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Agriculture

Crews Conduct Annual Check Of Western Kansas Groundwater Levels

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Kansas Geological Survey
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Rex Buchanan, measuring water wells in western Kansas.

Very little is more important than water for farmers and ranchers. It’s not possible to grow crops or raise livestock without it.

In western Kansas, the Ogallala Aquifer, a vast underground body of water, provides irrigation for crops and other agricultural uses.

During the first week of January, crews from the Kansas Geological Survey and the Kansas Department of Agriculture will measure groundwater levels throughout western Kansas to monitor the health of the aquifer.

Rex Buchanan, director emeritus of the KGS, will return this year to help measure water levels in nearly 600 wells. Buchanan says it’s important to inventory the levels at the same time each year.

"The idea is to go out every January," Buchanan says. "[At] the same time every year, go to the same set of wells every year, and get water level measurements, so you get some idea of what the regional trends are doing."

Water from the Ogallala is used to irrigate corn, wheat and cotton crops and agricultural pumping accounts for most of the water usage.

Buchanan says the crews measure hundreds of wells across a large area to get a more accurate picture of the aquifer levels.

"There are parts of the aquifer where you've seen declines of 100 feet or more. But, there are an awful lot of parts of the aquifer where the decline has not been that great," Buchanan says. 'It's highly variable from place to place."

Hydrologists have recently developed new models to predict groundwater dynamics and say that the water supply in high-volume agricultural areas, including western Kansas, could be depleted between 2050 and 2070.