impacts of water level decline in the Ogallala aquifer in the United States

Posted: August 12th, 2013





Impact of Reduced Water Levels in Ogallala Aquifer

Water is a precious commodity and its scarcity would pose a crucial situation in many parts of the world. As demand for water increases, it increasingly becomes scarce, thus implying that its resources including groundwater become close to exhaustion. In certain areas, the change in the climate pattern will ultimately reduce annual rainfall thus increasing reliance on groundwater resources. The effects of water shortage occur often due to the inefficient and unequal water allocation. Once referred to as the Great Desert of America, the US great plains were regarded as a wasteland devoid of water supply until the Ogallala aquifer was discovered. However, environmental research established that the aquifer registered an average 1.4 feet annual water-level decline from 1995 to 2005. Currently, the dwindling water level of Ogallala aquifer consequently spells devastating impact.

The Ogallala Aquifer serves as a vital water resource for human society, industry and agriculture particularly for the Texas Panhandle. More than ninety percent of water pumped from the aquifer is used for crop irrigation and this accounts for a fifth irrigated cropland in the United States. This translates to thirty percent of underground water used for Crop Irrigation in the US. Crops benefiting from this irrigation include alfalfa, corn, cotton, wheat and soybeans. These crops provide enormous feed for cattle operations in the Midwest, accounting for forty percent of beef output in the entire United States since agricultural irrigation advanced at the dawn of the 20th century. The Ogallala aquifer has ultimately facilitated the production of large grain quantities for feeding livestock.

However, the recent depletion in the water levels of the aquifer spells negative effects on both the livestock and agricultural industry in the Texas Panhandle as well as the United States. Activities such as cultivation, grazing, surface water diversions for irrigation purposes, well pumping, and hydroelectric generation have all led to the reduced water levels in the aquifer. The impact of the reduced water levels implies that relevant authorities have to administer the imminent management of water use from the aquifer. This implies reduced water supply mainly for irrigation and the generation of hydro electricity. Consequently, the crop produce in the Texas Panhandle is expected to go down thus reducing beef output. Power rations are also a negative effect, as hydroelectric generation in the Texas Panhandle will as well be reduced.

The Texas Panhandle is made up of twenty-six counties. Ultimately, the economic development of these counties has been driven by the various uses of water from the Ogallala aquifer. As the level of water in the aquifer declines, rural communities and agriculture will have no choice but to adjust to new but poorer economic reality of reduced revenue, agricultural production, lowered tax revenues, and reduced levels of available community services. Judging by the economic and social impact associated with the depleted levels of the Ogallala aquifer, water conservation practices are imperative. The current situation warrants urgent attention as the Ogallala aquifer is drained at a devastating rate of 206,898-acre feet annually, and only manages to recharge itself 50,760 acre feet annually, as established by the Texas Panhandle state engineer. It is vital that the United States government engages in research practices to establish efficient solutions aimed at dealing with the vice. In addition, the Texas Panhandle needs to identify and use alternative approaches.

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