Times: High Plains Aquifer Drying Up Fast

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This morning's New York Times visits farms that depend on the High Plains Aquifer, which begins deep beneath Wyoming, stretches east to South Dakota and stretches clear to the Texas Panhandle. And though the Times reports that the aquifer's northern reaches still hold enough water in many places to last hundreds of years, "as one heads south, it is increasingly tapped out, drained by ever more intensive farming and lately, by drought."

The Time's Michael Wines visited west-central Kansas where up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland has already gone dry:

"And when the groundwater runs out, it is gone for good. Refilling the aquifer would require hundreds, if not thousands, of years of rains."

The Times reports that the problem isn't just a dry spell, it's "a slow-motion crisis—decades in the making, imminent for some, years or decades away for others."

And over the past fifty years, with farmers shifting more to growing corn—a much thirstier crop—the problem only got worse. At an average 14 inches per acre in a growing season, a corn crop soaks up enough groundwater to fill a space a mile square and nearly 2,100 feet high according to the Kansas State Agriculture Department.

Portions of the High Plains Aquifer are rapidly being depleted by farmers who are pumping too much water to irrigate their crops, particularly in the southern half in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Levels have declined up to 242 feet in some areas, from predevelopment—before substantial groundwater irrigation began—to 2011.
  • New York Times / U.S. Geological Survey
  • Portions of the High Plains Aquifer are rapidly being depleted by farmers who are pumping too much water to irrigate their crops, particularly in the southern half in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. Levels have declined up to 242 feet in some areas, from predevelopment — before substantial groundwater irrigation began — to 2011.

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