AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — The area drought is once again bringing to a long discussed issue to the forefront on the High Plains: water conservation.
A big supplier of groundwater for many area farmers and ranchers, is the Ogallala Aquifer.
“Primarily we rely on the Ogallala Aquifer to provide irrigation water,” said Jason Smith, Assistant Professor and Extension Beef Cattle Specialist at Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension. “To provide residential and domestic water, and to provide drinking water to livestock.”
No rain means very little groundwater, leaving many farmers to irrigate more, putting increased strain on an already declining resource.
“What that means is that we don’t see recharge, we don’t see wells recover,” said Jourdan bell, Regional Agronomist for Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension. “And if wells can’t recover, then in subsequent cropping seasons, we see a reduced production potential from those wells. So really, we see greater rates of decline in the Ogallala.”
Bell told KAMR it’s gotten so bad in some areas, farmer have had to change production strategies completely, which leads to a bigger issue.
“While we have been talking about running out of water for years, it seems like with more technology, we’ve been able to kick that can down the road. but we have no reached a point where many producers no longer have the ability to irrigate,” she warned.
So, what can be done to recharge the Ogallala Aquifer? First, we have to understand just how massive it is. The aquifer stretches eight states, from South Dakota to here on the High Plains, and underlies parts of New Mexico and Colorado.
Second, there’s plenty of variables, like depth.
“As we move north to south, the depth to water changes in the northern portion of the Ogallala, the depth to water is 20 to 30 feet. Whereas, when we get into the Texas High Plains, we can be anywhere from 200 to 400 feet deep,” Bell explained.
As a result, some producers are going another route.
“As people have added new water wells to try to maintain some decent capacity within their business, we’ve seen quite a few new applications for water wells in these past months,” said Jason Coleman, Manager of the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District.
Bell said while certain parts and wells within the Ogallala Aquifer could be recharged under the right conditions, due to the many variables and size of the aquifer as a whole, “significant recharge to return to intensive irrigation, it will not happen in our lifetime,” she warned.