High Plains Aquifer

Amy Mayer / Harvest Public Media

Excess fertilizer and pesticides have flowed from farm fields into our waterways for years. While federal regulations have successfully cut back some water pollution, they have little muscle in combating one of the Midwest’s biggest environmental problems.

On a gray day, just as the rain begins to fall, Roger Zylstra stops his red GMC Sierra pick-up truck on the side of the road and hops down into a ditch in Jasper County, Iowa. It takes two such stops before he unearths amid the tall weeds and grasses what he’s looking for.

Nadya Faulx / KMUW

Kansas’ main water resource is depleting faster than it can be refilled—but we as consumers have a significant stake in conserving what’s there. That’s the takeaway of a new Exploration Place exhibit that looks at the High Plains aquifer, and our relationship to it. KMUW’s Nadya Faulx takes us along on a tour.

The Kansas Geological Survey says average groundwater levels are still declining in western Kansas, but at a slower rate.

The agency released preliminary data yesterday from the measurements of some 1,400 water wells taken earlier this year.

Most of the wells draw from the High Plains aquifer, which includes the Equus Beds and Great Bend Prairie aquifer in south-central Kansas and the Ogallala aquifer in western Kansas.

Water levels declined an average of 0.87 feet in 2014, a slower rate than the drop in 2013.

Scientists who plan to measure the water levels in a western Kansas aquifer system this winter say they expect declines similar to those in recent years.

Kansas Geological Survey researchers last year found the groundwater levels in the High Plains Aquifer had dropped an average of 3.5 feet.

That's the second-largest single-year decline they had ever recorded, behind only the 4.25-foot drop measured the year prior.

Study: High Plains Aquifer Mostly Gone in 50 Years

Aug 27, 2013

A new study forecasts that 69 percent of the water in the High Plains Aquifer in Kansas will be depleted within 50 years at current usage rates.

The paper by researchers at Kansas State University was published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. It focuses on the Ogallala aquifer in western Kansas.

The study estimates that 30 percent of the aquifer was depleted by 2010 and an additional 39 percent is expected to disappear by 2060.