Western Kansas’ economy threatened by reliance on Ogallala Aquifer

Warning signs about overreliance on aquifer irrigation have been visible for decades in Kansas, but no solution has been found due to conflict among landowners seeking to preserve water rights and environmentalists.

By

State News

August 30, 2022 - 3:12 PM

Garden Plain Republican Sen. Dan Kerschen, chair of the Legislature’s special committee on water, takes in presentations Monday on the impact of irrigation with the Ogallala Aquifer and sedimenation of reservoirs designed to prevent flooding and provide drinking water. Photo by (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Tentacles of the irrigation-based agriculture economy of Kansas extend far from fields of lush, tall corn to the ethanol producers, dairy and beef facilities, meatpacking plants, and finally the homes of people living in the state’s rural areas.

Earl Lewis, chief engineer of water resources with the Kansas Department of Agriculture, told state legislators Monday this chain could be broken in some areas of the state as consumption of groundwater from the Ogallala Aquifer continued to outstrip natural replenishment.

“We’ve got a multibillion-dollar industry built on that economy,” said Lewis, pointing to maps showing swaths of western Kansas counties fed by the Ogallala wouldn’t sustain another generation of hefty irrigation. “That’s really where we see a significant change in the economy.”

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