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News Release, Kansas Geological Survey, Dec. 10, 2010

Kansas Geological Survey to Measure Water Levels in Western Kansas

LAWRENCE--Kansas Geological Survey researchers, based at the University of Kansas, will measure water-well levels in western Kansas in early January to collect data for an annual project that tracks changes in ground water depth over time.

Through a cooperative program, the Survey and the Division of Water Resources (DWR) of the Kansas Department of Agriculture monitor 1,423 wells in 47 western and central Kansas counties. The Survey will measure the depth-to-water in about 500 western Kansas wells January 3-6, weather permitting, and DWR staff from field offices in Stockton, Garden City, and Stafford will measure the other wells in the network.

Beginning near Colby, Survey crews will work down the western tier of counties before heading east across the southern border from Morton to Meade counties. They will be in Thomas and Rawlins counties on January 3, in Sherman and Cheyenne counties near Goodland and St. Francis on January 4, in Wallace, Greeley, and Hamilton counties ending near Syracuse on January 5, and in Morton, Stevens, Seward, and Meade counties on January 6.

"Measurements are made only with landowner permission," said Brownie Wilson, the Survey's water-data manager. "Without their help we wouldn't be able to collect yearly data that can be used by them as well as municipalities, state agencies, ground-water management districts, and businesses to make decisions about drilling and water use."

The same wells are measured each year to get an understanding of how the High Plains aquifer is behaving over the long term and how water levels are affected by climatic conditions and pumping. Measurements on some of the wells date back to the 1960s, and are taken in January when water levels are least likely to fluctuate because irrigation wells aren't in use.

Ninety percent of the measured wells draw water from the High Plains aquifer. The rest are drilled into the deeper Dakota aquifer or shallower aquifers along creeks and rivers.

The High Plains aquifer, which underlies parts of eight states and includes the Ogallala aquifer, is the primary source of municipal, industrial, and irrigation water for much of western and central Kansas. Ground-water levels have dropped in parts of the aquifer as usage increased over the past 60 years.

"Like a budget, an aquifer will decline over time if more water is pumped out than what comes in through recharge," Wilson said. "Historically this has happened mainly in the Ogallala portion of the High Plains aquifer along with some localized areas of south-central Kansas."

Between January 2009 and January 2010 water-level changes varied across western Kansas, mainly due to uneven precipitation.

In Southwest Kansas average ground-water levels measurements were down about 1.5 feet in January 2010 following a 2-foot drop in 2009 and a 3-foot drop in 2008. Northwest Kansas from Cheyenne County to Trego County saw a slight average increase while West-Central Kansas--Wallace to Lane counties--had a slight decline. Levels at individual wells may differ from regional averages due to localized rain and snowstorms.

Measurements of individual wells made in January 2010 (as well as historical measurement data) are available at the Survey's web site ( Results of measurements made in January 2011 will be available at the same site in late February.

Other information about the state's ground water is available from the KGS website, including a site dedicated to water right information,

Links of interest to this article:
Reports on Water Levels
KGS Public Information Circular 12--"Measuring Water Levels in Kansas," by Richard D. Miller, Rex Buchanan and Liz Brosius
Water Levels--The KGS Water Information Storage and Retrieval (WIZARD) Database
Water Rights--Water Information Management and Analysis System (WIMAS) website

Story by Cathy Evans, (785) 864-2195.
For more information, contact Brownie Wilson, (785) 864-2118

Kansas Geological Survey, Public Outreach