Depletion of Ogallala aquifer empties streams

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — The depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer is causing western Kansas to lose many of its perennial streams, which is damaging the state’s ecosystem, a water expert said.

Many streams in western Kansas used to be fed by the aquifer because its water table was higher than the streams. But because the aquifer’s water table has dropped 3 feet of more below the stream beds, most of the streams are now dry year round, said Jim Butler, geohydrology section chief with the Kansas Geological Survey.

Butler showed the Big 12 Universities Water Workshop at the University of Kansas a newly released map showing that more than 60 percent of the aquifer has been depleted, The Lawrence Journal-World reported).

“This pumping has obviously had an impact on the western third of Kansas,” Butler said. “It’s also caused collateral damage on our ecosystem health — especially our perennial streams.”

The aquifer supplies about 95 percent of water used for irrigation in Kansas and about 25 percent of the water used in the United States, Butler said.

He used photographs of the Arkansas River near Larned to demonstrate the problem. One of the photos showed the stream today was dry and rocky.

“This is a very dispiriting sight,” Butler said. “It’s a tremendous loss to our ecosystem.”

Kansas has been warning farmers for decades that they were depleting the Ogallala but heavy irrigation continued despite several studies and task force reports. Gov. Sam Brownback has appointed another task force, which the state hopes will persuade farmers to reduce water use.

Butler said if farmers in northwest Kansas had pumped 22 percent less water in the past several years by using techniques such as no-till, water levels would have remained stable in the short term.

“If we cut back we can buy some time in the system in western Kansas to find solutions,” Butler said. “It’s all about buying time.”

 

 

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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