Ogallala Aquifer: 4-Year Project to Improve Agricultural Sustainability – DTN

While the future of agriculture across the Ogallala Aquifer remains a long-term question, which a new consortium of researchers at major universities across the Plains will study.

The Ogallala is the largest freshwater aquifer in the world. It serves as the main source of public water for Nebraska and parts of seven other states.

Researchers from the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the Nebraska Water Center are helping lead a team of researchers that received a $10 million grant from USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to cover a four-year research project and extension activities designed to improve agricultural sustainability and water use in the Ogallala Aquifer region.

The consortium also includes scientists at Colorado State University, Kansas State University, Oklahoma State University, New Mexico State University, Texas Tech University, West Texas A&M University, Texas A&M AgriLife and the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

The Ogallala Aquifer region accounts for 30% of total crop and animal production in the United States, and more than 90% of the water pumped from the aquifer is used for irrigated agriculture. Groundwater levels and management practices vary across the aquifer region.

“The Ogallala Aquifer is a vast resource that is vitally important to Nebraska agriculture and to our state’s ag economy, but it is not endless and needs to be used and cared for wisely and sustainably,” said Chittaranjan Ray, director of the Nebraska Water Center.

As part of the project, Ray will lead an effort to gather hydrologic and crop water use data that can be used to manage pumping rates.

According to the news release, a hydrologic model exists for the Northern High Plains region of the Ogallala, but an aquifer-wide hydrologic model has never been created. An expanded model is expected to provide an important baseline tool to estimate climate change and management effects on groundwater levels across the region.

“This project recognizes and will build upon a wealth of knowledge and previous aquifer research to build a useable baseline of data on water levels, pump dynamics, institutional controls and climatic variability,” Ray said. “This data will be used to develop the best cropping management and irrigation technologies that will help maintain aquifer health into the future, keeping appropriate economic and social issues in mind.”

The team expects to get a better understanding of climate change effects on water resources and while recognizing emerging technologies and management practices that could extend the life of the aquifer. The project also is expected to inform non-farm consumers about the role of water in food production.

DTN examined some of the water conservation efforts taking place in states across the Ogallala Aquifer in this series of stories, here.

Todd Neeley can be reached at todd.neeley@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ToddNeeleyDTN

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