If current irrigation trends continue, 69 percent of the groundwater stored in the High Plains Aquifer of Kansas will be depleted in 50 years. But immediately reducing water use could extend the aquifer’s lifetime and increase net agricultural production through the year 2110.
Those findings are part of a recently published study by David Steward, professor of civil engineering, and colleagues at Kansas State University. The study investigates the future availability of groundwater in the High Plains Aquifer—also called the Ogallala Aquifer—and how reducing use would affect cattle and crops. The aquifer supplies 30 percent of the nation’s irrigated groundwater and serves as the most agriculturally important irrigation in Kansas.
“Tapping unsustainable groundwater stores for agricultural production in the High Plains Aquifer of Kansas, projections to 2110” appears in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, or PNAS. The study took four years to complete and was funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Kansas State University’s Rural Transportation Institute.
“I think it’s generally understood that the groundwater levels are going down and that at some point in the future groundwater pumping rates are going to have to decrease,” Steward said. “However, there are lots of questions about how long the water will last, how long the aquifer will take to refill and what society can do.”