HASKELL COUNTY, Kan , 49 years ago when the well was struck in Kansas it gave 1600 GPM, today 300 GPM, sand/grit in the water ruins pumps,
"I've raised 294 bushels of corn an acre there before, with water and the Lord's help." Now, he said, "it's over."
High Plains Aquifer, a waterlogged jumble of sand, clay and gravel that begins beneath Wyoming and South Dakota and stretches clear to the Texas Panhandle. The aquifer's northern reaches still hold enough water in many places to last hundreds of years. But as one heads south, it is increasingly tapped out, drained by ever more intensive farming and, lately, by drought.
Vast stretches of Texas farmland lying over the aquifer no longer support irrigation. In west-central Kansas, up to a fifth of the irrigated farmland along a 100-mile swath of the aquifer has already gone dry.
no longer is enough water to supply farmers' peak needs during Kansas' scorching summers.
farmland near the Kansas-Colorado border, the effects of depletion are evident everywhere. Highway bridges span arid stream beds. Most of the creeks and rivers that once veined the land have dried up
In 2011 and 2012, the Kansas Geological Survey reports, the average water level in the state's portion of the aquifer dropped 4.25 feet - nearly a third of the total decline since 1996.
And that is merely the average. "I know my staff went out and re-measured a couple of wells because they couldn't believe it," said Lane Letourneau, a manager at the State Agriculture Department's water resources division. "There was a 30-foot decline."
Kansas agriculture will survive the slow draining of the aquifer - even now, less than a fifth of the state's farmland is irrigated in any given year - but the economic impact nevertheless will be outsized. In the last federal agriculture census of Kansas, in 2007, an average acre of irrigated land produced nearly twice as many bushels of corn, two-thirds more soybeans and three-fifths more wheat than did dry land.