Tuesday, November 10, 2015

USDA to invest $8M in projects to conserve water in rapidly depleting Ogallala Aquifer

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced plans to invest $8 million in fiscal year 2016 in projects to help farmers and ranchers conserve water in the Ogallala Aquifer (Wikipedia map), Daniel Enoch reports for Agri-Pulse. The Ogallala, which covers 174,000 square miles in parts of South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas, "supports the production of nearly one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cotton and cattle produced in the U.S. and supplies 30 percent of all water used for irrigation in the U.S." But farmers and ranchers are using water faster than it can replenish, and the Ogallala has been labeled unsustainable and is in danger of drying up, having dropped 36 million acre feet from 2011-2013.

"The plan involves USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) adding two new focus areas to the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative while continuing support for seven ongoing focus areas," Enoch writes. "These targeted local efforts include improving the efficiency of irrigation systems; building soil health by using cover crops and no-till practices that allow the soil to hold water longer and buffer roots from higher temperatures; and implementing prescribed grazing to relieve pressure on stressed vegetation."

"An NRCS analysis of Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) conservation projects in the region, including those implemented through OAI, estimated reduced water withdrawals of at least 1.5 million acre-feet, or 489 billion gallons of water, from 2009 through 2013 and an energy savings equivalent of almost 33 million gallons of diesel fuel due to reduced irrigation," Enoch writes. For a list of USDA focus areas, click here.

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