Earlier this month, representatives from several states came together as the first Ogallala Aquifer Summit was held in Garden City, Kan. The two-day meeting was called for by the state of Kansas’ 50-year water plan, acknowledging the need for states to share solutions to preserving the endangered aquifer.

Some 200 people reportedly attended the meeting each day, including high school students who are trying to start a dialogue about water conservation. 

Officials believe there was enough successful discussion and interaction at the summit that another one could be scheduled and a report about the meeting is due to be released in a month or so.

And while policies continue to be a state-level activity, there were plenty of examples of officials from different states wanting to learn from each others' initiatives, says Amy Kremen, project manager for the Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project. There is a lot more to say about this issue than I can share here, so we'll be rolling out more details about the discussions at this event in future editions. 

It seems clear to me that most farmers, politicians and government staff at the event already know what some of the solutions are to conserving water because they're being done already:

  • Reducing or eliminating tillage can save several inches of irrigation water per year by increasing organic matter and improving water infiltration rates in soils and reducing evaporation. One farmer at the event said he switched to no-till and strip-till and that’s helped him conserve as much water as possible in his area, which only sees 17 inches of annual rainfall.
  • Precision technology like soils and crop sensors and advanced control systems for pivots can help growers irrigate cash crops by need and adapt to changing conditions, rather than using blanket rates. The same grower quoted above mentioned he’s using telemetry to change the speed and direction of pivots and, using remote monitoring, he can avoid wasteful irrigation situations.

The real challenge here is devising a strategy that will convince farmers to adopt these practices, and some of that work is being done. Another article about this event states information from the Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey shows only 11% of relevant producers use crop or soil sensors in Oklahoma, 12% in Kansas, 11% in Texas and 23% in Nebraska.

The Kansas Geological Survey says a new modeling technology in use now has determined that on the far western third of Kansas that lies over the bulk of the aquifer, pumping would have to be reduced by 27-32% to keep it at current levels.

It’s great to see officials from different states in the same room talking about solutions to preserving this aquifer. The livelihood of these farming communities, which future generations are relying on, is at stake. Before long, we could see more regulation or even legal action enter the picture and nobody wants that.