Ogallala Aquifer Depletion Affects Midwest Farmers

The recent drought along with aquifer depletion and groundwater contamination is causing farmers in the Midwest to be concerned about the availability of irrigation water for their crops.

| August 10, 2012

aquifer related words

 The Ogallala and other aquifers around the globe are threatened by overuse and insufficient recharging.

Photo from Fotolia/InTheSkies

This article is posted with permission from Grist.

Even in good years, farmers in the Midwest supplement rainfall with irrigation from the Ogallala Aquifer. The U.S. aquifer map shows crop irrigation areas in blue; the darker the color, the heavier the irrigation. That big, dark patch in the middle, to the left of the little icon, is irrigated by both surface water and water from the Ogallala and other aquifers in the High Plains system.

The Ogallala spreads across 174,000 square miles, providing drinking water and irrigation to a huge swath of the United States, replenished slowly by rainfall in the region. It’s a critically important resource, which is why it’s been a big part of the Keystone XL fight — if it’s polluted by tar-sands oil, the damage could be catastrophic.

The Ogallala and other aquifers around the globe are also threatened by overuse. According to research published this week in Nature, “about 1.7 billion people live in areas where groundwater resources and/or groundwater-dependent ecosystems are under threat.” Researchers estimate that the amount of water being used is 3.5 times the size of the aquifers.

The world aquifer map shows aquifers around the world. Any splash of color is an aquifer, the color denoting the body of water’s health. Blue aquifers are healthy — taking in about as much water from precipitation as is extracted. The more red the aquifer, the worse the condition it’s in. The Ogallala, which is part of the High Plains aquifer system, is not in good condition. Along the bottom of the map, you can see several aquifers (including High Plains) displayed within large gray shapes. That gray shape represents how big the surface footprint of the aquifer would need to be in order to collect enough rainfall to replenish what is withdrawn. We’re pulling much more water out of the High Plains aquifer than we’re putting in.

Scientific American explains what Ogallala aquifer depletion could mean:

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