MANHATTAN, Kan. -A collaborative effort to protect and prolong the economic life of the Ogallala Aquifer is now under way in western Kansas. Earlier this year, the Kansas legislature earmarked $181,000 in recurrent state operating funds for the Western Kansas Irrigation Research Project (WKIRP).
Another $2.1 million will be needed to build and equip WKIRP facilities, said Pat Coyne, head of K-State's Western Kansas Agricultural Research Centers.
The SIRU will include field-scale laboratories where scientists can conduct state-of-the-art research and can test emerging technologies in irrigated crop production.
Current WKIRP research priorities include:
Studying the interaction of ag production system variables (tillage, irrigation, inputs) to improve farmers' individual management decisions.
Testing technologies that reduce deep percolation of water and chemicals while promoting lateral water movement essential to good crop production.
Optimizing the benefits of irrigation systems.
Helping growers recognize the best management options and crops in limited water (deficit irrigation) situations.
Managing wastewater disposal from feedlots, packing plants, and other sources to protect soil and water quality.
Identifying alternative crops that respond to intensive management under irrigation and are economically feasible (profitable) for farmers to grow.
Investigating new irrigation technologies, such as subsurface drip irrigation (SDI), with higher application efficiencies and reasonable installation costs and longevity.
Developing educational programs to help producers optimize, maintain, and manage their irrigation systems for maximum water use efficiency.
"By addressing these research priorities, we hope to develop innovative irrigation systems and management strategies that conserve and protect groundwater," Coyne said. "Another objective is to develop profitable cultural practices that optimize chemical inputs, utilize wastewater when feasible, avoid groundwater contamination, and prevent surface water runoff under irrigation.
"Our scientists also will determine which alterative crops hold significant market potential for western Kansas farmers and develop management strategies for optimal use of irrigation water in fringe areas of the aquifer as conditions require a transition from full irrigation to limited irrigation to dryland crop production. We also will use computer models to understand and predict the effects of irrigation by simulating and testing system designs, operations, and management to complement expensive, full-scale field research."
The $2.1 million needed to upgrade, expand and equip current research facilities must come from the private sector, Coyne noted.
The legislature recently granted a request for recurrent operating funds and the process of raising support funds from private sources is now under way, he said. An important part of getting the WKIRP up to speed is siting the Sandhills Irrigation Research Unit.
"The Sunflower Electric Power Corporation has graciously offered to provide land for the SIRU at its 360 megawatt, coal-fired power generation plant near Holcomb, Kan., if water rights can be obtained," Coyne said. "K-State will operate the SIRU as part of its Southwest Research and Extension Center in Garden City. In addition, the Northwest Research-Extension Center at Colby, also located over the Ogallala Aquifer also will be part of the larger WKIRP project.
"Water and water issues are intricately tied to the economic future of western Kansas. The WKIRP partnership also will serve the best long-term interests of all Kansans by helping provide clean and adequate supplies of water into the 21st century."
Partners in this effort include Kansas State University, state and local governments, agriculture, industry and private citizens. The partnership will promote research and educational programs that help sustain the aquifer by pooling resources and ideas to achieve common goals for the greater good.
The Ogallala Aquifer is a vast, finite underground reservoir covering some 174,000 square miles from Texas to South Dakota. It is a principal source of irrigation, municipal, industrial, and household water in western Kansas and parts of seven other states. Because the amount of water annually withdrawn from the aquifer now exceeds natural recharge, aquifer maintenance and sustainability are vital.
Kansas' interest in sustaining the aquifer dates back to 1992. when Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Sam Brownback created the Ogallala Task Force--a group charged with investigating ways to maintain and enhance the agricultural economy of western Kansas while reducing crop irrigation demands on the aquifer.
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