Sucking Up the Future as the Ogallala Is Pumped Dry

The Ogallala Aquifer Supplies Groundwater to Eight States. When it’s Gone, It’s Gone For Good

Ogallala emptying outAnd it’s going very fast

The Ogallala aquifer has provided irrigation and drinking water to portions of eight high plains western states for over six decades. It covers 112 million acres and 175,000 square miles. At one time it held more water than the Great Lakes. Because of the plentiful underground water, the semi-arid region is a major provider of grain and feedlot cattle to the nation and too the world. But the water supply is not limitless and the region is using it up far faster than the water supply can replenish itself. As a persistent drought announces a new normal, large portions of the high plains are looking at the beginning of a new Dust Bowl. It’s not as if these frightening new developments were not predicted decades ago.

After the Civil War, Major John Wesley Powell became a field geologist and led the United States Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region. His early report on the Lands of the Arid Region was published in 1879. There is a reason he called it the Arid Region. When humans decided to farm the western grasslands, the result was the Dustbowl, a manmade disaster that can scarcely be matched in history for scale. Humanity rescued themselves from the Dustbowl by tapping into the Ogallala Aquifer. The subsequent boom in agriculture and ranching brought about prosperity, but it did not bring wisdom or foresight. In most places, the Ogallala won’t be able renew the vast quantities of water being pumped out for centuries to come.

Today, in spite of warnings, a new Dustbowl is manifesting itself as large areas of the aquifer run out of water.* Drought is nothing new in “The Arid Region”, but the crisis happening now is almost completely man made.

Although many are embracing measures and technology that should have been implemented years ago, the mindset of the region is resistant to being told what to do, especially by scientists and government. In Texas, all of that is exacerbated by the fact that the government is in the hands of some of the most hypocritical assholes the country has ever known. Hence, you have situations such as the scenario in which T. Boone Pickens sells the water rights beneath his ranch to a private water supplies, who now pumps it to water starved towns in the Panhandle. Besides Jesus, Texas worships the rights of the individual. What most people consider a public resource is just another means make a fast buck at your neighbors expense.

We’ll see how them independent Texans face when the oil, gas and water run out. Hope they secede from the union before that.


* The process is not homogeneous as conditions depths and other conditions vary from location to location. But the overall trend is a catastrophic depletion of most of the groundwater in the aquifer, beginning now in the Texas Panhandle and other places.

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