The Garden City Telegram
3/2/2014
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Water push

Ogallala Aquifer depletion threatens state way of life.

The region's water supply remains a topic of grave concern.

So, it was good to hear something positive on the Ogallala Aquifer, the underground water supply that helps sustain a region heavily dependent on agriculture.

A recent report showed the rate of depletion of the aquifer slowed last year.

In the southwest Kansas groundwater management district covering all or part of Grant, Haskell, Gray, Finney, Stanton, Ford, Morton, Stevens, Seward, Hamilton, Kearny and Meade counties, levels dropped 2.31 feet in 2013, after declining more than 11 feet collectively in the three previous years, according to data from the Kansas Geological Survey.

Late-season rains and a cooler summer helped ease water needs for farmers.

But as welcome as the news was, it could not drown out lingering concern over a water source considered the economic lifeblood of the region — especially in western Kansas, where water security is essential in powering ag operations.

That said, the issue isn't limited to western Kansas. Knowing it's a problem for the entire state, Gov. Sam Brownback called for more focus on the state's water issues, including depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer.

The challenge, though, is in getting something done. A diverse mix of aggressive strategies is needed to extend the life of the Ogallala and other aquifers, ranging from water conservation to the pursuit of more drought-resistant crops.

Even the notion of pumping water from the oft-swollen Missouri River west to nourish places across Kansas resurfaced after being floated in the early 1980s.

The 1982 High Plains Ogallala Aquifer Regional Resources Study by the federal Department of Commerce — done to satisfy a 1976 congressional mandate to examine declining water supplies in the High Plains — recently was dusted off for consideration.

Without a dramatic fix, an agriculture-driven economy that fuels many jobs and related ventures throughout Kansas will evaporate.

We know extraordinary problems demand extraordinary solutions. While policymakers say it's a priority, they need to devote more time and energy to remedying the state's water woes.

One encouraging year in terms of depletion represents just a drop in the bucket toward progress needed to reverse the costly toll on the aquifer.