The crisis facing the Ogallala Aquifer in the Great Plains has hit the mainstream media. NBC News published a special report last weekend that may help the public gain a better understanding of the implications of the declining aquifer, which could lead to an agricultural and food-supply disaster.
The report centers on the Texas High Plains, where Vega farmer Charlie Spinhirne discusses the need to maximize rainfall without the help of groundwater that was once plentiful in their area to use irrigation. Here’s an excerpt:
“The Spinhirnes — like all dryland farmers on the Plains who work without irrigation — carefully groom their land with a kind of agricultural artistry. They poke thousands of small holes to create dikes that capture and hold water, and they craft rows of dirt clumps and earthen walls to keep the ground from going airborne.
“But still, the dirt swirls — it’s officially year four of a punishing drought that many say is even worse than the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s.”
A neighboring farmer, Dale Artho, told the report’s author, Brian Brown, about the scene in Vega on June 26, 2011, when it was 114 F and winds gusted from 40 to 50 mph.
“The corn just turned white. The water that was in the plant, it just bleached it. It was ugly,” he says.
That year 2011, Vega only got 9 inches of rainfall, with its normal average being 20 inches. While the report accurately portrays what’s at stake with the aquifer’s decline, there was no discussion of how no-till practices and precision irrigation could help address the problem.
That points to the fact the general public and mainstream media – and even many farmers – still don’t fully understand the impact and role tillage plays in the loss of valuable moisture, and how it can offer some protection of our natural resources in these drought conditions.
But there are good stories out there. Last week, in case you missed it, we featured the story of Todd Vincent, a Texas grower who is using no-till practices to get the most he can from every inch of moisture. Only a portion of his farm is irrigated. He sees a conversion to no-till in the region as inevitable.
As the report points out, much of this problem with the aquifer — which covers eight states — is man-made. While Kansas farmers are enduring strict regulations on how much groundwater they can tap, Texas values landowner rights to a point where a person can drain their portion of the aquifer dry if they choose.
It’s high time for farmers and influencers in agriculture in the Southern Plains — most notably, the High Plains Underground Water District encompassing 15 counties in Texas — to roll up their sleeves and find solutions. NBC says the 63-year-old HPWD expects to roll out some mandatory water requirements by year’s end, where farmers will be limited to 18 inches of water per acre annually.
Let’s hope these changes are effective. The future of farming and food security depends on it.