Leonardo da Vinci is noted for saying, “Water is the driving force of all nature.” It is so important and blankets most of the Earth but only a small percentage is available for our use. Groundwater, water that is of use contained in aquifers underground, accounts for 30 percent of the Earth’s freshwater; 69 percent is inaccessible, frozen in glaciers and icecaps. There is increasing awareness of the threats to these vital water sources. For a huge swath of the nation, climate change decreases precipitation totals, increases temperatures and prompts drought, limiting aquifer recharge capabilities. Further, population growth and demand continue to overextend these sources and withdrawals far exceed recharge. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Ogallala Aquifer located in the high plains of the U.S. 

The Ogallala Aquifer provides drinking water to over 2 million people in eight states, extending from South Dakota to Texas. Pumping water from the aquifer dates to World War II. The practice literally transformed the landscape of western Kansas from a dust bowl to a breadbasket. After decades of pumping, the southern area of the aquifer located in central Kansas down to Texas is predicted to run dry in less than 30 years.[1] Loss of the aquifer would drastically impact the livelihood of the entire region and the country as the producer of approximately one fifth of the country’s annual agricultural output.[2]

To shore up the aquifer, Groundwater Management District 3 located in southwestern Kansas is proposing to move 6,000 gallons of water over a distance of 400 miles from the Missouri River. Half the water would be poured onto a property located in Wichita County, the other half distributed in Colorado. Although the idea has not been formally adopted, the water agency is moving through the regulatory process, securing the necessary permits, to demonstrate the feasibility of such an effort and pave the way for future large-scale water transport projects.

The idea of a water transfer has merit for some, but other water agencies in the state feel attention is better given to conservation efforts, such as the implementation of efficient water monitoring and irrigation technologies or water agreements with farmers to curtail use. Further, the amount of water proposed to be transported is not a good representation of what a large water transfer would look like. According to the state’s chief engineer, Earl Lewis, this type of water transfer, “happens all the time in the state of Kansas.”[3] To illustrate how little this amount is, the EPA reports that the average American household uses 300 gallons per day in the home; it would only take 20 households one day to go through 6,000 gallons. Also, only 352 people would get a shower since the average shower uses 17 gallons.

[1] Galindo, Jose Ignacio, et al. “From Droughts to Floods, Water Risk Is an Urgent Business Issue.” Harvard Business Review, 14 Nov. 2022, https://hbr.org/2022/11/from-droughts-to-floods-water-risk-is-an-urgent-business-issue.

[2] Little, Jane Braxton. “The Ogallala Aquifer: Saving a Vital U.S. Water Source.” Scientific American, Scientific American, 1 Mar. 2009, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-ogallala-aquifer/#:~:text=In%20Brief&text=On%20America's%20high%20plains%2C%20crops,it%20could%20go%20on%20forever.

[3] Allison Kite, Missouri Independent October 21. “Officials Plan to Truck 6,000 Gallons of Water from Missouri River across Kansas • Missouri Independent.” Missouri Independent, 21 Oct. 2022, https://missouriindependent.com/2022/10/21/officials-plan-to-truck-6000-gallons-of-water-from-missouri-river-across-kansas/?trk=public_post_comment-text.