Thursday, August 29, 2013

KSU High Plains Aquifer Study Hits a Nerve?

David Steward, Paul Bruss, Xiaoying Yang, Scott Staggenborg, Stephen Welch and Michael Apley just released a special study report on the productivity of the High Plains Aquifer in Kansas over the next 100 years, or to the year 2110.  Their Executive Summary says:

"Groundwater provides a reliable tap to sustain agricultural production, yet persistent aquifer depletion threatens future sustainability. The High Plains Aquifer supplies 30% of the nation’s irrigated groundwater, and the Kansas portion supports the congressional district with the highest market value for agriculture in the nation. We project groundwater declines to assess when the study area might run out of water, and comprehensively forecast the impacts of reduced pumping on corn and cattle production. So far, 30% of the groundwater has been pumped and another 39% will be depleted over the next 50 y given existing trends. Recharge supplies 15% of current pumping and would take an average of 500–1,300 y to completely refill a depleted aquifer. Significant declines in the region’s pumping rates will occur over the next 15–20 y given current trends, yet irrigated agricultural production might increase through 2040 because of projected increases in water use efficiencies in corn production. Water use reductions of 20% today would cut agricultural production to the levels of 15–20 y ago, the time of peak agricultural production would extend to the 2070s, and production beyond 2070 would significantly exceed that projected without reduced pumping... Findings substantiate that saving more water today would result in increased net production due to projected future increases in crop water use efficiencies."

This 4-year study can be found within the National Academy of Sciences website, and was financially supported by the National Science Foundation, USDA Agricultural Research Service and US Department of Transportation through the Kansas State University Transportation Center. It has made quite a splash.  Within just a few days we have been contacted by National Public Radio (Washington, DC), the Kansas City Star (Kansas City), Matter Magazine (California?) the Farm Futures Magazine (Chicago) and several of our GMD members - and we're not even specifically mentioned in the study, although the SD-6 LEMA is. 

Anyway, the interesting thing about this study is its conclusion that local folks can make significant economic impacts by taking positive steps now to reduce current water use which will make the same water available later when production and returns are considerably higher.  Any thoughts?

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