Conserving and extending the useful life of the largest aquifer in North America: The future of the High Plains/Ogallala Aquifer
Sophocleous, M., 2012: “Conserving and extending the useful life of the largest aquifer in North America: The future of the High Plains/Ogallala Aquifer.” Ground Water, doi: 10.1111/j.1745-6584.2012.00965.x.
The water-level decline of the High Plains/Ogallala aquifer is one of the largest water management concerns in the United States. The economy and livelihood of people living in that vast region depend almost exclusively on water extracted from that aquifer. A debate about its future is ongoing, and questions remain as to how best to conserve the groundwater resource. Maintaining the aquifer will require reductions in pumping and irrigated hectarage and adopting additional conservation measures. Eventually, the agricultural system will have to be based dominantly on the renewable water resources of the region. In effect, this means a limited-irrigation and/or dry-farming regime. What Kansas is currently doing to further extend the life of the aquifer is presented here together with additional measures that could be taken. A key management approach to help sustain the aquifer in western Kansas is to divide the aquifer into subunits on which to base localized management decisions. Another recently adopted measure is the establishment of local enhanced management areas, which would allow locally agreed upon specific corrective controls in those areas. History has shown that incentive and voluntary plans alone have not been successful in halting water-level declines. Thus, limits and timelines need to be set and checks must be in place to enforce strict administration of conservation measures. It is advocated that water laws be reformed and modernized so that “water rights” are constrained by the current availability of water and the preservation of the resource base for future generations.