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The Ogallala Aquifer, Nebraska

As told by David Lewis
Custer County, Nebraska

Story Narrative:

Map of Aquifer, covering several states, including Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Colorado.

David Lewis highlights the beauty of the agricultural fields that dot the Great Plains of Nebraska. The crops on the plains are possible due to the Ogallala Aquifer and the huge amount of water it provides to support US agriculture. Watch David's exploration of this amazing resource! This project was created through a County wide partnership with Custer County Historical Society.

David Lewis (01:53): The Ogallala Aquifer is one of the biggest fresh water sources in the world. It lies under eight different states in the US including Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, New Mexico, Colorado, and South Dakota. Over $20 billion in crops rely on the aquifer. The Ogallala Aquifer, if it was stretched over the United States would cover the entire country in 1.5 feet of water, including Alaska and Hawaii. Just imagine how much water that would take.

David Lewis (02:26): Millions of gallons of water are pumped each year and 90% of it is used for agriculture. It's used to irrigate crops, such as corn, beans and wheat. This food is very important to the US. Farmers use wells to pump water from the aquifer and into their irrigation systems. The aquifer is also being used by ranchers to supply water for their livestock, such as cattle, pigs, goats and sheep.

David Lewis (02:55): Without this easy supply of water, it would be very difficult to use lakes, rivers as water sources for your animals and crops, but it is being largely depleted. The natural refilling of the aquifer can't keep up with the consumption rate. The saturation level of the aquifer went down 9% after World War II thanks to the invention of the center pivot system, and it is still going down today.

David Lewis (03:21): In several locations, farmers are forced to dig new wells where others have gone dry. These locations are mostly in Texas and Oklahoma where cattle is the main consumer of water. The aquifer is being constantly used by 82% of the people in these areas get their water from the aquifer. That's around 2.3 million people using it at the same time.

David Lewis (03:44): The aquifer would take over 6,000 years to refill it if it ever depleted. Most of the water pumped from the aquifer is used for agriculture, but also thousands of gallons are used in showers and other human-related activities. From drinking water to washing the dishes that water you use is probably from the overall aquifer.

David Lewis (04:03): Scientists think that the aquifer has been here for millions of years before humans ever settled here, but we can't be certain because it wasn't discovered until 1898 near the modern town of Ogallala, Nebraska by a geologist named N.H. Darton. The Ogallala Aquifer is one of America's most important assets. The Great Plains supplies most of the food used by Americans.

David Lewis (04:28): If the aquifer does ever dry up, we will be in big trouble. Judging by the depletion levels it won't happen for thousands of years, if ever. Scientists are looking for a way to slow down the process or speed up the refilling process with limited success. The aquifer isn't in endanger just yet, so there's not much to worry about yet. But in a few hundred years, there might be. The Ogallala Aquifer by David Lewis. The end.

Asset ID: 8626
Themes: Water, waterways, agriculture, farming, engineering, nature, food production
Date recorded: 2018
Length of recording: 4:59 m
Related traveling exhibition: Water/Ways
Sponsor or affiliated organization: Custer County Historical Society, Nebraska
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