Whither the Ogallala?

Ogallala Aquifer

The Ogallala Aquifer is the major component of the High Plains Aquifer system in the central part of the United States, between the Rockies and the Mississippi River system. This aquifer has provided the primary source of irrigation water for America’s breadbasket since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Current research shows that the Ogallala is being depleted much faster than it is being recharged by rainfall or snowmelt in the region, including the east slope of the Rockies .

Dr. Kevin Mulligan, Associate Professor of Economics and Geography and Director of the, Center for Geospatial Technology at Texas Tech University, has been a leading voice in this research. Mulligan and his students have mapped the aquifer extensively, discovering that not only is it shallower in places than people originally thought, it is also being drawn down (often at a rate of 800 gallons a minute) faster than anticipated. In fact, they have determined that in many spots industry will run out of useable water (i.e., 30 ft of water or less) not by the end of the century, as predicted, but by 2030 – only twenty years from now. “This will certainly mean the end of pivot irrigation in the region,” he announced.

Source: http://www.newwest.net/topic/article/new_west_new_dust_bowl/C35/L35/

Ogallala video from Texas Tech

Student created video about the Ogallala

Background information on the Ogallala

The Water Century, a publication from Texas Tech

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The Four Rs

Go Green

The New World

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Newsletter #3

Please read and give us your comments on our latest Newsletter.

Click here to download a copy: Water Newsletter 3

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Water Engineer Story about the Mill River Catastrophic Flood, 1874

“In 1874, on the Mill River in western Massachusetts, an earthenwork dam gave way. A wall of water between 20- and 40-feet high and 300-feet wide rushed downstream. The flood destroyed almost everything in its path. Factories were crushed and houses swept off their foundations; cows, horses, and people were sucked into the roiling water. Within an hour, the flood leveled four villages. Finally, it reached a broad plain just north of Northampton. There, the river spread out over acres of freshly ploughed fields, depositing its awful contents — machinery, furniture, bridges, rocks, trees, livestock, and bodies — in a layer ten-feet deep. It took days to recover the bodies of the 139 people who lost their lives to the Mill River flood.” http://www.massmoments.org/moment.cfm?mid=145

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Conservation Tillage improves water quality?

“Produce less bottled water” or “Use less water” are the comments that usually pop up during the argument of how to save water on Earth. On the bright side, a more efficient method has been discovered. It is called conservation tillage. Conservation tillage is mainly used for cultivation, yet at the same time it helps to conserve water.
Conservation tillage is a method of soil cultivation that leaves behind the previous year’s crop residue on fields before and after planting the next crop, which helps to reduce soil erosion and runoff. Conservation tillage requires at least 30% of the soil surface to be covered with residue after planting the crop.
The most important point about conservation tillage is that it reduces runoff. Residues protect the soil surface from the rainfall and act like a dam to slow the water movement. Therefore, the rainfall will stay in the field allowing the soil to absorb it. Crop residue also helps hold soil along with associated nutrients pesticides on the field to reduce runoff into surface water. In fact, residue can cut herbicide runoff rates in half. Additionally, microbes that live in carbon-rich soils quickly degrade pesticides and utilize nutrients to protect groundwater quality. Pesticides can be toxic to aquatic plants and animals if present at high enough concentrations. Consequently, conservation tillage acts as a filter paper. First, it traps the water like a dam, than allows the soil to absorb that water. As that water gets absorbed to the soil, the crop residue separates sediment, nutrients, and pesticides from the water, which eventually produces a clean quality groundwater.


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Good Practice: Check Your Story (Hydrofracking) With Another Source

Given that we just finished Gas Land, it is always a good idea to see how other sources report that story. What do you think of this Time Magazine (a mainstream media source) report? http://www.time.com/time/video/player/0,32068,876880045001_2062814,00.html


By the way, if we follow your idea of creating an Earth Day activity where this film is viewed, should we follow the film with one of the suggested ideas of writing elected officials?

Posted in Diseases, Earth Day, Economics, Energy, Health, Individual Water Use, Infrastructure, Innovative mindsets, Newsletter, Science of Water, Specialty | Tagged | Leave a comment

The Good and Bad About Dams

The Good and Bad About Dams

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) regulates work in the nation’s wetlands and waters, with a goal of protecting the aquatic environment, promoting responsible development, and working to ensure no net loss of wetlands while issuing about 90,000 construction permits a year 1. About a decade ago, a Suffield organization, whose property borders Muddy Brook, used a creative solution to circumvent the water-controlling regulations of the USACE. This organization wanted to dam up the brook to create a pond for irrigating its land, but did not want to undergo the USACE approval process. So instead, they imported and released a family of beavers. The plan worked beautifully; the beavers built a dam in the brook creating the desired irrigation pond, and pumping activity began. Curious neighbors, who had watched and wondered about the construction of the pumping and irrigation system, enjoyed watching the beaver activity as the plan came to fruition. Unfortunately, after five years, the beavers moved on to another spot in the brook, and the organization had to resort to other irrigation plans.

A typical beaver dam

For a very long time, humans and other animals have been piling all sorts of materials into the path of flowing water in order to control that precious resource. Whether the damming material is dirt, wood, stone, or concrete, this behavior has certainly had a major impact on the natural water cycle and river-based ecosystems. Many of those impacts have been positive. Dams have been used for hydroelectric power generation, flood control, and to create reservoirs for drinking water, irrigation, recreation, and transportation.3 Often times, dams are multi-purpose. For example, Hoover Dam4 on the Arizona/Nevada border is a major power station in the Southwest. It controls flood water flows of the Colorado River, and creates Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States (247 square miles and 550 miles of shoreline). This 112 mile long reservoir provides multiple irrigation and recreation opportunities for residents and visitors to the area.

Hoover Dam

The United States has about 75,000 dams blocking 600,000 miles of what was free-flowing water on 17% of the nation’s rivers.5 While these dams are providing much positive benefit to the human population, there are many significant negative impacts, as well.

When dams are used to create large reservoirs, there are usually small towns buried under the rising water. This creates major upheaval for the residents of those towns, who need to find a new place to live. Famous examples of buried towns include St. Thomas, Nevada (under Hoover Dam’s Lake Mead), Enfield, Massachusetts (under Boston’s Quabbin Reservoir), and Barkhamsted Hollow, Connecticut (under Hartford’s Barkhamsted Reservoir).

Dams hinder the downstream flow of water, and water removed from Reservoirs limits the available water for downstream ecosystems. The use of Colorado River water, made easier by reservoir impoundment, regularly prevents the river from flowing all the way to its mouth at the Gulf of California.

Dams severely impact the ability of migratory fish, such as salmon, to swim upstream for their annual reproductive activities. Fish ladders and elevators are sometimes used to help fish continue their upstream journeys around the dammed barriers, but this adds another great stress to an already very stressful journey.

Dams also have impacted river transportation; human engineering has been able to construct canals and locks to circumvent some of those barriers, but this adds greatly to the cost of building and maintaining the infrastructure.

Finally, dams are a part of the major infrastructure problem that exists in the United States and other countries. The power of water puts tremendous strain on constructed dams. Even though quality engineering has allowed most dams to survive and function effectively for many years, the possibility of failure over time produces great risks for downstream residents.6

While dams provide important advantages for human society, there has been quite a bit of controversy and worry about their usage and their long-term impacts. As we continue forward with a more environmental focus, the future of dams will be under close scrutiny.

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