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News Release, Kansas Geological Survey, January 5, 2001

New Book Focuses on Groundwater in Western, Central Kansas

LAWRENCE--Groundwater levels have dropped steadily across much of western Kansas for the past several decades.

Now a new atlas of maps from the Kansas Geological Survey, based at the University of Kansas, depicts the water situation through the region, including maps that show how much water levels have dropped and what the future may hold for the Ogallala aquifer.

The atlas was edited by Survey water specialists Jeffrey Schloss and Robert Buddemeier, and by Blake Wilson of the Kansas Water Office.

The atlas focuses on the High Plains aquifer, the underground water-bearing rock formation that underlies much of western and central Kansas. The High Plains includes the well-known Ogallala aquifer, which is the primary water source for much of the western third of the state.

The atlas consists of 23 full-color maps and marks the first time that many of these water-related aspects of the High Plains aquifer have been depicted at a consistent scale. The book also includes charts and figures showing rates of water-level decline, along with detailed discussion of the aquifer.

"This book paints the clearest picture ever of this critically important resource," said Survey director and state geologist Lee Allison.

Individual maps in the book show water levels in the aquifer before large-scale pumping began in the mid-1900s. In some parts of southwestern Kansas, for example, more than 300 feet of the aquifer was saturated with water (an amount known as "saturated thickness"). Other maps show how much the water levels in the aquifer have declined since pumping began. For example, more than 50 percent of the water in the aquifer has been removed in west-central Kansas counties such as Greeley, Wichita, and Scott, and northern parts of Finney and Stanton counties.

Another map shows the recharge, or the natural movement of water back into the aquifer from precipitation. In most of western Kansas, the aquifer recharges at a rate of less than an inch per year, far less than the rate at which water is removed.

The book's most notable maps show the estimated usable lifetime of the aquifer. These two maps project the aquifer's life based on historic water-level trends. The projections on one map are based on trends from 1978 to 1988; the other map is based on trends from 1988 to 1998. The maps show when the water levels in the aquifer will drop to less than 30 feet, if water is removed at the same rates as those decades. Thirty feet of saturated thickness is generally considered the minimum amount necessary to support large-volume pumping.

Both maps show possible depletion over the next 25 years in parts of Greeley, Wichita, and Scott counties of west-central Kansas, parts of Stanton, Grant, Gray, and Ford counties in southwestern Kansas, and parts of Thomas and Sheridan counties in northwestern Kansas.

"People need to understand that these maps are projections based on the way we used water during the 1980s and the 1990s," said Buddemeier. "The future use of the water will be strongly influenced by energy prices, commodity prices, and many other factors, all of which will determine the amount of water used and the life of the aquifer."

Additional maps show the amount that water use must be reduced in order to sustain pumping for long terms--that is, the amount of pumping that would equal the rate of recharge. In much of the aquifer, reductions of 50 to 75 percent of water use would be necessary.

"Meeting the water needs of this state is going to be more challenging all the time," said Buddemeier, "People are going to need the information presented in this atlas to help make good management and policy decisions."

Copies of the book are available for $15.00, plus $4.00 postage and handling, from the Kansas Geological Survey, 1930 Constant Ave., Lawrence, KS 66047 (785-864-3965), or by e-mail ( Kansas residents should add 6.9% sales tax on the entire amount of the order. Many of the same maps can also be viewed on-line on the Survey's web site (

A short extract from this publication is available.
Story by Rex Buchanan, (785) 864-2106
For more information, contact Robert Buddemeier, (785) 864-2112

Kansas Geological Survey, Publications and Public Affairs