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Exploring The Sustainability Of The Ogallala Aquifer. Erin O’Brien Biological & Agricultural Engineering National Science Foundation - Research Experience for Undergraduates McNair Scholar’s Program Kansas State University Summer 2001. Introduction.

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exploring the sustainability of the ogallala aquifer

Exploring The Sustainability Of The Ogallala Aquifer

Erin O’Brien

Biological & Agricultural Engineering

National Science Foundation -

Research Experience for Undergraduates

McNair Scholar’s Program

Kansas State University

Summer 2001

introduction
Introduction
  • The Ogallala aquifer lies within the Great Plains region.
  • 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.
slide3
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 2nd in the nation in cattle slaughter and 3rd for red meat production.
slide4
“Meeting fundamental human needs while preserving the life-support systems of planet Earth is the essence of sustainable development.” —(Kates, et al. 2001)
  • Since irrigation from the Ogallala taps ‘fossil’ groundwater there is an issue of sustainability of the current system.
study area
Study Area
  • My study looked at the High Plains with a focus on SW Kansas.
  • The Ogallala aquifer:
    • Underlies 134,000 mi2,
    • Is the largest body of groundwater in the U.S.
    • The porous rock layers were formed ~10 million years ago by fluvial deposition.
slide7
The High Plains aquifer has 3.25 billion ac-ft of water, approximately equivalent to Lake Huron.
  • 30% of the water used for irrigation in the U.S. comes from the High Plains aquifer.
  • 10% percent of the drainable water in the High Plains aquifer underlies Kansas.
slide8
The High Plains aquifer faces many different concerns, including purity, quality, quantity, and saturated thickness.
  • 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
slide9
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
History
  • The droughts of the 1930s and 50s made people realize that the climate changes of the region were simply cyclical variations.
  • Irrigation rapidly expanded following the drought of the 1950s.
  • By 1972, ~40% of the available groundwater had been consumed.
technology
Technology
  • In 1896 in Garden City, KS, a centrifugal pump was one of the first attempts at irrigation in Kansas.
  • Another pump was in use by 1911 in Scott City, KS.
  • In 1949, center-pivot systems were developed.
  • Drop tubes & subsurface drip irrigation (SDI) have become common recently.
rules regulations
Rules/Regulations
  • In 1972 KS passed the GMD Act to:
    • Regulate groundwater,
    • Grant drilling permits, and
    • Ensure old water rights are protected.
  • Constraints exist on policies that would decrease water availability. Adjustments must be technically, financially, legally, and socially feasible.
sustainability issues
Sustainability Issues
  • 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.
  • The number of irrigated acres is declining in all states.
  • Irrigation offers a climate substitute and enables increased yields.
slide15

Top: Feedlot at Dodge City,

KS.

Left: Sign for IBP, a packing

plant near Garden City,

KS.

slide17
Recurrent droughts are a hazard for the region.
  • There were two prolonged droughts in the last century:
    • In the 1930s and the 1950s.
  • What will happen when the water is gone?
    • Two New Jersey scholars have proposed a “buffalo commons” national park.
slide18
The area has already been affected by a decreased flow in the Arkansas River due to diversion and pumping.
  • It has only

recently began

to flow again,

after a Supreme

Court ruling limited

withdrawals.

slide19
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
Summary
  • Can the Ogallala aquifer be sustained?
  • History shows that farmers are adaptable to a variable climate.
  • Technological advances have greatly improved water use efficiency.
slide25
The current irrigation-based economy can be sustained for several more decades.
  • We must plan for what will happen when irrigated agriculture and the associated agribusiness economy becomes a thing of the past.
acknowledgements
Acknowledgements
  • 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.
  • Kates, Robert W., et al. “Sustainability Science.” Science. Vol. 292, 641-642: 27 April 2001.
  • Kromm, David E., and Stephen E. White, eds. Groundwater Exploitation in the High Plains. Lawrence, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 1992.
  • 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.
  • Dr. John Harrington, Jr., Dept. of Geography, Kansas State University
  • Dr. David E. Kromm, Dept. of Geography, Kansas State University