Ogallala Aquifer Conservation
On a recent drive across the state of Nebraska, I didn’t see a single pivot irrigation system that spewed water into the sky, like they all used to. I saw many, many pivots, but every single one was the newer low pressure type with hang down nozzles that spray closer to the ground like the Valley system in the photograph above.
A motivating factor for the farmer to spend more to get the newer style pivot is a savings in energy. It doesn’t cost as much to pump the water using a lower pressure system. It also helps the farmer comply with any necessary water pumping limit regulations.
This observation seemed worth posting, because the study about the Ogallala Aquifer depletion projections for Kansas has made more headlines than I can count this past month. The study out of Kansas State by David Steward and his colleagues focused on irrigation in Western Kansas. It estimated that by 2010, 30 percent of the Ogallala Aquifer’s water in that region had been tapped, and that an additional 39 percent of it would be used by 2060. This total loss of 69 percent of the aquifer’s groundwater would take 500-1,300 years to refill at today’s recharge rates.
However, the study acknowledged that water use efficiencies have been increasing by about 2 percent a year in Kansas due to improved irrigation technology, crop genetics and water management strategies. “Society has been really smart about using water more efficiently, and it shows,” Steward said.
This is very positive news and it demonstrates our ability to plan ahead for the future by conserving this precious resource.
For best efficient use of precious Ogallala groundwater, however, we cannot ignore what we are producing with that water. Hardly anyone would argue in favor of using irrigated corn to produce ethanol to burn in our vehicles, and yet we do it on a massive scale, especially in Nebraska, but also in Kansas and Texas. So, while on the one hand there is reason for optimism because of improved water conservation in the aquifer region, we are lacking policy that takes into consideration how important the crop itself is which uses that water.
Let’s not waste this fossil water on a crop that is the product of policy and taxpayer life support.