To attempt to describe the Ogallala Aquifer requires the use of superlatives. In purely physical terms: the Ogallala aquifer is one of the world’s largest fresh water bodies, the only fresh water body in the United States that touches eight states, and the largest source of fresh groundwater currently known in North America. Before extensive pumping began, it contained more drainable water than Lake Huron. In social and economic terms, the Ogallala Aquifer is the life blood of the High Plains region. Before the vast resources of the aquifer were developed, the region was considered a desert, with little opportunity to support cities or agricultural production. Currently the region supports a population of over 2.3 million people and contains over a quarter of the irrigated land in the United States, all relying on water produced from the aquifer.
However, another characteristic of the Ogallala Aquifer recognized several decades ago is that water tables in the southern regions (Kansas, Texas and New Mexico) are declining, and that there is not enough natural recharge to replenish the aquifer. Thus, the Ogallala must be managed as a finite source of freshwater. This realization has led water users and research organizations to work together to better understand the behavior of the aquifer and develop advanced technology and management practices to ensure that water from the Ogallala is used in the most beneficial manner practicable.
This issue of txH2O highlights the range of research activities across the Ogallala Aquifer region, focusing on two large research efforts supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Ogallala Water Coordinated Agricultural Project (Ogallala Water CAP), funded by the USDA National Institutes for Food and Agriculture, is a collaboration between Colorado State, Texas A&M, West Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Kansas State universities, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and USDA Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS). The USDA-ARS-funded Ogallala Aquifer Program (OAP) is a collaboration between Texas A&M, Texas Tech, West Texas A&M, Kansas State and USDA-ARS.