High Plains Aquifer

Where it Begins

Although western Kansas has very few rivers and lakes, a vast amount of water has been found in underground aquifers. Known as groundwater, the water in aquifers is located in small, interconnecting pores in subsurface rocks and sediment. Not all subsurface rock formations are porous, so only some contain groundwater. Almost all of the water in western and much of central Kansas used for irrigation, power generation, public water supplies, industrial processes and business comes from the expansive High Plains Aquifer, one of the world’s largest groundwater sources.

About 27 percent of the irrigated cropland in the United States lies above the High Plains Aquifer. In Kansas, the aquifer consists of the hydraulically interconnected Ogallala Aquifer in the west, the shallower and geologically younger Great Bend Prairie and the Equus Beds Aquifers in south-central Kansas.

The Ogallala portion of the High Plains Aquifer is the primary source of water in western Kansas for all uses and is heavily developed, primarily for irrigation. Most of the Ogallala-High Plains Aquifer is restricted from or closed to new development to prevent further increased groundwater declines. Projections of how many more years the aquifer will support a particular level of withdrawal indicates that many areas have 50 years or less at current withdrawal rates. In addition to these groundwater declines, some areas of the aquifer are experiencing deteriorating groundwater quality.

Recognizing that the High Plains Aquifer is the largest, most economically important groundwater source in Kansas, many programs, policies and individual management decisions have been developed toward conserving and extending the usable life of this resource. Examples of such activities include the development of Local Enhanced Management Areas (LEMAs), Water Conservation Areas (WCAs), improved access to irrigation tools and implementation of various water conservation programs such as the Water Transition Assistance Program (WTAP) and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), and establishment of water banks.



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