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Kansas Geound Water

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From the earliest times of human occupation of Kansas, water has been a major concern. Native Americans settled near rivers, and the Taos Indians dug irrigation ditches in western Kansas. European pioneers moved across the state on routes that were determined by the availability of water from springs and rivers. Late in the 1800s, settlers clung to the belief that the "plow would bring the rain," that cultivation would increase rainfall. Today, even with the discovery of vast amounts of ground water in western Kansas, there is concern about ground-water depletion and the contamination of sources of freshwater.

The purpose of this book is to help Kansans understand, protect, and manage wisely an important natural resource--the state's ground water. About half of all Kansans depend on ground water for their domestic supplies, and about 85% of the total water used in the state is ground water. This is an extensive reliance on a diminishing resource; on average, we are removing water from the ground at a rate several times faster than it is being replenished.

Underground water is often viewed as mysterious. Its presence, depth, and quality are often hard for non-scientists (and sometimes professionals) to imagine. It can be maddeningly elusive when we want to get at it, but it often seems as if any hazardous material placed on or in the earth will quickly and unerringly find its way into a ground-water supply. Although much remains to be learned, the general principles that determine the occurrence and characteristics of ground water are well known, and we have a generally good and steadily improving understanding of ground water in Kansas. The material that follows is designed to communicate the essential aspects of that knowledge to interested citizens.

We begin by summarizing the use and importance of ground water in Kansas. We use the simplest possible definition of ground water--any water that can be pumped from a well. To expand on this, we then discuss ground-water occurrence and its place in the hydrologic cycle, both in general and with specific reference to Kansas. This section concludes with a summary of Kansas ground-water resources and their characteristics. Next, we discuss the basic issues of water quality-both natural factors and human effects. Well construction and ground-water production are described to provide a view of the procedures and problems involved in making use of this resource. Finally, we discuss the principles of ground-water management and end with an overview of the major problems and issues facing Kansas with respect to water resources in general and ground water in particular. Appendices provide a glossary of technical terms and information, a reading and reference list for those seeking further information, and a list of agencies and organizations in Kansas with responsibilities for ground water.

Before continuing, a note on definitions, disciplines, and objectives. Hydrologists are people who study or manage water resources; they come from a variety of disciplines, although geology and civil engineering are two of the most common backgrounds. This book is mostly about what some people call hydrogeology and others, geohydrology (similarly, there is controversy about whether ground water is one word or two, but as far as we know the water doesn't care). Because water is central to life and must be studied on an interdisciplinary basis if we are to understand all of the implications and complications, water scientists have training or research experience in various fields of the earth sciences, engineering, computer technology, chemistry, and biology. Water is enormously important in a political, economic, and social sense. Our objective is to provide factual background information so that readers can better draw their own conclusions about the water-resource issues facing the state, the nation, and the world.

English units of measure are strongly entrenched in applied water-resource fields in the United States, although some U.S. researchers and the rest of the world use the metric system. We present our information in English units for the convenience of our readers; but wherever it is not awkward, we place the metric equivalents in parentheses. The glossary appendix contains a summary of the two systems and conversion factors. The unit acre-foot may be unfamiliar to some; it is the volume of water that would cover an area of 1 acre to a depth of 1 ft (43,560 cubic feet, or 325,851 gallons).

Definitions of italicized words are linked to the glossary in appendix A.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Kansas Ground Water
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Web version Jan. 2005. Original publication date August 1993.