Ogallala Aquifer: Water Supply Depletion Could Affect Food Output

Image: Ogallala Aquifer: Water Supply  Depletion Could Affect Food Output A pivot sprinkler irrigates a wheat crop in Haskell County, Kansas.

Thursday, 29 Aug 2013 11:46 AM

By Michael Mullins

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The depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, a vast underground water table that provides drinking water and irrigation to thousands of U.S. farmers and ranchers through the High Plains Aquifer System, will likely impact food production unless water usage is better conserved in the near future.

Those findings, from a four-year study conducted by researchers from Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., were published online Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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According to the study, the Ogallala Aquifer will see a 39 percent depletion of its available groundwater over the next five decades, which is in addition to the 30 percent reduction that the water supply has already recently faced, according to LiveScience.

"It is generally understood the groundwater is going down. At some point in the future we need to use less water," David Steward, a professor of civil engineering at Kansas State University who participated in the study, said in a statement.

The water supply depletion will impact food production over the coming years, and if less water is used now, the effects will be less severe, researchers say.

"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 researchers added.

The report suggests targeted reductions in water usage today, while it remains a choice, rather than tomorrow, when it becomes a necessity. A 20 percent usage reduction now could extend the Ogallala Aquifer's production longevity well into 2070, researchers posit.

The study takes into account thousands of water usage reports, readings, climate data, and other information.

Covering 174,000 miles underneath the Great Plains, the High Plains Aquifer System can be found underneath parts of South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas.

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