In early January, crews from the Kansas Geological Survey, based at the University of Kansas, will be in western Kansas measuring groundwater levels in more than 500 wells to help determine trends in the region's aquifers.
The crews will start in the vicinity of Colby on January 2, Goodland on
January 3, Syracuse on January 4, and Liberal on January 5 and will
cover multiple counties in those areas.
In particular, the KGS monitors the massive High Plains aquifer system [above],
which consists largely of the Ogallala aquifer and is the primary source
of municipal, industrial, and irrigation water for much of western and
Past monitoring has shown that groundwater levels have dropped
significantly in parts of the High Plains aquifer where water usage has
risen substantially over the past 60 years and below-average
precipitation in recent years has increased the rate of decline.
"The entire state is feeling the effects of the current drought, and
this is and has been particularly true in the High Plains aquifer region
of Kansas," said Brownie Wilson, KGS water-data manager. "Given that
much of the aquifer normally has extremely low rates of natural
recharge, the lack of precipitation increases the pumping demands, which
in turn accelerates groundwater level declines in some areas."
As part of a cooperative program with the Division of Water Resources
(DWR) of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, the KGS will measure 512
wells in western Kansas. The same wells are measured annually, with
landowner permission, to track changes in the depth to the water table
Altogether the KGS and DWR will measure 1,407 wells in 47 western and
central Kansas counties. DWR staff from field offices in Stockton,
Garden City, and Stafford will measure 895 wells in a regional network
covering parts of western and central Kansas. Most of the wells
monitored in the program have been measured annually for at least two to
three decades, and some since the 1960s.
"We collect data that will help us better understand the state of the
aquifer and also help people make decisions about water use," said Brett
Wedel, manager of the KGS's water-level-data acquisition efforts. "The
data are useful to landowners, local groundwater management districts,
state and federal agencies, businesses, and private organizations."
Ninety percent of the measured wells draw water from the High Plains
aquifer, a network of water-bearing formations that underlies parts of
eight states and includes the extensive Ogallala aquifer, the Great Bend
Prairie aquifer in west-central Kansas, and the Equus Beds aquifer
north and west of the city of Wichita. The rest of the wells are drilled
into deeper systems, such as the Dakota aquifer, or shallow alluvial
aquifers found along creeks and rivers.
The majority of the wells are within the boundaries of one of the
state's five Groundwater Management Districts (GMDs) organized by area
landowners and water users.
Results from monitoring in January 2012 indicate that between January
2011 and January 2012 water levels declined, on average, throughout all
of western Kansas. For the fifth consecutive year, the greatest declines
were recorded in the southwest corner, the area hardest hit by
persistent drought conditions.
In southwestern Kansas GMD 3, where wells are monitored mainly in the
Ogallala aquifer and selected areas of the Dakota aquifer, the average
water level dropped a little more than 4 feet during 2011, more than
twice the average annual rate of decline between 1996 and 2011.
Much of the district's greatest decline occurred in a triangular area
from Garden City to Liberal to northeast of Dodge City. GMD 3 includes
all or part of Grant, Haskell, Gray, Finney, Stanton, Ford, Morton,
Stevens, Seward, Hamilton, Kearny, and Meade counties.