Kansas Geological Survey, Open-file Report 2003-54
Ogallala Aquifer Institute
KGS Open-file Report 2003-54
The High Plains aquifer underlies all or parts of eight Great Plains states. The High Plains aquifer, which includes the well-known Ogallala aquifer, is the most important regional water source on the Great Plains, yielding about 30 percent of the nation's ground water used for irrigation. However, recent years have seen dramatic declines in water levels in parts of the aquifer-including depletion or near-depletion in some locations
In response to concerns about this resource, individuals, organizations, and agencies across the eight states have taken various voluntary and regulatory actions. Long-term management of the aquifer, however, requires scientific understanding and access to high-quality scientific information. To enhance the scientific understanding and information about the aquifer, the state geological surveys of the eight states and their federal counterpart, the U.S. Geological Survey, formed the High Plains Aquifer Coalition. The Coalition's objective is to improve the geological characterization and understanding of the High Plains aquifer, with an eye toward extending the life of this vital resource.
The High Plains aquifer varies considerably from place to place across the Great Plains-several hundred feet thick in some places, very thin in others. Similarly, each state has taken a different approach to managing water use. Additionally, each state has various levels of information about the aquifer and thus differing research programs aimed at understanding the aquifer. However, the states are increasingly recognizing the need to cooperate in managing and understanding the aquifer.
The High Plains Coalition was formed in response to this need. As part of its mission, the Coalition (working with the Ogallala Aquifer Institute) collected information about the research efforts and needs of each state. Based on extensive interviews with individuals and agency staff, the Coalition produced a comprehensive inventory of the data that are available for each state. It also collected information about the types of data that are not available and are needed. In addition, the Coalition identified research needs common to all the High Plains states. Those needs are summarized below, and, as such, help provide a general plan of research aimed at better understanding and management of the aquifer.Aquifer subunits: The High Plains aquifer underlies more than 174,000 square miles and is highly variable from place to place. Managing a resource of this size is more effective when the aquifer is divided into smaller areas of similar characteristics, such as similar geological make-up or ability to produce water. Managing the resource by these smaller areas (referred to as aquifer subunits or well fields) requires
Obtaining this detailed knowledge involves surface mapping, drilling, subsurface geophysical logging, correlation, and interpretation, and re-examination of existing surface and subsurface information.
Recharge: Recharge is the movement of water from the land's surface back into the aquifer, usually originating in the form of precipitation. Knowledge of recharge is crucial to managing the resource, to calculating how much water will be replenished compared to how much is pumped. Knowledge of recharge is also important for understanding the movement of contaminants, such as nitrates, back into the groundwater. Recharge is generally believed to be very low across much of the High Plains (less than an inch per year in many places), but exact amounts are difficult to determine for any single location and difficult to estimate for large areas. Recharge research would focus on
Ground-water/Surface-water Interaction: Until the past few decades, it was generally assumed that there was little connection between groundwater (underground water in aquifers) and surface (streams and lakes) water. Recent research has made that connection clear: the amount and quality of water in streams affects water in neighboring (or alluvial) aquifers. Pumping from alluvial aquifers likewise has an impact on streams, with an attendant impact on wildlife, water quality, and other factors. However, this connection is not well understood. Very little is known about how these water sources influence each other, both in terms of quality and quantity. This requires detailed measurements of ground-water and surface-water interaction.
Water Quality: Much of the water in the High Plains aquifer is of extremely high quality, one reason it is such a valuable resource. However, relatively little is known about the variability of water quality across the aquifer, how quickly contaminants can move into the aquifer, the role of natural contaminants such as uranium and radon, from bedrock geologic units, as well as man-made contaminants, such as nitrates. Research is also needed on
Climate change: Much of the High Plains aquifer is in a semi-arid area. Small changes in temperature and precipitation patterns may have a dramatic impact on land-use, irrigation, water in storage, and other factors. Understanding the role of climate and its impact is crucial to ground-water management here.
Information/Data: The quality of information and data varies widely in the states underlain by the aquifer. Access to consistent, high-quality data is central to making the best possible management decisions. This includes the need for establishing
New techniques: A variety of new scientific techniques can be developed or applied to ground-water issues on the High Plains. Geophysical measurements, such as the use of micro-gravity to measure the amount of water in storage in the aquifer, can be applied to better understand the aquifer and the amount of water it contains, to create more detailed and uniform analyses, and to do it more efficiently.
Extending the life of the High Plains aquifer is essential to the economic viability of the High Plains region because there are no realistic alternative water sources. State and local water users, managers and regulators are increasingly demanding the types and quality of data needed to develop useful and reasonable water management programs. Accurate data about aquifer variability and subunit characteristics will allow for accurate determination of current water levels, where and at what rates aquifer water moves, and the variables that impact water recharge rates in aquifer subunits. Knowledge of these factors will allow for more accurate predictions of future water levels and ultimately will lead to development of improved approaches for enhancing and extending the life of the aquifer and other factors useful for management purposes.
The eight High Plains aquifer states each manage their water resources in a different manner. The number of state and local water agencies and their duties vary dramatically among the eight High Plains states. Because the structure for conducting hydrogeologic research on the aquifer differs dramatically among states, both the existing knowledge base and ongoing aquifer research efforts vary substantially from state to state. Much of past research was limited by state expertise, budget allocations and cooperation among state agencies. To prevent future inconsistencies among state research efforts and to efficiently utilize existing research data, in June 2000, the geological surveys of the eight High Plains aquifer states formed the High Plains Aquifer Coalition (HPAC).
This HPAC strategic plan is intended to guide the HPAC in the most effective use of resources, research, and technical capabilities targeted at the High Plains aquifer. In addition, the plan will be a roadmap for prioritizing issues and actions. A plan that supports an integrated science approach for planning and execution will more effectively facilitate the alignment of relevant science with local and regional needs and the delivery of information to decision makers in a useful format. This plan, and the activities defined, is a means for providing greater coordination of HPAC activities. A cooperative regional strategic plan for scientific research and collaboration will lead to a more detailed understanding of what research is required and a priority for the region.
The High Plains Aquifer Coalition is a joint effort between the geological surveys of the eight High Plains Aquifer states and the USGS. Coalition members include Kansas Geological Survey, New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, Nebraska Conservation and Survey Division, Texas Bureau of Economic Geology, Colorado Geological Survey, Oklahoma Geological Survey, South Dakota Geological Survey, Wyoming State Geological Survey and U.S. Geological Survey.
The Coalition objective is to improve the geological characterization and understanding of the High Plains aquifer. The purpose of the Coalition is to cooperate in joint investigations and scientific exchanges concerning the earth sciences (including hydrology, geology, geochemistry, geochronology, geophysics, geotechnical and geological engineering and related investigations) on topics of mutual interest. This agreement was specifically undertaken to advance the understanding of the three-dimensional distribution, character, and nature of the sedimentary deposits that comprise the High Plains aquifer in the eight-state Mid-continent region. It recognizes that the distribution, withdrawal, and recharge of groundwater, and the interaction with surface waters is profoundly affected by the geology and the natural environment of the High Plains aquifer in all eight States--New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming--thereby establishing a commonality of interests among the Surveys and citizens of these states.
The Geological Surveys agreed that reaching a fuller understanding of the three-dimensional framework and hydrogeology of the High Plains Aquifer is necessary to provide local and state policymakers with the earth-science information required to make wise decisions regarding urban and agricultural land use, the protection of aquifers and surface waters, and the environmental well being of the citizens of this geologically unique region.
Both the existing knowledge base and ongoing aquifer research efforts vary substantially from state to state. In addition, the structure for conducting hydrogeologic research on the High Plains aquifer differs dramatically among the states. Following is an overview of the major hydrogeologic HPA related research that has been conducted in the eight states during the past decade. (see attached grid)
The HPAC is a leader in the advancement and understanding of the three-dimensional distribution, character, and nature of the sedimentary deposits that comprise the High Plains aquifer in the eight-state region. Future decisions affecting the use, management and protection of the High Plains aquifer will benefit directly from the timely and appropriate HPAC research and data collection and collaboration.
The mission of the HPAC is to improve the geological characterization and understanding of the High Plains aquifer through cooperation in joint investigations and scientific exchanges concerning the earth sciences (including hydrology, geology, geochemistry, geochronology, geophysics, geotechnical and geological engineering and related investigations) on topics of mutual interest.
Goals and Action Areas:
|Kansas Geological Survey||New Mexico Bureau of Geology & Mineral Resources|
|Nebraska Conservation & Survey Division||Texas Bureau of Economic Geology|
|Colorado Geological Survey||Oklahoma Geological Survey|
|South Dakota Geological Survey||Wyoming State Geological Survey|
|U.S. Geological Survey||State and Local agencies|
This strategic plan defines the long-term goals for the HPAC to develop a unified approach to addressing High Plains aquifer issues in the eight state region. The priority areas will continually be refined as the HPAC determines areas of need. Each year the HPAC will meet to review progress on building the HPAC strategies and to define a new set of activities for the following year.