Central Plains farmers are becoming desperate as they tap into the dwindling groundwater to irrigate crops of sorghum, soy, cotton, wheat, and corn; water is also needed for large herds of cattle and hogs. A recent article reports on how one of largest aquifers in the world is disappearing because farmers are drawing from it without there being any active conservation efforts to curb use. The critical water source cited is known as the Ogallala, or the High Plains Aquifer, and is one of the largest underground freshwater sources on the planet. It underlies an estimated 174,000 square miles of the Central Plains and holds as much water was Lake Huron.
Recent studies have shown that drought conditions caused by climate change is fast shrinking the aquifers farmers have come to rely in the summer, a time when the US Central Plains usually go dry. But the Central Plains isn’t the only place that is seeing low level aquifers. According to the International Groundwater Resources Assessment Centre, (IGRAC) extreme weather events caused by climate change have led to longer droughts that deplete aquifers. Farmers in Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia are also depleting other aquifers; many will be forced to use more efficient irrigation practices. Some have taken to planting water-intense crops like cotton instead of wheat. Farmers in Texas are converting back to non-irrigated dryland agriculture — because of limited underground water supply. The Ogallala is in jeopardy of being emptied and it could take 6,000 years to recharge naturally. Brent Rogers, director of the Kansas Groundwater Management District 4, has been quoted saying “there are too many straws in too small of a cup.”