Fresh water beneath the earth supplying farms in the heartland of America is being pumped dry from too many demands.
The Ogallala Aquifer is the largest underground fresh water supply and stretches from South Dakota to Texas. It has been providing tens of thousands of wells for farms in Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, but the demand has left the aquifer a few inches lower every year.
When it’s dry, our corn, wheat, alfalfa and other foods that people and animals depend on will no longer have the resource that they depend on for life. The Ogallala Aquifer is not replenished by rain or tributaries. The system is known as “fossil water,” a limited supply beneath the earth that is fast disappearing.
Formerly thriving agricultural towns like Happy, Texas, whose population has dropped to 595, have already seen the water drop so low it has disappeared from wells drilled in the 1950s that seemed at the time to hold an endless fresh water supply.
The town is now a landscape of dust, dead cattle and dried up crops. In the next few decades researchers say the tragedy will be seen across Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas and parts of Colorado.
“There used to be 50,000 head of cattle, now there’s 1,000,” Kay Horner told the Telegraph.
“Grazed them on wheat, but the feed lots took all the water so we can’t grow wheat. Now the feed lots can’t get local steers so they bring in cheap unwanted milking calves from California and turn them into burger if they can’t make them veal. It doesn’t make much sense. We’re heading back to the Dust Bowl.”
The Ogallala aquifer is also under other threats, including plans by T.Boone Pickens to ship millions of gallons from the aquifer to Dallas and other plans by the U.S. State Department to run the Keystone XL pipeline through the aquifer to transport oil from the tar sands in Canada to Texas.
“The proposed pipeline would run through the depleted Ogallala Aquifer, which provides drinking water to 82 percent of the people who live within its boundaries. About 20 percent of the nation’s irrigated agricultural land overlies the aquifer, and about 30 percent of the ground water used for irrigation in the U.S. is withdrawn from it. But in the last 50 years, water levels in the aquifer have dropped significantly, losing 65 trillion gallons of water in storage — enough to supply all the homes and businesses in Washington D.C. with drinking water for more than 1,000 years,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food and Water Watch.
“With over 2,500 pipeline accidents between 2,000 and 2009 alone in the U.S., the oil industry poses significant threats to critical water resources. We have seen nothing that shows that the Federal government has the capacity to mitigate damage should the pipeline leak into this already depleted aquifer.”
Water is our most precious wealth. Left trapped in plastic water bottles that are tossed away, wasted in watering gardens that are meant to grow plants that thrive in dry soil, taken for granted in the home we never imagine life without it, but now, our water needs our consideration now more than ever.
photo from http://www.flickr.com/photos/beth-harper/