The Ogallala Aquifer, also known as the High Plains Aquifer, is a vast yet shallow underground water table aquifer located beneath the Great Plains in the United States. One of the world's largest aquifers, it lies under about 174,000 mi² (450,000 km²) in portions of the eight states of South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. It was named in 1899 by N.H. Darton from its type locality near the town of Ogallala, Nebraska. About 27 percent of the irrigated land in the United States overlies this aquifer system, which yields about 30 percent of the nation's ground water used for irrigation. In addition, the aquifer system provides drinking water to 82 percent of the people who live within the aquifer boundary.
The Ogallala Aquifer is a critical water resource to the High Plains area of Texas. It not only supplies drinking water to many of it's citizens, but it is the life-blood of High Plains farming. This is a semi-arid section of Texas and most of the farms need irrigation water from the aquifer to exist.
The aquifer is already showing signs of being in trouble. Since the 1950's, around 9-10% of the aquifers water has been depleted. Normally, aquifers are sources of water that can be replenished by rainfall. But the Ogallala is a bit different. Because it is in a semi-arid region and has steady winds, much surface water is evaporated before it can filter far into the soil. Much of the region is also covered with caliche (a clay-like soil) that is almost impermeable.
That means the Ogallala Aquifer replenishes itself much slower than most aquifers, and accounts for the depletion since the 1950's when large-scale irragation was introduced. There are some who say if the water in the aquifer is not conserved, it could be depleted in as little as another 25 years. But now there is a huge new threat coming to the aquifer.
A few months ago, oilman T. Boone Pickens created a new water district on 8 acres of his land near Pampa in the Texas Panhandle. Since you had to live within the proposed district to vote on it's creation, the district was created by less than 10 voters (all of them employees of Pickens). The water district gives him the right of eminent domain. He can now force landowners to let him have the land on which he plans to build a huge pipeline (and electrical transmission lines).
Pickens plans to sell water from the Ogallala Aquifer to the Dallas area. He will pump enough water to fill a pipeline 9 feet in diameter. And it's all legal. State law allows him to pump all the water he can as long as it comes from under his land.
The sad part is that while he's only pumping the water from underneath his land, he will be pumping so much that it will lower the level of the aquifer in general. That means his 8 acre water district can theoretically empty the entire aquifer.
Pickens told Business Week, "All I'm doing is selling surplus water." The problem with that is in a semi-arid area like the high plains, there is no such thing as "surplus water".
It's not bad enough that there's a radioactive waste dump located in Andrews County on the southwestern edge of the Ogallala Aquifer, but now we have a rich oilman that wants to sell the aquifer's water to Dallas. I'm surprised that there hasn't been more organized opposition on the High Plains to both of these proposals.
If something is not done about this, we may soon find that the Panhandle doesn't have enough water to support its population. Doesn't Texas have enough desert already? Do we need to turn the Panhandle into just more Texas desert?