Wyoming on the Edge of Ogallala Aquifer

The headlines read Aquifer study could lead to water use restrictions in Laramie County  It’s hard to believe we could be draining such a large water resource as the Ogallala Aquifer.

From Iowa State: The Ogallala Aquifer underlies approximately 225,000 square miles in the Great Plains region, particularly in the High Plains of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and Nebraska. The depth of the aquifer from the surface of the land, its rate [sic] of natural thickness, vary from region to region. The aquifer has long been a major source of water for agricultural, municipal, and industrial development.

Use of the aquifer began at the turn of the century, and since World War II reliance on it has steadily increased. The withdrawal of this groundwater has now greatly surpassed the aquifer’s rate of natural recharge. Some places overlying the aquifer have already exhausted their underground supply as a source of irrigation. Other parts have more favorable saturated thicknesses and recharge rates, and so are less vulnerable.

Ogallala Aquifer Location MapNatural recharge to the Ogallala happens mostly by rain and snow fall percolating through the soil back into the aquifer. Playa lakes are recognized as another primary source of recharge.

Laramie County, home to Wyoming’s capital, Cheyenne, sits on the western edge of the aquifer. It’s quite possible well water restrictions could be in the future for this area of Wyoming. The town itself gets water from nearby reservoirs, so water restrictions affecting the Ogallala will mostly impact area farmers. The local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is coordinating a unique, and fairly drastic, effort to slow the depletion of the Ogallala aquifer: helping farmers give up water wells over a period of years and phase out dependence on irrigated crops.

To anyone who farms with irrigation this is a drastic step. The results of giving up  the ability to pump water from deep wells could mean a range of adjustments including improving irrigation efficiency in an attempt to use less total water or fewer wells, planting fewer acres, switching to dryland crops,  changing the production process of the farm to a different commodity, or the most cutting; quitting the business all together.

Dryland farming on the high plains is full of risk. Some years a crop can be realized, but other years, when the rain does not come at the right time, crops shrivel up in the ground, or even refuse to sprout at all. In order to assist farmers in making these adjustments, financial help and technical advice are given through the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP), administered by the NRCS. Participation in the AWEP is completely voluntary. With the help of AWEP, some farmers have already begun to make changes in order to conserve water.

 

Image from: High Plains Water District     http://www.hpwd.com/aquifers/ogallala-aquifer

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3 thoughts on “Wyoming on the Edge of Ogallala Aquifer

  1. Have you seen the documentary “Great Plains: America’s Lingering Wild” ? Parts of it concerns conservation in the Ogallala Aquifer region. A preview is available here: http://netnebraska.org/interactive-multimedia/television/great-plains-america%E2%80%99s-lingering-wild-michael-forsberg-feature

    I have a post coming up that partly deals with the Aquifer as well.

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