House Committee on Resources Testimony by
M. Lee Allison, Kansas Geological Survey


Oral Testimony Presented to the House Committee on Resources, Subcommittee on Water and Power

Hearing on Senate Bill 212--The High Plains Aquifer Hydrogeologic Characterization, Mapping, Modeling and Monitoring Act--Oct. 31, 2003

State and Local Science Needs for the High Plains Aquifer

M. Lee Allison, PhD
State Geologist and Director, Kansas Geological Survey
University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify on behalf of the High Plains Aquifer Coalition in support of Senate Bill 212. The High Plains Aquifer Coalition is a joint effort between the geological surveys of the eight High Plains aquifer states and the U.S. Geological Survey. The Coalition objective is to extend the life of the High Plains aquifer through improved geological characterization and understanding at the state and local level. We appreciate the Committee holding a hearing on this important issue.

The High Plains aquifer is the most intensely pumped aquifer in the United States, yielding about 30 percent of the nation's ground water used for irrigation.

The region accounts for about 19 percent of total U.S. production of wheat and of cotton, 15 percent of our corn, and 3 percent of our sorghum. In addition, the region produces nearly 18 percent of U.S. beef. These numbers alone should elevate concern about the usable life of the aquifer from a regional to a national level.

Research Needs:
When it comes to water, people on the High Plains have trouble agreeing on almost anything. Yet the detailed survey of the needs of more than 40 state agencies and 130 local water agencies of the eight High Plains states showed remarkable agreement in terms of the need for

  • detailed knowledge of the aquifer's make-up,
  • research on ground water recharge,
  • improved knowledge of interaction of ground water and surface water,
  • better understanding of the impact of climate change,
  • more information about the aquifer's water quality,
  • the ability to efficiently exchange information, and
  • the development of new techniques for understanding the aquifer.
The Coalition has identified a preliminary list of other data that would be needed to enhance local decision-making abilities about the aquifer. These include:
  • Definition of aquifer subunits.
  • Determination of recharge.
  • Estimates of total saturated thickness and how it varies across the aquifer.
  • Estimates of depth ranges to the base of the aquifer.
  • Assessment of uncertainties in the yield of the aquifer, including saturated thickness, water-level measures, and depth to bedrock in different areas, and
  • Delineation of critical recharge areas.
S212 is a grass-roots effort by scientists at the state level to provide the data and information needed by farmers, bankers, cities and towns, businesses, water districts, and state legislators, among others, to make informed decisions about the future of this threatened resource. This bill grew out of two years of discussion, collaboration, and consensus building among all segments of the water community.

We in the states who are struggling to extend and preserve the life of the High Plains aquifer know that ignorance is dangerous. State and local water users and managers are increasingly demanding the types and quality of data needed to develop useful and reasonable water-management programs. Current resources for water agencies are insufficient to meet these increasing needs.

This bill empowers the states in their efforts to protect a declining resource and extend the life of the High Plains aquifer. Scientific analyses and data collection would be improved. This bill provides a mechanism for states to develop or enhance their own capabilities in hydrogeology. Without this assistance, states are less able to control their destinies; they are less able to evaluate data, analyses, and interpretations produced by others. This bill puts the states on a more equal footing with the federal government.

Nothing in this bill changes the ways the aquifer is managed. Nothing in this bill duplicates current efforts. The role of the U.S.G.S. would be one of support in response to state requests and as a source of highly specialized technical expertise that individual state and local jurisdictions cannot afford. This bill sets support for state efforts as a higher priority for the U.S.G.S. It authorizes resources requested by state and local water agencies to help achieve their goals.

In conclusion, The High Plains Aquifer Hydrogeologic Characterization, Mapping, Modeling and Monitoring Act is an important step in a comprehensive program to extend the life of the aquifer. We are adamant about the primacy of the states in managing and controlling our water. In times of reduced state funding, this bill will help states and local stakeholders develop their own data and interpretations without having to rely on federal agencies.

We urge this committee to support Senate Bill 212.

This concludes my testimony, Mr. Chairman. I would be pleased to answer any questions that the members of the Committee may have.

Page updated Oct. 31, 2003
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