Aquifer: Good news, bad news and a reminder

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

There's bad news, good news, and a good reminder in a new U.S. Geological Survey report.

The report documents changes in the water level in the High Plains aquifer, what most of us call the Ogallala Aquifer.

In 2007, the total amount of drainable water in the aquifer was about 2.9 billion acre-feet, a decline of about 270 million acre-feet, or about 9 percent, since predevelopment. An acre-foot of water is equivalent to the volume of water that would cover one acre to a depth of 1 foot.

The good news is that Nebraska's water level has declined only about a foot over the past 60 years, and one well, in central Nebraska, even recorded a rise of 84 feet.

The reminder is that it's easy to forget just how big, and important, the aquifer is, and to take it for granted. Covering 174,000 square miles under Nebraska, Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming, The High Plains Aquifer is the primary source of drinking water for most of us and provides the life-giving liquid that makes one fourth of the United States agricultural production possible.

Although extensive irrigation has caused the aquifer to decline, some of the same technology that made irrigation possible, such as the highly efficient systems produced by Valmont right here in McCook, is making the most efficient use of the valuable resource of water.

A complete copy of the report is available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2009/5019/ and an abbreviated version is at http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2009/3005/

Even in this time of economic downturn, Nebraska and the rest of the region owes much of its prosperity to the High Plains Aquifer.

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