Kansas Is Running Out Of Water, Aquifer Could Dry Up

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Kansas (WIBW) -- A study shows that water in Kansas is disappearing, which could mean bad news for crops unless preventative measures are taken.

The study says the High Plains Ogallala Aquifer could be 70% depleted by 2060.

The Ogallala Aquifer spans 174,000 miles from Texas to North Dakota, and is the principle source of water for many farmers irrigating their corn, wheat, soybean and alfalfa crops. The 1st Congressional District in Kansas has the highest market value for crops nationwide.

Civil Engineer at Kansas State University David Steward was part of the study, and said the aquifer is about 30% pumped out right now.

The western third of Kansas is one of the regions that depends on the aquifer, and rainfall only makes up half a centimeter a year. Most of that rain is evaporated or sucked into plants, so very little water recharges the aquifers. More water is being pumped out of the aquifer than is being recharged; the recharge amount is 15% of how much is pumped.

Because of the low recharge rate, Steward says, it would take 500 to 1,300 years to totally refill the aquifer.

The study projects it'll be significantly harder to pump water out by 2025, and crops will see that negative impact by 2040.

"We have to pump less water," Steward said. "We are taking water out of storage and that can't happen for forever. So at some point, we will produce less water."

Steward says farmers, however, have gotten better at using less water to produce 2% more crops each year.

"If we're able to save more water now, we'll be able to grow more net crops into the future. It'll push the time to when the crop production will begin to decline further and further."

He said there are people who observe lower water rates already, and a couple decades from now, the whole region will too.

"It's very important for Kansas to do its best to maintain that economic vitality and agriculture production that's really helping to feed the world," Steward said.

He said the professors in vet medicine, agriculture and graduate students in civil engineering he worked with figured out projections if pumping was cut back by 20, 40, 60 and 80 percent.

If pumping is reduced by 20% it will take agricultural production back to levels Kansas observed 15 years ago, and move the impact back from 2040 to 2070. Steward said there will be a significant change in ability to produce agriculture for that generation.