The Ogallala aquifer, one of the world’s largest fresh groundwater resources (175,000 square miles/112 million acres), is heavily relied upon by communities in portions of eight U.S. states. Most of the water pumped from the Ogallala aquifer is used for agriculture, by far the chief driver of the region’s economy. Precipitation, the main source of water recharge in the region, is limited and insufficient to replenish the aquifer relative to the amounts being withdrawn. Decades of pumping from the Ogallala aquifer have steadily and significantly lowered the groundwater table in much of the region.
Local and state-level policies have generally treated the Ogallala as an essentially finite resource which can be mined for “beneficial use,” with that use bounded by the expectation that some percentage of water volume (40%, 50%…) relative to pre-development of the aquifer resource must remain over defined periods of time (i.e ~50 or 100 years into the future). Today, widespread recognition of the aquifer’s water quantity and quality declines is generating significant concern about the near- and long-term economic security and longevity of communities in the region.