Water for Food

The High Plains Aquifer: Not an Underground Lake

January 16, 2015

By Richael K. Young, DWFI Program Associate

McGuire, V.L., 2014, Water-level changes and change in water in storage in the High Plains aquifer, predevelopment to 2013 and 2011–13: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5218, 14 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/sir20145218.

McGuire, V.L., 2014, Water-level changes and change in water in storage in the High Plains aquifer, predevelopment to 2013 and 2011–13: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2014–5218, 14 p., http://dx.doi.org/10.3133/sir20145218.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) released a report on the status of the High Plains Aquifer, the largest aquifer in North America and the aquifer that underlies eight states and supplies one-third of the groundwater pumped annually within the United States.

The report highlights that there are some locations in which the High Plains Aquifer has been severely depleted, with the water table dropping more than 150 feet in parts of Kansas and Texas. In other locations, the water levels have remained fairly stable, as is the case in Nebraska.

These variations result from a combination of geologic and climatic properties, which cannot be controlled, and groundwater extraction and management, which are within our power to affect. Nebraska has a 40-year history of comprehensively managing groundwater so that future generations can live and farm the way Nebraskans do today. Farmers have also adopted more water-efficient technologies and practices.

Yet, the last two years have been especially troubling for parts of the High Plains Aquifer. Extended drought and high commodities prices likely led to increased groundwater pumping over the period 2011-2013. As a result, several of the High Plains states are pursuing more aggressive approaches to management.

The USGS report provides a compelling illustration of how we must balance our needs for water resources today and in the future, and how that balance is affected by real physical constraints that vary over space and time.

For further reading, see the USGS report here and see the editorial “Future of Nebraska Water,” co-authored by Roberto Lenton, DWFI executive director; Chittaranjan Ray, Nebraska Water Center director and Ronnie D. Green, University of Nebraska vice president of Agriculture and Natural Resources.


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