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Energy and Environment

Low Aquifer Levels Endangering Perennial Streams In Western Kansas

The depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer is causing western Kansas to lose many of its perennial streams.

Jim Butler is the geohydrology section chief with the Kansas Geological Survey.

Butler said at a workshop in Lawrence last week that many streams in western Kansas used to be fed by the aquifer because its water table was higher than the streams.

He says because the aquifer's water table has dropped 3 feet or more below the stream beds, most of the streams are now dry year round.

The Lawrence Journal-World reports that since 1945, Kansas has been warning farmers that they were depleting the Ogallala, but the heavy irrigation continued despite studies and task force reports.

Gov. Sam Brownback has appointed another task force, in hopes its recommendations will persuade farmers to reduce water use.

Butler said that simple solutions can work.

For example, if farmers in northwest Kansas had pumped 22 percent less water over the past few years by using techniques such as no-till to grow crops, water levels would have remained stable in the short term.