Workshop examines Ogallala decline

MIke Linn

Portales is hosting a workshop this week on examining ways to slow the rapidly declining water supply in the Ogallala Aquifer.
In areas north of Portales, water from the Ogallala declines four times as fast as it is replenished, conservation officials explain, and even with modern farming irrigation systems the extended future of the aquifer looks bleak.
Even so, local conservationists, officials at the U.S. Geological Survey and area agronomists will meet at the Memorial Building at 11 a.m. on Tuesday to discuss aquifer depletion trends and alternatives for salvaging portions of the water supply.
The seminar will run through Wednesday at noon and registration is $50 including food, according to Joe Whitehead, district conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“It will be a good meeting to get an overview on methods for saving water, and an overview on what’s happening with the aquifer in our area,” said Whitehead, who will speak at 3:15 p.m. Tuesday on the changes in irrigation production practices.
Officials at the meeting will also promote the harvesting of more drought-resistant crops — like cotton instead of corn for example — and irrigation systems that produce better yields and conserve water, according to a press release from the NRCS.
“There have been major changes in irrigation through time … those have greatly helped — I believe — and have been a major contributor,” said Eric Strom, assistant district chief for the USGS in Texas. “In essence the aquifer is being mined and that means there is not enough recharge to replenish the discharge. It is on the decline — it’s a finite resource in that regard. And so it’s a matter of properly managing it to optimize that resource.”
Whitehead noted that about 40 percent of farmers in Roosevelt County use irrigation systems that are 90 percent effective, or only have a 10 percent water evaporation rate.
Those systems do use less water, he said, but the savings aren’t near enough help stop declines in area wells.
The bottom line, officials say, is to extend the life of the aquifer, not necessarily try to save it.