Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
The Ogallala Aquifer is an underground supply of water that stretches from South Dakota into the panhandle of Texas. It serves as the lifeblood of Southwestern Kansas' economy. The Southwestern Kansas Groundwater Management District (SWKGMD) is one of the largest groundwater regulating districts over the Ogallala Aquifer. The Ogallala Aquifer was once thought of as an infinite supply of water in the early 1900s with the drilling of the first irrigation wells. Over the last hundred years however, thanks to the assistance of hydrology and geology, the aquifer proved finite like many other precious commodities in nature. In the early 1970s, the Kansas State Legislature created groundwater management districts with the purpose of resolving the question of local regulation versus state intervention. With the adoption of this new law, each county in a designated district would be responsible for electing an individual to serve on the board once a district was organized. In order to serve on the board the elected person had to utilize one acre-foot of water per year or own forty contiguous acres. Consequently, large-scale irrigators became involved in water regulation. Over the next twenty- five years the district continued to produce educational forums, conservation pamphlets, and quick fix - it policies but little or no action was rendered to restrict excessive and wasteful water-usage by large scale irrigators. Though efficiency improved with the implementation of sprinklers and slow drip systems, the water table still continued to decrease. Moreover, state water regulation policies and economics encouraged farmers to exploit the Ogallala Aquifer further. Simultaneously, the SWKGMD Board of Directors (BOD) began to utilize the district's experts' hydrological studies as merely a clock measuring how much time they had left to exploit the water rather than a warning signal to create policies to help reduce usage or obtain a zero depletion recharge rate like other Groundwater Management Districts (GMD) throughout Kansas. Such exploitative policies have now left Southwestern Kansas in a precarious state. Throughout most of the region only a twenty-five year supply of water remains left to utilize. After twenty-five years irrigation will prove cost-prohibitive to extract water due to the decreasing water table. The implications of water usage yesterday and today will eventually determine the ultimate fate of Southwestern Kansas' future generations. In any case, the past actions of SWKGMD BOD will be linked directly with the understanding of that inevitable fate.
Copyright 2002 Curtis Stevens
Stevens, Curtis, "The Decline of Southwestern Kansas: A History of Groundwater Management in Southwestern Kansas" (2002). Master's Theses. 2866.