Groundwater withdrawals in the Pawnee Valley are currently of such magnitude that even without any additional development, water-level declines will continue indefinitely, exceeding 40 to 50 feet in many parts of the valley by the year 2000.
Wet periods, which reduce the pumpage demand and increase the rate of natural recharge, would benefit the groundwater system; however, even extremely wet periods would not reverse water-level declines resulting from any anticipated level of development. Even if no further development occurs, the beneficial effects of such wet periods would be felt mainly during those periods or shortly thereafter; in other words, they would be temporary.
Data presented in this report indicate a rather bleak future for groundwater supplies in a large part of the study area unless the groundwater management districts of the area soon make important decisions regarding their water supply. One option for consideration is to prolong the life of the groundwater resource through concerted efforts to reduce water wasting and to increase efficiency of water use. However, such practices alone will not solve the problem because the current level of development is such that the water supply eventually will approach exhaustion. As mentioned above, even if no new wells were to be drilled, eventual stabilization of water levels cannot be assured under the current rate of withdrawals. Development of artificial recharge systems in addition to concerted efforts to conserve water and to 1ncrease the efficiency of water use provides an option which may prolong the life of the groundwater reserves.
The cost of an adequate recharge scheme would probably be tremendous and presumably would increase with time. The surficial materials between the land surface and water-table in large parts of the Pawnee Valley are not well suited for artificial recharge through recharge basins, seepage canals, or surface-spreading systems. More expensive means such as recharge wells may offer better opportunities for success in many areas. Detailed studies of the availability of adequate water supplies and of recharge potential over the valley may provide an estimate as to the feasibility of such endeavor. It should be kept in mind, however, that water is not plentiful in the area, and that the amounts of estimated natural groundwater recharge are very small. In the meantime, the benefits resulting from putting a freeze on new irrigation wells and the implementation of Option 2 (i.e., 40% saturated-thickness depletion allowance) for this new decade should be rigorously pursued, encompassing both old and new wells.
The option of foregoing any effort to manage the groundwater resource and allowing the number of wells to increase along with increases in the total rate of withdrawals until virtual depletion of the resource and return to dryland farming is not considered in this report. The very establishment of the groundwater management districts demonstrates that residents of the area reject this "do-nothing" approach.
All users of water, both surface and groundwater, should be informed of the fact that they are contributing to the regional decline of groundwater levels and to the depletion of streamflow. If they recognize the problem, they may become supportive participants in regional efforts to stabilize water supplies.
The author would like to acknowledge the assistance and cooperation of the Groundwater Management Districts #5 and #3, who also provided the funds for a part-time student assistant, Mr. Finny Nwaogazie, who worked on the project for almost a year. Mr. Aamer Latif provided able computer assistance; Mr. Harold Dickey provided useful aid in preparing the soils map of the Pawnee Watershed. Various colleagues at the Survey and Management Districts read parts of the manuscript and provided constructive comments, or assisted in the collection of water-level measurements. Mr. Tom McClain accompanied and assisted the author in all presentations and discussions of the subject matter with the water management boards and public involved. Ms. Kaye Long typed most of the manuscript.
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Kansas Geological Survey, Hydrogeology
Placed on web Aug. 1, 2012; originally published April 1980.
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