KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The life of the Ogallala Aquifer could be extended several decades, but only if water usage is reduced, a four-year study by researchers from Kansas State University found.
“There is going to be agriculture production in Kansas and corn production and cattle production really for the foreseeable future,” David Steward, lead author of the study, said in an interview last week.
But without conservation, he said, “the future is bleak.”
The aquifer yields 30 percent of the nation’s irrigated groundwater, the study said. It could last until 2110 or longer if farmers were to cut 20 percent of their usage or more beginning now. But that would reduce agriculture production to the levels of 15 or 20 years ago.
Kansas alone pumped 1.3 trillion gallons in 2011, more than enough to fill Lake Okeechobee, the huge lake in Florida.
The study was done because there are a lot of questions about “how long can we pump and how long it will take to recharge the aquifer if depleted,” Steward said.
The study determined it would “take in the neighborhood of 500 to 1,300 years to recharge the aquifer” in western Kansas, Steward said.
Water from the aquifer lies under 175,000 square miles in Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, Wyoming and New Mexico. The aquifer first began declining in the 1960s because of irrigation needs.
At the current rate, the aquifer will be 70 percent depleted by 2060, according to the study.