Ogallala Aquifer program wins prestigious national award
The depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer has made headlines over the past several years and has been a big concern to many who live in western Kansas, as well as those living farther south in the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles. The aquifer in total lies beneath eight U.S. states and encompasses more than 170,000 square miles, which makes it a sizeable and vital water resource.
The importance of preserving the Ogallala Aquifer is why Kansas State University teamed up with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, as well as other universities, including Texas Tech University, Texas A&M University and West Texas A&M University, to study the aquifer in more detail.
For its work and dedication to finding water-saving solutions, this team of researchers involved in the Ogallala Aquifer Program recently won the 2013 USDA Secretary’s Honor Award in the category of enhancing economic vitality and quality of life in rural America. The award is the most prestigious departmental award given by the secretary and was presented in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 10.
Dan Devlin is a K-State Research and Extension faculty member, as well as the director of the Kansas Center for Agricultural Resources and the Environment and the Kansas Water Resources Institute. He is part of the Ogallala Aquifer Program team and attended the USDA awards ceremony.
“It’s an honor to receive the award,” Devlin said. “It recognizes all the great work our faculty have conducted over a number of years.”
The Ogallala Aquifer Program began about 10 years ago, Devlin said, because many people, particularly in Kansas and Texas, viewed the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer as a major issue and worked to get funding through the USDA-ARS. A goal was to come up with solutions to help sustain the rural economies in those states.
“Our agricultural industry is vital not only in western Kansas, but the entire state of Kansas and even the whole country,” Devlin said. “But, it goes beyond livestock and irrigated production. It’s about sustaining our communities in western Kansas.”
The project has allowed for collaboration among many universities and the USDA-ARS, which Devlin said has been significant. In addition to the collaboration across entities, Devlin said all of the western Kansas agricultural research centers and many areas of academic specialty on the K-State campus, including animal science, agronomy, biological and agricultural engineering, civil engineering and agricultural economics, have come together for program research as well.
All of the combined work has helped to better understand water management and allow for the development of tools farmers and ranchers can use. The KanSched (http://mobileirrigationlab.com/kansched-microsoft-excel) computerized irrigation-scheduling program is an example of a tool developed because of Ogallala Aquifer Program research, Devlin said.
It is amazing, he said, how farmers and ranchers in western Kansas understand the problem and are willing to do what they can to conserve water now so future generations will have it to use.
“They are living with it,” Devlin said. “For many of them, it has already impacted them significantly.”
Future of the Ogallala Aquifer Program
Devlin said he is optimistic about the Ogallala Aquifer Program going forward, as the USDA has expressed that the program is one of the most important projects it funds.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do yet,” he said. “One thing that we know for sure is that we will have less water in the future. Either we use less now or we will have less to use as we go down the line.”
Devlin said Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s recent request for the development of a 50-year vision for the state’s water will help determine future research areas.
“Whatever that vision comes up with, we are going to try to fit our research programs to it,” he said.
For more information about KCARE and KWRI, visit http://www.kcare.ksu.edu.