Ogallala Aquifer Sees Smallest Drop in Years

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Flickr/Soil Science

    The water levels in a large Texas chunk of the High Plains' biggest aquifer saw its smallest drop in 2010 than in any year in six years, according to the region's water managers.

    The Ogallala Aquifer water level fell by an average of 0.05 foot in 2010, according to the Lubbock-based, 16-county High Plains Underground Water Conservation District No. 1. The average drop in 2009 was 1.50 feet, and the average annual drop in the district's service area has been 0.77 foot since 2006, according to a district statement issued Thursday.

    Measurements during the winter saw increases in the aquifer water level in five of the district's 16 counties.

    District General Manager Jim Conkwright credits "timely rainfall" in 2010 for the relatively stable water level. Amarillo recorded 26.54 inches of rain in 2010, compared with 21.13 inches in 2009; while Lubbock saw 26.46 inches of rain in 2010, compared with 12.87 inches in 2009.

    Indeed, above-average rainfall from winter through summer of 2010 sharply curtailed the use of water from the aquifer by the farmers and ranchers of the Texas Panhandle and South Plains, said Steve Verett, executive vice president of Plains Cotton Growers. It also increased the recharging of the aquifer's water supply, he said.

    "You have to say it comes from somewhere," he told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. "It takes some pretty extensive rainfall to help with recharging, and we saw a lot of rain with last year's July 4 flooding."

    A Lubbock County report to the state said that 5 to 10 inches of rain fell over the area in three days during the Fourth of July holiday, causing at least $8,624,033 in emergency response costs and damage to area roads, infrastructure, agriculture and governmental or nonprofit agency buildings.

    The Ogallala Aquifer is one of the biggest underground water reservoirs in the world, spreading about 174,000 square miles across all or part of eight states from South Dakota to the Texas Panhandle and High Plains.

    About 95 percent of the water pumped from the Ogallala is for irrigation, with the High Plains area accounting for 65 percent of the total irrigated acreage in the United States.

    The measurements taken by the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District No. 1 included the portion of the aquifer generally covering 16 counties between Lubbock and Amarillo.