Peak Water: Tapping Out the Ogallala Aquifer

This piece from <em>Scientific American</em> looks at the jurisdictional challenge of conserving water in the cross-state Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world's largest sources of freshwater and the backbone of the nation's farm economy.
May 20, 2009, 10am PDT | Nate Berg
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"The Ogallala Aquifer, the vast underground reservoir that gives life to these fields, is disappearing. In some places, the groundwater is already gone. This is the breadbasket of America-the region that supplies at least one fifth of the total annual U.S. agricultural harvest. If the aquifer goes dry, more than $20 billion worth of food and fiber will vanish from the world's markets. And scientists say it will take natural processes 6,000 years to refill the reservoir.

The challenge of the Ogallala is how to manage human demands on the layer of water that sprawls underneath parts of eight states from South Dakota to Texas. As landowners strive to conserve what's left, they face a tug-of-war between economic growth and declining natural resources. What is happening here-the problems and solutions-is a bellwether for the rest of the planet."

"...By 1980 water levels had dropped by an average of nearly 10 feet throughout the region. In the central and southern parts of the High Plains some declines exceeded 100 feet. Concerned public officials turned to the U.S. Geological Survey, which has studied the aquifer since the early 1900s. With their state and local counterparts, USGS officials began monitoring more than 7,000 wells to assess the annual water-­level changes.

What they found was alarming: yearly groundwater withdrawals quintupled between 1949 and 1974. In some places farmers were withdrawing four to six feet a year, while nature was putting back half an inch."

Thanks to Waterwired

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Published on Sunday, March 1, 2009 in Scientific American
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