Keeping an eye on the Ogallala

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March 27, 2011 - 7:00pm

The expansive High Plains, or Ogallala, Aquifer stretches under eight western states. It is a particularly critical resource for Nebraska, which sits above 65 percent of the aquifer.

Jesse Korus, groundwater resources coordinator with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said the Ogallala is seeing declines of up to 60 feet in some areas especially in southwest and northwest Nebraska.

"If you look at the long-term status of groundwater resources in the high plains aquifer across all those states, including Nebraska, you could make the argument that Nebraska is in pretty good shape," he said. "You don't see declines of Texas and Kansas in some cases, 200 feet of decline."

But, Korus said, it's not just about how much groundwater is in the aquifer because even small declines can affect stream flows.

He pointed to the Republican River as an example. In the 1940s a compact was made between Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas, regulating how much water to send downstream. For years Nebraska has not been able to get Kansas the water it's owed and this has led to a lengthy legal fight.

"We want to prevent any problems in the with surface and groundwater user conflicts," Korus said. "One way help avoid is monitoring our resources and tracking the trends whether up or down."

That's why the U.S. Geological Survey this month is working with the University of Nebraska to install monitoring wells on ground just outside the panhandle town of Kimball, Neb. Groundwater declines here are not as significant in other parts of the state, but these 13 new wells on 10 sites will give a more precise reading.

Data from the wells will eventually come to Korus, who helped write a report on groundwater level changes in Nebraska through spring 2010.

Looking for good news? Korus in the last three years the eastern part of Nebraska actually has seen increases in groundwater because of timely and abundant precipitation.

The project is funded by the Nebraska Environmental Trust with financial contributions from the South Platte NRD and U.S. Geological Survey

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