One of the world’s largest aquifers is struggling to maintain its typical levels and officials are scrambling to preserve what little water remains. Southwestern Kansas’ Groundwater Management District 3 recently secured a permit to truck in thousands of gallons of water from the Missouri River to the Ogallala Aquifer. According to the Missouri Independent, 3,000 gallons of water will travel nearly 400 miles one-way—with its destination being a property in Wichita County—in an effort to ease concerns over the section of the Ogallala Aquifer that supplies groundwater to that region of that state. Another 3,000 gallons will go to Colorado, though the outlet doesn’t specify where.
Conservation is especially on the minds of those grappling with the ongoing drought in the Southwest, but many of the areas that rely on the Ogallala Aquifer, which runs from South Dakota to Texas, are also suffering. A recent report from the Kansas City Star lays bare regional concerns from the agricultural industry and beyond. According to the paper’s reporting, Kansas is actually drier than California, with half the state recently experiencing drought conditions classified as “extreme” or “exceptional.” Regardless of drought status, farmers are also using more water from the Ogallala Aquifer than can be replenished.
Water levels have been declining in the Ogallala Aquifer for years. Recent dry conditions now appear to be threatening the Kansas and Missouri Rivers as well. Both rivers have seen alarming drops in water levels, as has the Mississippi River, which is facing historic lows in areas like Cairo, Illinois, where the river intersects with the Ohio River. With so many parts of the U.S. impacted and either experiencing or on the verge of a water crisis, it’s alarming to see a plan like the Groundwater Management District 3’s project pitched as a means of providing some relief.
Save The Colorado Director Gary Wockner was discouraged by the development. “It doesn't surprise me that this kind of pilot project is occurring, which includes trucking water into the state of Colorado, a state that has already drained and dried up many of its own rivers,” Wockner said. “Instead of learning any kind of lesson about living sustainably on the landscape that climate change should teach us, a massive water pipeline draining the Missouri River represents the kind of techno-boondoggle that fuels the Ponzi scheme of growth that is the ugly backbone of Colorado's economy.”
Save the Colorado is among a group of conservation organizations looking for more sustainable, adaptive measures to respond to climate-worsened drought conditions like these. These groups are all over the nation—including in Kansas. Earlier this year, environmental and agricultural groups in the state came together in support of at least some type of meaningful action. A bill that would’ve overhauled water management ultimately died earlier this year. Time appears to be running out, if recent figures from the Kansas Geological Survey are indeed accurate. According to the agency, the Ogallala Aquifer could reach 70% depletion by 2067.
“I would encourage the people of Kansas and Missouri to talk to the governor of Nebraska who right now is working to stop Colorado from further draining the South Platte River before it reaches his state,” Wockner advised. Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts has been touting a canal project that would bring more water to a region that desperately needs it, though it could endanger yet another conservation project. None of these solutions exist in a vacuum, so it’s up to states to work together in a more sustainable manner in order to ensure such projects aren’t just band-aid solutions for much larger problems.