Tough Choices for Farmers as the High Plains Aquifer Dries Up

Water in the 175,000 square mile High Plains Aquifer, also called the Ogallala Aquifer, has been disappearing at the rate of about six miles of streams per year. The drying up of the aquifer lies under parts of Colorado, Kansas, Texas, Wyoming, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Dakota has left farmers and ranchers concerned about rather they will have water to raise their crops and livestock. According to Colorado State University and Kansas State University, another 117 miles of streams and rivers could disappear by 2060.

Tough Choices for Farmers

The ground above the High Plains Aquifer is currently used to grow about 20 percent of the food consumed in the world. Farmers face tough choices. If they continue to use the water to produce food, then the water that has been accumulating there for at least 15,000 years could soon be gone. If the farmers do not use the water, then they use their livelihood and America loses the food grown on this prime farmland.

Farmers Abandoning Multigenerational Farms

Some farmers are already discovering that the water sources that they have relied on for decades are now unreliable forcing them to abandon farms that have been in the same generation for years. These farms have relied on wells that drain from the aquifer for water for even basic living needs like cooking and showering.

Help Coming But No Easy Answers

The United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Services has a program in place that may extend the life of the aquifer. It is helping farmers learn to grow crops using less irrigation. It is doubtful, however, that the program will be enough to save the aquifer long term because water is quickly disappearing in the area even in the wettest years.