Fears Grow Over Depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer

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agricultural land overlies the aquifer, and about 30 percent of the ground water used for irrigation in the U.S. is withdrawn from it.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/


gerlinde p.
gerlinde p7 years ago

water is our life elixier. without it there will be no life.

Robert O.
Robert O7 years ago


Helena Plum Bowyer
Helena B7 years ago

In reply to Neil A; In the region around Almeria. Once there were peppers and tomatoes grown, but that has had to stop as there is no water left. Of course the other issue often ignored that has made this situation worse is that the water had a very high mineral content which ruins the soil.

Paula L.
Paula L7 years ago

My dad was a waterwell/service man. He said over 40 years ago, there was going to come a time when our water aquifers would be leached dry because of unconcern of our government and waste of the citizens. He was right!

Businesses watering little strips of lush lawn and letting it run down the street to the nearest drain pipe as sewage, Folks watering because they have to have that lush green water sapping carpet grass. Most folks way over water anyway. City type water isn't good for plants anyway. it should be used very sparingly on plants. All it is, is chemicals, all the minerals and food plants need from it have been removed. You are better off collecting rain water, and use it sparingly when your rain is sparse. Plants can get buy on far less water than most folks think.

Pull it together folks, cut your water use, those adds you see on TV about mow higher, water less are educated statements.

Turn off the water while brushing your teeth. Put what you need to rinse your mouth in a cup. Turn off the shower during your soapup-scrub time. Turn off the water between rinses, when washing dishes. Better still use a rinse pan full of water. Only use your clothes washer when you have a full load. Don't wash multiple small loads, they use more water and electricity than a full load. There are many more saving tips that are out there, but these are in every household!

We cannot live without water folks. Our bodies are created to have water to survive.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L7 years ago

Noted thank you

Marie W.
Marie W7 years ago


Ronald N.
Ronald N7 years ago

Wow! I've been listening to the problems of the Ogallala Aquifer. That's a lot of water. Even so, with the problem of the oil piplines coming out of Canada that threaten the Aquifer of people that used the water for their survival. They have had oil spills and although the use of bringing water down to Texas seem just another problem for those living int the midwestern heart that rely on the water for their farms and even more problems in Texas where water is scarce. I know much of the area is dependent upon rains and dry farming. It is so different in the San Joaquin Valley where water comes by way of rivers and canals. Even so, we've had the biggest rains this year, still many of the farmers will on the westside of the SJValley will only get a 50% allocation. The US is drying out where we need it most!

Stevo B.
Stevo B7 years ago

I think the government shouldn't step in.

Peter B.
Peter B.7 years ago

Whether a new pipeline is installed or not to take the place of the declining aquifer reserves is immaterial - what matters is the major issue of the loss of underground water reserves that are irreplaceable (if there really is no catchment input to the underground supply). The same thing has happened in Australia. We've 'wasted' our underground water reserves and now our water supply for a huge inland area is dwindling. Welcome to the real world of limited natural resources. Add this to overfishing and overcutting of forestry. And this is going to keep happening, in our greedy overpopulated world!

John Williams
John Williams7 years ago

As long as money is to be made by sucking it dry the aquifer will be plundered. At least the folks in the Texas panhandle stopped Pickens plan of exporting water to the cities in North Texas.