Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Farmers cut irrigation to preserve Ogallala Aquifer

High Plains farmers who depend on the Ogallala Aquifer to irrigate crops are now reluctantly trying to conserve water to preserve the underground water source that has sustained bumper crops in the region for decades. Years of heavy use have depleted the aquifer to the point where some wells are drying up, and the federal government estimates there are two decades or less of adequate supply for irrigation. The drought has added to water-use fears, as farmers pumped more Ogallala water onto their crops to counteract it.

Farmers are afraid using the water source at current rates could eventually end irrigated agriculture and devastate communities that rely on it, leaving the next generation with few options, Mark Peters of The Wall Street Journal reports. Farmers in the High Plains face "a larger challenge for irrigated agriculture," Peters writes. Irrigation accounts for about one-third of annual water demand, and competition for water increases along with population.

Farmers who rely on the Ogallala agree that changes need to be made, but the devil is in the details, Peters reports. The High Plains Water Conservation District in Texas will start limiting water withdrawals in 2014. Some farmers in Kansas, where agreements have been made to cut water use, fear farmers in other states won't follow suit. Drawing boundaries on which fields can be irrigated and which should not be is drawing the most farmer ire, and concerns about water supply are "particularly acute" in western Kansas and northern Texas, where irrigation has long been used. (Read more)

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