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Aquifer Depletion not Just Southwest Kansas

The epicenter of this book is the small but important “Wagon Bed Springs” used for millennia by tribes, mammals, waterfowl, and plants.
Ammodramus, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
The epicenter of this book is the small but important “Wagon Bed Springs” used for millennia by tribes, mammals, waterfowl, and plants.

I'm Hannes Zacharias from Lenexa KS, speaking for High Plains Public Radio’s Radio Readers Book Club.

The book is Running Out by Lucas Bessire. Published in 2021, this book emanates from Lucas’ childhood home, the Little Rock House, located on the banks of the now gone Cimarron River. The book forms a quilt composed of different revelations about aquifer depletion, family strife and reconciliation, and maddening water bureaucracy in a world focused on extraction and corporate profits.

The book’s epicenter is the small but important “Wagon Bed Springs” used for millennia by tribes, mammals, waterfowl, and plants -- now totally gone due to unsustainable groundwater extraction for thirsty crops.

Zeroing in on this geographical area is compelling but it is by no means the only area which is suffering from this worldwide phenomenon of groundwater depletion.

Here in the United States, several areas join western Kansas in groundwater depletion. A recent report in Nature, released in January of this year, highlights several states which are suffering from groundwater depletion.

California accounts for 21% of the total groundwater usage in the US and draws about 67% of its freshwater from its groundwater reserves. This reliance has taken its toll: of California's 183 groundwater basins evaluated by the Nature team, 75% are in decline and for many that decline is occurring very rapidly. The most significant of the losses hitting the states Central Valley

Texas is another state that faces issues with aquifer decline. While the aquifers beneath Texas don't face the level of critical collapse as in California, the hot, dry, southwestern state is also facing a thirsty century. According to Nature researchers’ data, 82% of Texas's aquifers are in some form of decline. One of these, Lobo Flat, the sight of a ghost town that once thrived when the water did, is in rapid decline losing 23 inches per year.

Idaho has the dubious honor of hosting the fastest collapsing aquifer in the Nature researcher’s data set: the Mill Creek aquifer, which is losing 7 inches of water per year, is a serious concern for the 200,000 people who rely upon it for drinking water. While Mill Creek is the only aquifer in Idaho experiencing rapid decline, water levels are falling in 60% of the state’s other groundwater aquifers, and in 11% of them, that decline has more than doubled the last century.

Arizona faces similar concerns. With surface water supplies diminishing and rain famously scarce in the desert, 41% of Arizona's water supply comes from wells, and according to the Nature study, 70% of these are in decline across the state.

In Utah, big cities can rely on the snowmelt that comes off the Wasatch Front…for now. But the state, as a whole, depends on groundwater to meet 60% of its water needs, of which 80% is consumed by agriculture. Under pressure from both cities and irrigation 82% of Utah’s aquifers are in the state of decline, 11% of them at twice the rate of the last century.

The States overlaying the Ogallala aquifer face similar troubling stories about groundwater depletion, which are well documented in Lucas Bessire’s book. And while Wagon Bed Springs and the Little Rock House may be the epicenter of this book, the shockwaves reverberate across the country and the world.

This is Hannes Zacharias in Lenexa, and you are listening to High Plains Public Radio and the Radio Readers book club.

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