An underground water stock nearly equal to two of the Great Lakes doesn’t guarantee that America’s High Plains will be able to fulfill the heavy demand of the region’s agriculture.
Despite its vast supply, the Ogallala Aquifer is losing water, and Michigan State University scientists are looking for ways to halt that shrinkage and secure a future supply for the region’s farmers.
The vast underground water system lies under 111 million acres stretching as far north as South Dakota and as far south as Texas, and covers parts of Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma.
Researchers say the Ogallala Aquifer is one of the world’s largest aquifer systems, storing almost as much water as Lake Erie and Lake Huron together.
A $1.2 million, four-year National Science Foundation grant to Michigan State scientists aims to help plan for improved management of the Ogallala Aquifer. Michigan State hydrogeologist David Hyndman will lead the multidisciplinary team of researchers, and the Kansas Geological Survey will participate as well.
“For more than 80 years, the Ogallala Aquifer has been used for irrigation, and the withdrawals far exceed its ability to replenish itself,” Hyndman said. “We are on an unsustainable course and must make difficult changes if we are to keep using some of the best agricultural land in the country.”
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, water levels in 1980 in parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas had declined more than 100 feet from the 1930s.