Charlie Riedel/AP/File
A sprinkler sprays water onto a hay field near Hoxie, Kan. Continued irrigation in western Kansas has led to declining water levels in the Ogallala aquifer.

Ogallala aquifer: Could critical water source run dry?

The Ogallala aquifer, a critical water source for US farmers, could dry up within the next 50 years, according to a report issued this week. Limited water supplies from the Ogallala aquifer will begin to have a significant impact on food production over the next few decades, the report said.

A critical water source for U.S. farmers and ranchers is being depleted at a rapid rate and nearly 70 percent of it will disappear within the next 50 years if the current trend does not change, according to a report issued this week.

Thirty percent of the groundwater from a critical portion of what is known as the High Plains Aquifer already has been pumped and another 39 percent will be depleted over the next five decades, according to the report by environmental science and engineering experts published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The report said limited water supplies will begin to have a significant impact on food production over the next few decades. It laid out different scenarios for how targeted reductions in water usage made now could extend peak agricultural production for many more decades. It said cutting back water use from the aquifer by 20 percent now, for instance, would reduce agricultural production in the near term but would extend the longevity of production well into 2070.

"It is generally understood the groundwater is going down. At some point in the future we need to use less water," said David Steward, a professor of civil engineering at Kansas State University who participated in the study. "We tried to put together some information to help with the planning process. If we are able to save more now, it's going to make the decline that we have more gradual."

The study examined in depth the portion of the High Plains Aquifer in the western part of Kansas, generally the largest wheat-growing state in the country.

The High Plains aquifer system, including a portion known as the Ogallala aquifer, is one of the world's largest. It covers an area of approximately 174,000 miles under portions of South Dakota, Nebraska,Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas.

The aquifer is tapped to irrigate corn, soybeans, wheat and other crops, sustain cattle and other livestock, and for drinking water for millions of people throughout the region.

The researchers said current water policies have not translated to significant reductions in use of the groundwater - people are simply pumping until wells run dry. Although their focus was on western Kansas, they said balancing the water needs of the present with the long-term needs of the future is a global concern.

"Although consumption of freshwater supplies has not yet crossed a potentially dangerous planetary threshold, crop yields have begun to fall in many regions because of water scarcity, and global food security remains a worldwide concern," the report said. "There is a clear need for society to become prepared for the consequences of reductions in groundwater use that shall occur in the foreseeable future."

The study took four years to complete and included an examination of thousands of water usage reports, well readings, climate data and other information, said Steward, one of six co-authors of the study.

(Reporting by Carey Gillam; Editing by Dan Grebler)

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Ogallala aquifer: Could critical water source run dry?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today