AMARILLO, Texas (KVII) — Water from the Ogallala Aquifer supports more than $30 billion in crop production each year. The aquifer’s depletion rate is putting one of the world’s major food-producing regions at risk as years of drought and pumping are making it tougher for the aquifer to refill through rainfall and snowmelt.
In this week’s Panhandle Runs on Water, ABC 7 News looks at how despite more wells drilling into the aquifer there are some advances above ground helping to reduce to demand for water.
“The wells that were drilled 20 to 30 years ago do not produce the same amount of water today as they did back then,” said Steve Walthour, general manager of North Plains Groundwater Conservation District.
“Ag producers, we are trying to do more with less,” said Jesse Wieners, farmer.
Most of the groundwater used in Texas is for agriculture. Around 95% of groundwater pumped out of the Ogallala Aquifer is used for irrigated agriculture.
Throughout much of the aquifer, groundwater extraction exceeds the amount of recharge as more wells are tapping into the water source.
“What has to happen in order to extract the water as it declines that requires an additional well in some areas or more wells through the area that is two-fold,” said Nicholas Kenny, agriculture engineer. “One is replacing old wells that have expired. The second is placing new wells into different areas where water is needed and wasn’t available with current setups.”
“Water levels in the Ogallala are dropping because we're pumping out more than going in,” said Walthour. “Now what we’re seeing is people are drilling additional wells to just maintain the amount of water they’re trying to get out of the ground.”
Kenny tells ABC 7 news over the last 10 years more wells are being drilled on farms and in rural areas over the aquifer allowing people to live and cities to expand.
“The irony is that of course is less water has been applied because we’ve been more efficient with that above-ground use of that water,” said Kenny.
“We use 80% less water and were able to grow 80% more crops and 80% more yield,” said Wieners.
As older wells expire newer wells are being drilled. Improvements to pumps and motors on wells and how water is applied to crops through irrigation practices are evolving.
“Some farmers are using the drip technology, a drip system that’s placed below ground and other farmers are using the drag type hoses which is another drip system,” said Wieners.
That enables producers to use a pivot-sprinkler to drag hoses allowing them to use less water on the crops.