The water level of the Ogallala Aquifer has been decreasing for decades. As access to freshwater sources dwindles for farmers and communities, less water will be accessible for crops, drinking, and living. Despite state level objections to federal legislative oversight, mandatory cooperation is needed between states and the federal government to ensure the long-term utility of the entire Ogallala Aquifer.
This crucial water source is located in middle America and is critically used by eight total states in the country—Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, South Dakota, and Wyoming spanning a total of 170,000+ square miles. The Ogallala Aquifer often experiences environmental and conservation issues due to the intriguing location of the Ogallala Aquifer in the High Plains region. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), specifically the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), needs to administer and monitor that all stakeholders are actively cooperating and communicating with each other to ensure that the Ogallala Aquifer is maintained and operated under maximum efficiency.
According to OgallalaWater.org, “More than 30% of U.S. crops and livestock are produced in this region, significantly impacting domestic and international food supplies.” The U.S. agricultural industry is essential to domestic and global trade and essential water sources such as the Ogallala Aquifer. Consequently, the agricultural industry and economy is constantly growing and thus utilizing more of the Ogallala’s water much faster than it refills itself.
There are limited current policies focusing on and addressing the administrative maintenance of the Ogallala Aquifer at the federal or state governmental levels. Policies and oversight are needed because the health of the aquifer not only affects Midwestern states, but impacts the country as a whole. For example, sugar beets produced in Nebraska account for 10 percent of the U.S. market, and add $165 million to the state’s economy. Sorghum is the number one produced crop in Kansas, which has accounted for more than half of the U.S. production in previous years. Farmers convert sorghum to wheat-related goods and this is around 18 percent of all wheat grown in the U.S. Agriculture in the Midwest that relies on the Ogallala Aquifer contributes to the national economy and agricultural good production. The COVID-19 pandemic illuminated the dependence and importance of supply chains, and if the Ogallala Aquifer continues to deplete without proper policy protection, then the U.S. produce production and consumption will be greatly compromised.
Recently, the Kansas state legislature passed several bills addressing their state’s usage of the Ogallala Aquifer. One bill, House Bill 2279, will require annual reports by five groundwater management districts statewide outlining their finances and activities pertaining to the conservation of groundwater resources with priority to the Ogallala Aquifer. Ideally, there would be a collaborative and interdependent relationship at the federal and state government levels to ensure efficient and effective policy formation.
One way this relationship can be executed is if the USDA-NRCS creates a federal-state partnership committee to monitor and administer all cooperation and communication between the federal government and all relevant states. The duties of the committee could includes: create federal-state level regulations that outline specific water laws to be followed by all relevant states, create distributive/progressive water usage output maximum levels, set depletion maximum water levels to be followed by all relevant states, and give award grants to state universities for research and monitoring and farmers affected by low rainwater levels—crop destruction—etc. All of these strategic recommendations can be adjusted and re-evaluated every five years.
The Ogallala Aquifer is an indispensable water source in the U.S. Vital to most, but unknown by many. Located beneath the ground in the midwestern US, the produce grown in this region travels and trades domestically and internationally. Water is vital for survival, and all stakeholders need to invest and ensure the efficiency and sustainability of the Aquifer. The USDA-NRCS, needs to administer and monitor that all stakeholders are actively cooperating and communicating with each other to ensure that the Ogallala Aquifer is maintained and operated under maximum efficiency.