Mining the Ogallala

Richard (Rick) Mills

Ahead of the Herd

Page 2 of 2

 

In April 2012, 37 percent of the contiguous U.S. was experiencing at least moderate drought conditions, a number that shot up over 63 percent by mid-summer. Currently 47 percent of the U.S. is experiencing moderate drought conditions.

 

 

The main problem with groundwater in the High Plains is that the water is being withdrawn at a rate greater than the recharge rate. The Ogallala Aquifer’s recharge rate is approximately 22 to 25 mm/year with a net overdraft of 54.864 mm/year - when pumping from an aquifer extracts water faster than it can be recharged the aquifer is said to be in overdraft.

 

If the Ogallala Aquifer does dry up (since large-scale irrigation began in the 1940s, water levels have declined more than 30 meters in parts of Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas) America would need the equivalent of 20 percent of the flow of the St. Lawrence seaway each and every year just to replace the water needed to irrigate the mid-western corn crop – U.S. corn farmers are growing high water demand crops in a desert.

 

Aquifer depletion would significantly impact crop production in the United States because 60 percent of irrigation relies on groundwater and 94 percent of the total groundwater usage from the Ogallala is for irrigation.

Ogallala water allowed the agricultural transformation of the High Plains in the 1950s. Renewed drought led to major well drilling, especially on the Texas High Plains. With the technology now well established, the water pumped and the acreage irrigated increased dramatically. Center-pivot methods of irrigation were patented in 1952, and spread over much of the High Plains in the 1970s. By the mid-1970s, 12 million acres were irrigated, largely for feed corn, with cotton as a major crop in West Texas. Production of feed grains on the High Plains tripled between 1954 and 1973, and the grains were fed to beef cattle in feedlots all over the Plains.

 

In 1980 about 170,000 wells were pumping 18 maf/yr (more than the flow of the Colorado River) from the Ogallala Formation to irrigate over 13 million acres, compared with 2 million acres in 1949. The Sand Hills of Nebraska, long a wildlife refuge because crops could not be grown on it, now contained some of the most intensive central-pivot irrigation systems in the United States. 20% of the irrigated land in the United States overlay the Ogallala, 30% of the irrigation ground water in the United States was being pumped from it, and 40% of the grain-fed beef cattle slaughtered in the United States were being fattened in the six states of the High Plains. Large feedlots were set up, and slaughtering and meat-packing centers were built to create a significant economic infrastructure. Kansas is the leading state in the US for wheat production and beef-processing.

 

The mathematics is inexorable. An aquifer does not contain 100% water, because the water is held between the grains in the sediment. Surface tension dictates that not all the water can be pumped out: an aquifer yields only a specific yield, which for the Ogallala is 10-20% of its volume in water.

 

Over the entire Ogallala region, 23 maf/yr were being pumped in 1978, but that had dropped to 18 maf/yr in 1980 (still more water than flows down the Colorado River!). Finally, with the water table dropping precipitously, the end was in sight. The water table dropped more than 50 feet over a large area in the southern High Plains, and dropped more than 200 feet in West Texas. Nebraska, Kansas, and Texas were pumping 88% of all the Ogallala water between them. It became clear that this underground water was not a renewable resource, and that once pumped out, that would be the end of irrigated farming.” mygeologypage.ucdavis.edu

Conclusion

"They have substituted rain-fed agriculture along the Atlantic coast -- because good farmland is being covered up by urban sprawl -- for an unsustainable irrigation-based agriculture in the Midwest. When the aquifer runs dry, which it absolutely will, what will they do?” Peter Brown, director of the McGill School of Environment

Think of pumping most underground water to the surface as mining water. When it's gone - like when a gold, copper or rare earth mine runs out of ore - it's gone.

 

This fact should be on all our radar screens. Is it on yours?

 

If not, maybe it should be.

 

Richard (Rick) Mills

rick@aheadoftheherd.com

www.aheadoftheherd.com

 

Richard is the owner of Aheadoftheherd.com and invests in the junior resource/bio-tech sectors. His articles have been published on over 400 websites, including:

 

WallStreetJournal, USAToday, NationalPost, Lewrockwell, MontrealGazette, VancouverSun, CBSnews, HuffingtonPost, Londonthenews, Wealthwire, CalgaryHerald, Forbes, Dallasnews, SGTreport, Vantagewire, Indiatimes, ninemsn, ibtimes, businessweek.com and the Association of Mining Analysts.

 

If you're interested in learning more about the junior resource and bio-med sectors, and quality individual company’s within these sectors, please come and visit us at www.aheadoftheherd.com

 

***

 

Legal Notice / Disclaimer

 

This document is not and should not be construed as an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to purchase or subscribe for any investment.

 

Richard Mills has based this document on information obtained from sources he believes to be reliable but which has not been independently verified.

 

Richard Mills makes no guarantee, representation or warranty and accepts no responsibility or liability as to its accuracy or completeness. Expressions of opinion are those of Richard Mills only and are subject to change without notice. Richard Mills assumes no warranty, liability or guarantee for the current relevance, correctness or completeness of any information provided within this Report and will not be held liable for the consequence of reliance upon any opinion or statement contained herein or any omission.

 

Furthermore, I, Richard Mills, assume no liability for any direct or indirect loss or damage or, in particular, for lost profit, which you may incur as a result of the use and existence of the information provided within this Report.

 


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