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LINCOLN, Neb. -- The states that depend on the Ogallala Aquifer to help meet varied water needs don't always agree on how that resource should be managed, but they do tend to agree that collaboration is a major key to sustaining it for future use.
Representatives from Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming presented perspectives on the management policies and research necessary to regionally sustain the Ogallala Aquifer to the year 2035 and beyond at the recent Nebraska Water Conference held here. This year's conference keyed on the Ogallala Aquifer under the heading "Managing for Drought and Climate Change."
The aquifer underlies each of these eight states, to a greater or lesser degree. The aquifer contains roughly the water volume of Lake Erie. Most of the aquifer lies beneath Nebraska, although Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas also have extensive Ogallala Aquifer groundwater resources.
By tradition and policy, each state controls its own water use and use of the Ogallala Aquifer is no exception. However, states in the region have begun to conclude they must work together to sustain the aquifer as a viable irrigation, municipal, and recreational use resource into the next century, participants said.
"A collaboration of ideas between states to benefit all parties is key," said Dayle Williamson, Nebraska's representative in the conference discussions and director of the state's Natural Resources Commission. "Crafting effective policy stems from a wide variety of viewpoints that interstate cooperation can provide," he said.
Kansas representative Wayland J. Anderson, assistant chief engineer of the division of water resources for the Kansas Department of Agriculture, echoed many participating states' concerns when he said the aquifer probably can't be sustained into the future without severely restricting its use. Options to do that might include water banking, scheduling usage, and prioritizing the wisest uses of the aquifer's water.
Colorado's Purushottam Dass, supervising engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources, also echoed statements from Kansas, New Mexico, and Texas representatives when he said usable water levels in the aquifer were declining.
"Our depletion rates indicate that 50,000 acres of irrigated land will be forced to return to dryland production methods in the next 20 years due to irrigation wells going out of service," Dass said. The aquifer extends beneath some 12,000 square miles of eastern Colorado.
Texas representative John Ashworth of that state's South Plains Underground Water Conservation District suggested that future management might include retiring some land from agricultural production and implementing better conservation practices stemming from better education. More efficient farming methods also will be needed to help keep the aquifer viable.
In addition to more interstate cooperation in managing and using the aquifer, representatives agreed that increased research and educational efforts are needed to better understand and better use the aquifer.
The conference is sponsored by the Nebraska Water Conference Council, the Great Plains Foundation, the Groundwater Foundation and the Department of Agricultural Meteorology, Conservation and Survey Division and Water Center/Environmental Programs within the University of Nebraska's Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
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