Less rain, less groundwater, but the High Plains Aquifer still in good shape

Multiyear drought has reduced groundwater levels in the Great Plains, but a geologist says the world’s largest aquifer is plentiful.  

Data from the University of Nebraska shows three-quarters of the observation wells experienced significant declines from spring of 2021 through 2022.

Geologist Aaron Young tells Brownfield year-to-year variations of the Ogallala Aquifer are normal. “But over most of Nebraska, we haven’t really seen very significant declines like anything on the scale of Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma.  The overall health of the aquifer is good.”

UNL’s Conservation and Survey Division conducted observations of nearly 5,000 wells with 96 percent of weather reporting stations in Nebraska having below-average precipitation.

Young says some differences between the states are water management programs, more precipitation in areas that produce more crops and additional water capacity in Nebraska.

Josh Roe with Kansas Corn says his state’s portion of the aquifer is running dry and the industry is scrambling to develop a plan. “A great voluntary plan that would hopefully prevent the administration of water rights.”

Nebraska Governor Jim Pillen tells Brownfield water plans have been in place for decades.  “The state of Nebraska owns the waters. The property owners own the rights to the water. No one can sell our water.  It’s our water and it stays here.”

He says the Sandhills act as a natural sponge and producers continue to be efficient with their water use.  

For most of the observation wells, the net change in groundwater level was less than 20 feet before the widespread use of groundwater for irrigation.

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