Monday, December 16, 2013

High plains aquifer is running dry for farmers Significant portions of one of the largest bodies of water in the United States are at risk of drying up if draining continues at the current rate. In the current issue of Earth’s Future, scientists are proposing alternatives that will halt and hopefully reverse the unsustainable use of water drawdown in the Ogallala Aquifer, also known as the High Plains Aquifer, which spans from Texas to South Dakota and drives much of the region’s economy.

“Already, there are regions in Texas and Kansas where farmers can’t pump enough water to meet the demands of their crops,” says Bruno Basso, an ecosystem scientist at Michigan State University. “If current withdrawal rates continue, such depletion will expand across extensive portions of the central and southern areas served by the aquifer during the next few decades.”

Despite the widespread, rapid decline of the water table, the number of irrigated acres across the region continues to increase. The situation isn’t completely dire, though, say researchers who offer policy solutions to avert some aspects of this water crisis.

Federal crop insurance could be changed to allow substantial water reductions, especially crops categorized as fully irrigated. An example of such a sustainable model was recently proposed by the governor of Kansas that could save significant amounts of water and could be adopted regionally.

Another sustainable approach would be to adopt wholesale precision agriculture strategies. These would allow farmers to identify which areas in fields need more water and fertilizer. New precision agriculture strategies combine GPS technologies with site-specific management to apply optimal amounts of water and nutrients, which will increase farmer’s profitability and reduce environmental impact....

A 2009 map of water-level changes in the High Plains/Ogallala Aquifer in parts of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming, 1980 to 1995. Created from public domain data produced by the USGS and made available in Open-File Report 99-197[1][2]. Authors: Fischer, Brian C.; McGuire, Virginia L.

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