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More Questions Than Answers

Water Drop
José Manuel Suárez, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

For High Plains Public Radio Radio Readers Book Club I’m Shane from Colby, Kansas.

We are discussing Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains. This is not a good thing to think about -- running out of water, according to the book, at the time they first discovered the aquifer, they believed we could never run out of water.

Irrigation began, and as the book pointed out, irrigation transformed the High Plains. We’re able to live here and work here because of the ability to grow crops, thanks to irrigation. It’s not just for us here on the High Plains but for the world. I believe, according to the book, one-sixth of the irrigation comes from the Ogalala Aquifer, which feeds the world. So, it’s a pretty big deal.

Now they tell me we are running out of water. And they say irrigation is the biggest offender. But I’m not here to assign blame because the reality is, we need the water. And we needed it for irrigation because that bread that you ate as your sandwich or that you toasted probably came from wheat or other grains that were growing better because of irrigation and you wouldn’t have had that had it not been for irrigation.

If we simply ripped up all of our irrigation systems and only relied on rain, we would be in a whole lot more trouble than we currently are with the aquifer running out. If you think the cost of food is bad now if we got rid of irrigation during this drought, the cost of food would be far higher. We depend on the ability to irrigate.

One thing we have to keep in mind is the way we irrigate today is much different than that of 20 or 30 years ago. With the irrigation systems of today you can tell the system how much water you want to put on the crop, and it will put exactly how much you need -no more, no less. We are not wasting as much water with irrigation today as we did in previous generations. I truly believe that farmers today are doing their absolute best to conserve as much water as possible.

But as I read this book, particularly in the afterword section, they suggest that the fix is already in, and it may be too late to save the aquifer. We may be able to slow down the process of depletion, but we may not be able to stop it at this point. According to the book, there are parts of the aquifer that no longer get water at all and there are other parts of the aquifer that are very slow to recharge because they can’t keep up with the demand of our water use and the reason they can’t recharge is because we’re in a drought. We’re not getting much rain.

Now, we could argue who caused this drought. Are we human beings responsible for the drought? I don’t know. All I know is the world population is increasing so we’re going to have an even greater demand for more water. We all need water, and we all utilize water every day of our lives. It would not be a very long existence, if suddenly water was gone. How do we get the water back? I don’t know.

I ended reading this book with more questions than answers. Perhaps the only thing we can do is continue to live our lives and conserve water as much as we possibly can.

For High Plains Public Radio Readers Book Club, I’m Shane from Colby Kansas.

Spring Read 2024: Water, Water Neverwhere 2024 Spring ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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