Jim Bendfeldt: Respecting Ogallala Aquifer

Jim Bendfeldt: Respecting Ogallala Aquifer

Friday, December 1, 2017
Midlands Voices

The writer is president of the Nebraska Association of Resources Districts.

Nebraska created the Natural Resources District system 45 years ago to assist with monitoring and managing water quantity and water quality. Farmers and state lawmakers alike saw there was a need to protect the ground and surface waters of our state for future generations.

Nebraska is the only state in the nation that has natural resources districts. NRD officials continue to be sought out by other states for advice and leadership in wise water management.

In the last two years, the NRDs have spoken with officials from at least eight other states who are eager to learn how the NRDs continue to succeed in conserving Nebraska’s groundwater, which includes preserving the High Plains Aquifer — commonly known as the Ogallala Aquifer. It is better late than never.

In a report published in June by the U.S. Geological Survey, water levels of the Ogallala Aquifer — which lies under almost all of Nebraska and parts of Wyoming, South Dakota, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas — were looked at and compared to water levels before the development of irrigation. There were two time frames looked at in this report: predevelopment (about 1950) to 2015, and 2013-15.

With information gathered from local, state and federal entities, Virginia L. McGuire, author of the report, generally illustrated how groundwater levels have changed.

The report found that Nebraska had the least amount of water- level declines out of the eight states examined, despite being the most heavily irrigated state in the nation.

For example, Texas averaged declines of 41.1 feet from pre- development to 2015, while Nebraska experienced only 0.9 feet of decline, which is less than 1 percent. During the other period that was looked at, 2013-15, Nebraska’s average water-level change was 0.0 feet.

Nebraska has also seen rises in water levels of over 84 feet in areas, compared with declines of 234 feet in parts of Texas. Overall generalizations about the data can show a daunting outlook as to what is happening to the aquifer, but state-specific information can show a very different scenario, as is the case with Nebraska.

The hard work and management of the NRD system has created better water management throughout the state and has helped slow down and even reverse the effects of irrigation on the aquifer.

Not all states that rely on the aquifer for irrigation and agriculture invest in a variety of canal and water recharge projects like Nebraska does or regulate groundwater to the extent that Nebraska does.

Our state is ahead of its time in giving authority to publicly elected boards to locally govern each river basin, making sure the aquifer isn’t being overpumped or even drained completely, as in some areas of other states.

The NRDs have worked tirelessly to prevent anything like this from happening, and those efforts have paid off, as seen in the data presented in the U.S. Geological Survey report.

The NRD system of Nebraska continues its work to protect the quantity and quality of the Ogallala Aquifer and sustain all water in our great state for future generations.