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Huge aquifer in danger of being 'tapped out'

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 27th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Not many people are aware of its existence, outside of agricultural circles - but the United States' High Plains Aquifer provides nearly 70 percent of the groundwater stored in parts of the U.S. The vast underground reservoir that stretches through eight states, from South Dakota to Texas, and supplies 30 percent of the nations irrigated groundwater. A new study has found that all that water could be used up in 50 years unless current water use is reduced.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - A four-year study was conducted of a portion of the High Plains Aquifer. Called the Ogallala Aquifer, this section provides the most agriculturally important irrigation in the state of Kansas. It is also the key source of drinking water for the region.

According to a study from researchers from Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, if current irrigation trends continue unabated, 69 percent of the available groundwater will be drained in the next 50 years.

"I think it's generally understood that the groundwater levels are going down and that at some point in the future groundwater pumping rates are going to have to decrease," study lead author David Steward, a professor of civil engineering at Kansas State University said.

"However, there are lots of questions about how long the water will last, how long the aquifer will take to refill and what society can do. Steward added.

Steward and his colleagues collected data on past and present groundwater levels in the Ogallala Aquifer. His team then developed statistical models to project various scenarios of water depletion over the next 100 years.

Researchers estimated that three percent of the aquifer's water was used up by 1960; 30 percent of the aquifer's water was drained by 2010; and a whopping 69 percent of the reservoir will likely be tapped by 2060.

The hard part? It will take an average of 500 to 1,300 years to completely refill the High Plains Aquifer, Steward added.

If reducing water use becomes an immediate priority, it may be possible to make use of the aquifer's resources and increase net agricultural production through the year 2110, the researchers said.

"The main idea is that if we're able to save water today, it will result in a substantial increase in the number of years that we will have irrigated agriculture in Kansas," Steward said.

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