Great American desert E-mail
Opinion
Saturday, 19 October 2013 10:08

By Salina Journal, Oct. 11

 

For years, Kansas and Nebraska have squabbled over water, because for years Nebraska irrigators have pumped too much water from the massive Ogallala Aquifer. The result has been reduced streamflow in the Republican River, which feeds from Nebraska into Kansas.

After it lost a federal challenge by Kansas on the issue, Nebraska had two choices to restore some of that streamflow to the Republican: Shut down a whole lot of irrigators and devastate a large chunk of their economy, or pump more water. They chose the latter option.

According to Journal reporter Tim Unruh's story in Sunday's edition, starting this year, Nebraska has been pumping 13,000 gallons a minute out of the Ogallala in western Nebraska and sending it downstream toward Kansas.

Think about that. Nebraska's response to overpumping water from the aquifer is to pump even more water: more than 6.8 billion gallons a year of a finite resource that's the lifeblood of the Great Plains economy.

And the amount being pumped is scheduled to grow significantly as Nebraska tries to meet its obligation.

That's a terrible decision made even worse by the fact that 30 to 50 percent of that water will never reach Kansas but will be lost due to evaporation, seepage back into the ground and plant life along the stream.

The aquifer, which comes from snowmelt and other runoff from the Rocky Mountains, recharges at a rate of a half-inch a year in western Kansas, slightly more in western Nebraska. Some estimates are that we've used about 30 percent of the aquifer.

The decline in surface water is exacerbated by such farming methods as terracing and no-till farming, both of which help capture water that might run down stream.

Gov. Sam Brownback told Unruh that instead of what Nebraska is doing, "We'd like a natural and sustainable long-term answer in the river system." He's right.

For decades, people have talked about preserving the Ogallala, but we're not making substantial progress. Irrigators and government will have to come together to find better solutions than what was forced upon Nebraska. Right now we have options; soon we won't.

But no matter how you look at it, pumping more water out of the aquifer because you've pumped too much water wouldn't seem to be a long-term answer. Not unless we're looking for a return of the Great American Desert.

 

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