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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

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The Mother Load Aquifer

The Mother Load Aquifer

Ogallala Aquifer US coverage map (credit: Wiki-commons)

The Ogallala Aquifer has been called the 'mother load' of water on the Great Plains. The aquifer's groundwater represents a reservoir of freshwater stretching northwards in underground sands and gravels from the prairies of West Texas and Oklahoma north into South Dakota. The Ogallala is one of the largest in the world covering an area of ~175,000 square miles including portions of eight American states. Like water resources everywhere west of the 100th Meridian, the aquifer is being overdrawn. Similar to another human-caused environmental disaster on the arid western plains in the 1930's, eloquently portrayed in the Ken Burns' Dust Bowl documentary, the western 'water tank' is being depleted faster than it can be replenished. Geological and environmental studies have shown that:

"Since 1950, agricultural irrigation reduced the aquifer by ~10% alone while between 2001-2008, the depletion of the aquifer was ~32% of the cumulative total during the entire 20th century."

The overuse of the Ogallala has developed for multiple reasons: industrial-scale agricultural irrigation since WWII; over-consumption by farms, cities, and industries; pollution, and from simple greed. A hydrologic artifact from the Ice Ages, the depleted underground sands could take more than 6000 years to recharge naturally.

  Dust Bowl Road, the 'Black Blizzard', Texas Panhandle, March 1936 (credit: Library of Congress archives, PBS)

Sustainability of any natural resource requires understanding the underlying environmental science; the costs associated with depletion of the materials; and changes in behavior towards more respect for conservation. It also takes the talents of artists to frame the situation in terms wider audiences can appreciate. Like the Dust Bowl documentarians who presented the preventable disaster in the 1930's, the importance of conserving the Ogallala's water has caught the attention of 21st Century storytellers. Andy Hedges, a Texas native of a state that sadly knew the Dust Bowl well, offers his own interpretation of the situation by reciting a poem by the western writer Andy Wilkinson. Hopefully, their cautionary words will be heard widely and help prevent another environmental disaster. WHB


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