Research Matters

Research Matters

Troubled Water


A senior scientist at the Kansas Geological Survey is leading a definitive new study to clarify the future prospects of the Ogallala aquifer, the vast store of groundwater that supports agriculture across the High Plains.

Episode #91



2 minutes (3.7 MB) | Download mp3

Transcript


A pioneering study will gauge the lifespan of an aquifer vital to High Plains agriculture. From the University of Kansas, this is Research Matters. I’m Brendan Lynch.

Marios Sophocleous, senior scientist at the Kansas Geological Survey, is leading a definitive new study to clarify the future prospects of the Ogallala aquifer, the vast store of groundwater that supports agriculture across the High Plains.

Sophocleous: People thought that this resource was infinite, because there was so much water. With time, more and more wells were installed, more and more water was pumped. But of course the area is semi-arid and doesn’t get much recharge at all. The pumping from the aquifer is many times more than the recharge. It’s as if they are mining that resource. And eventually, if they keep expanding irrigation, it’s going to dry out.”

Cropland in eight U.S. states is irrigated with groundwater from the Ogallala. The aquifer sustains alfalfa, corn, sorghum, soybean and wheat, and supplies water to immense feedlots. Sophocleous said that predicting the rate of depletion from the Ogallala takes an all-around approach.

Sophocleous: We are going to collect whatever data exists and use them in this system of integrated models. This way, were going to evaluate a number of scenarios and see how they system might behave in the sense of how sustainable the different practices might be from form the hydrology and economic points of view and taking into account the social aspects of the problem.

The stakes are high not just for agribusiness stretching from Texas to South Dakota, but also for the nation as a whole. According to Sophocleous, while there is no way to maintain the current level of development, there is hope for the future.

Sophocleous: With more wise management of the resource, we can extend it for many more generations than if we don’t do anything about it.

For more on the radar discovery, log on to Research Matters dot KU dot EDU. For the University of Kansas, I'm Brendan Lynch.

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