feed us and our animals. not jimmy carter gas or china but we the people. then we pick the crops that grow best naturally. which means ending desert farming. be smart about what we grow and where we grow it is important. the water wars are coming and it's gonna be ugly but boarder walls to protect our water from mexico and central america and a new plan on usage. african countries will die , and india will loose 100's of millions but we , america can survive if we're smart. seal the boarders, remove excess people and farm smartly.

  16. He's a farmer that's wearing a Columbia coat with a custom stitched name in it. From another farmer, you're making too much money if you can afford that. You can cut back on the water a little. 🙂

  17. Keep eating and demanding beef motherfuckers. Go ahead and keep allowing Donald Trump to convince you Mexicans are your biggest problems. Go on ahead believing it is your god-given right to exercise domain over the land you stupid Christian motherfuckers. Stupid ass white people have raped the very continent they live on. Keep driving your pick ups ya'll 😆 fucken white trash

  18. Well we are screwed

  19. Chant Ogalla Aquifer for free v-bucks. It will also raise a water demon

  20. here because of class. i hope i do ok with the exam today. im so nervous!

    kinda cramming, haven't studied –__–

  21. Why on so many sites do people claim that this is the biggest Aquifer below Turtle Island.
    When you look at information provided by nasa on its JPL sight, the Northern Great Plains Aquifer is way bigger than the Oglalla, but yet both share the same ending they will disappearing thanks to man always wanting oil – that is so sad.
    We are one people, we are one with the land, the animals and the elements. There has got to be a better solution than oil, maybe Creator put oil there for a reason. What if it was suppose to benefit all that live on the planet, rather than just a few who live off it for material wealth. It really is time for all off us to sit back as ONE and come up with a solution.
    We save ourselves by saving Mother Earth,

  22. How much water is lost to evaporation by using pivot irrigation? 30%? If I were farming out there I'd be taking a serious look at sub-surface irrigation systems which don't lose so much water to evaporation.

  23. Nice picture of labels diagram.

  24. Pump any yearly flood waters into the Aquifer, build pipe lines dedicated to that, is that so hard to do, is that stretch for us to think about and do, spread this solution now

  25. Tap the Mississippi

  26. All you have to do is divert river water into the aquifer. This could be done through old wellheads or just dig down to the aquifer and pump and pump

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