Ogallala Aquifer Water Supply Depleted By 70 Percent by 2063: Study

Wednesday, 28 Aug 2013 11:27 AM

By Michael Mullins

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The Ogallala Aquifer, part of the High Plains Aquifer System that provides water to thousands of U.S. farmers and ranchers, will be depleated significantly over the next 50 years, which will impact food production unless less water is used.

Researchers from Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., conducted a four-year study of a portion of the High Plains Aquifer, called the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides the most agriculturally important irrigation in the state of Kansas, and is a key source of drinking water for the region, according to LiveScience. 

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If current irrigation trends continue, 69 percent of the available groundwater will be drained in the next five decades, the researchers said in a study published online Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"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, which was conducted over the past four years, takes into account thousands of water usage reports, readings, climate data, and other information.

The High Plains Aquifer System is a vast underground water table underneath the Great Plains, which covers 174,000 miles, including South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas.

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