If Aquifer Dries Up, Panhandle Farmers Could Face Water Shortage

“When we talking about drying up, it’s not like turning off the faucet in your sink … because this is slow-moving, people will change and adapt.”

By Michael MarksJuly 26, 2016 11:09 am

The Ogallala Aquifer, a massive store of groundwater, stretches from the Texas Panhandle to South Dakota. For hundreds of years, people on the plains have depended on it. It makes modern life possible in a region where surface water can be hard to come by.

But the aquifer is disappearing. Landowners have stuck thousands of straws into it to sustain water-intensive agriculture. If the Ogallala dries up, the people who live above it – and worldwide food supply – will face dire consequences.

Laura Parker, who wrote about the aquifer’s depletion and what it means for the plains in the August issue of National Geographic Magazine, says the Ogallala waters some of the most productive farmland in the country – a $20 billion industry that produced about a fifth of the wheat, corn and beef in the U.S.

Parker says farmers are producing more with their land and using less water than they were a decade ago. One Texas cotton farmer told Parker that even though he’s a young person in the industry, he’s “optimistic.”

“He never got to see what he calls ‘big water,'” she says. “He’s accustomed to trying to work around the margins. He grows cotton on land which is not very expensive. If you’re a corn grower, you bought a ‘big water’ farm.”

What you’ll hear in this segment:

– How Texas’ rule of capture water law affects any plan meant to conserve the Ogallala

– What’s different about Kansas water law as compared to Texas

– Which areas are under the most stress from the shrinking aquifer

Post by Hannah McBride.