The Demise of the Ogallala Aquifer: A Looming Catastrophe by Cameron Salisbury

Posted on February 26, 2012 by dandelionsalad by Cameron Salisbury Featured Writer Dandelion Salad, February 12, 2012 February 26, 2012

Image via Wikipedia I drive across I-70 periodically between St. Louis and Denver. Something unnerving is happening to the farmland that I pass in Kansas. Sinkholes are opening, only yards from the highway. The massive Ogallala Aquifer, an ancient underground fresh water lake that made the Plains cornucopia possible after the 1930s Dust Bowl, is located below 8 states in the High Plains, including Kansas. It stretches, at depths ranging from a few feet to 1000 feet, from Texas to South Dakota, and covers roughly 175,000 square miles. Widely exploited only since the 1940s, it has been depleted at an alarming rate since, almost entirely for farming. The problem is causing increasing concern in a number of states including Oklahoma and Texas.

several cars. threatening production in America’s ‘bread basket’ and causing possible health problems and issues with fetal and child growth. In addition to oil. Authorization for the Keystone XL pipeline. food supply are dire. It is subsidized to an unconscionable extent by the U. The implications of the depletion of the Ogallala for mid-western farmland and the U. After three days. Get the story here. can roads anywhere along the aquifer be trusted? . as geologists say. is an ancient and nonrenewable resource. We can only wish that depletion was the only serious threat to groundwater. In May 1981.S. The size of the circles is limited by the size and reach of the sprinkler. look out the airplane’s window at the pattern of large. Other home-grown threats are alive and well. It is replenished at an estimated rate of 1/2 inch per year and has an expected life of only 25 more years. connecting. Florida. as far as the eye can see. a large sinkhole began to develop in Winter Park .The water in the Ogallala dates back 2 to 6 million years and. As millions of gallons are used annually. Florida is known for them. …. free of charge to farmers. Back to my immediate problem: How long will I be able to drive I-70 across Kansas before the road becomes permanently impassable due to the collapse of the earth below it? Will it be safe for my next planned trip in a few months? Will I be able to get back home again if I don’t fly? If part of an interstate over the aquifer caves. As underground water vanishes. the sinkhole had swallowed a house. part of a community pool. Agricultural pesticide and herbicide runoff is contaminating the aquifer. which would carry oil mined from tar sands in Canada to Texas. parts of two businesses. government’s support for corn based ethanol production. The next time you fly over the Plains states. the pipeline will also carry the potential for catastrophic contamination of the Ogallala which lies below the pipeline’s path. circles on the ground. as a result of lower groundwater levels. and a section of road. It’s the kind of irrigation that mostly waters dry air. They are the result of spigot irrigation from equipment that radiates out from the center of the field. Sinkholes are nothing new. What is new is that they can now be engineered with wild abandon by human activity including ground water depletion. The water that creates this infinite-appearing checker board comes from the Ogallala aquifer. or subsides. this sinkhole for med during a drought period. the water level declines about 2. As is often the case.7 feet a year. has not yet died the death it deserves and is being resurrected in the Senate despite President Obama’s opposition. They have occurred for centuries around the world when soft rock dissolves underground or drainage systems go awry. like oil.S. so does the substructure of the earth above and the land collapses.

Would truck and auto traffic across the sinkhole. The bridge would have to be anchored to stable land on each side of the aquifer. and the Ogallala. east or west. Can a floating bridge be created with a water level that drops several feet a year? A puzzle without a solution. meaning that it might have to stretch many hundreds of miles. Feasible? Or how about a floating bridge. trying to bypass a sink with another road that circumvents the aquifer could take travellers thousands of miles out of their way. . Might I end up stranded on one side of the crater or the other? Because the Ogallala runs vertically through a number of states. At least one that I can think of. simply stop? Can we even get our minds around the implications of this possibility? Maybe we could drive vertical posts that would hold a bridge.And which side of an I-70 crater. do I want to be on if and when it collapses? I have no idea how a highway cave-in created by a sinkhole over the Ogallala would be fixed.

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