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An Atlas of the Kansas High Plains Aquifer

Jeffrey A. Schloss, Robert W. Buddemeier, and Blake B. Wilson, eds.

Educational Series 14
92 pages, 39 figures, glossary, and reading list
A full online version of this publication is not available. Copies of this publication are available from the publications office of the Kansas Geological Survey (785-864-3965). The cost is $15.00 per copy, plus sales tax, shipping, and handling.


The High Plains aquifer is a large (approximately 33,500 square miles of surface area) body of sands, gravels, silts, and clays. In western Kansas it generally is identical with the Ogallala formation, and the aquifer system originally was known as the Ogallala aquifer. However, the part of the aquifer extending into south-central Kansas (east of Ford County) currently is recognized as hydrologically similar but geologically different formations, and the combined aquifer system is referred to as the High Plains. Figure 1 illustrates the geographic extent of the saturated portion of the aquifer. Superimposed on the map of the physical boundaries of the aquifer are the counties (with abbreviated identifiers) and two important sets of administrative boundaries. The Groundwater Management Districts (GMDS) are responsible for managing the ground water within their boundaries, and the river basins provide the geographic basis for the development and implementation of the Kansas Water Plan. These are not the only relevant political boundaries; various types of districts (watershed, conservation, water assurance, local environmental protection, etc.) all have an effect on the water resource. However, a detailed enumeration of local entities is beyond the scope of this aquifer-scale description.

This atlas focuses on ground water and related water-resource issues in the High Plains aquifer in western and central Kansas. This region of the state largely depends on ground-water resources, which are, for the most part, fully appropriated and are declining in a number of areas. The western two-thirds of the state contrasts with eastern Kansas where precipitation and streamflow are more abundant, and the principal aquifer resources generally consist of alluvial deposits that have direct hydrologic connections to the streams. In eastern Kansas there generally is less stress on and competition for ground-water resources. In comparison, the High Plains aquifer of western and central Kansas encompasses a much larger area and contains a greater volume of ground water, much of which occurs independent of current streamflows. Due to the more arid environment, lack of dependable streamflow, and greater accessibility to ground water, a large proportion of the water-right development in Kansas has occurred within the High Plains aquifer region. The High Plains aquifer region has an integrated agribusiness system based primarily on irrigation, and depends on ground-water resources which, for the most part, are nonrenewable under current water-use conditions. Kansas water policy and management practices thus must encompass a variety of environmental, economic, and hydrologic issues, of which meeting the water needs of western and central Kansas is among the most challenging.

The primary audience for this atlas is therefore the community of policy-makers, managers, and their technical support staff. At the same time, this information will be useful and of interest to both the general public and to researchers and analysts. To make the presentation as useful and authoritative as possible, it has been organized in a basic pattern of brief summary presentations of the various topics and results, accompanied by illustrative maps or figures. A standard format has been adopted that addresses for each topic:

More detailed discussions of methods, uses, relationships, and other more technical background information are provided as appendices that are referenced to appropriate topics in the basic atlas entry, allowing readers to control the depth and level of detail at which they explore the topic while providing the information necessary for scientifically informed use of the products.

Figure 1. Map of High Plains Aquifer Extent, Groundwater Management District Boundaries, and Kansas Water Plan Basin Boundaries
Kansas map showing boundaries

This book is a published version of an online project:

Kansas Geological Survey, Public Outreach Section
Placed online March 15, 2001
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