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Ogallala Aquifer

Ogalalla aquifer

The Ogallala is one of the world’s largest aquifers. Covering 174,000 miles and eight states, this aquifer has been providing water for Kansas farmers for centuries. The Ogallala was first created from the late Miocene to early Pliocene age. At the time the Rocky Mountains were tectonically active, and raising up above the surrounding Cretaceous seas. As this happened, rivers flowing east and southeastward cut valleys into the pre-Ogallala surface. These valleys were then filled with sediment of eroded material from the Rocky Mountain region. Eventually the area was covered with Ogallala sediments, trapping within it ancient water. The majority of the aquifer lies in Nebraska, with Texas and Kansas holding the second largest portion.

Many of the wells and irrigation systems within Kansas pull from this aquifer system. Early settlers required this water source to survive the arid Kansas climate. Without it they would not have had water for their crops, animals, or themselves. The constant use of this aquifer since the settlement period, however, has caused a sharp decline in the water level. The Ogallala aquifer is replenished by runoff from rainwater and snowmelt. Kansas and the other Great Plains states do not receive enough rainfall annually to refill the aquifer. There is concern in many states that the aquifer will run out in the near future, destroying thousands of acres of farmland. To avoid this fate farmers are using new irrigation techniques that preserve water use. Scientists are working to release more water from below the formation. While none of these techniques have been fully successful as of yet, the effort continues to save this valuable water source.

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Entry: Ogallala Aquifer

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history

Date Created: June 2011

Date Modified: July 2016

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.