LAWRENCE — A crew from the Kansas Geological Survey, based at the University of Kansas, will measure groundwater levels in 568 wells in early January to monitor the health and sustainability of the High Plains aquifer — the primary source of irrigation, municipal and industrial water for much of western and central Kansas.
The annual program is conducted in coordination with the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Water Resources (DWR), which is in the process of measuring an additional 825 wells. Groundwater levels are measured in December, January and February to avoid short-term declines caused by pumping during the growing season.
The KGS crew will be near Colby and Atwood on Jan. 3, Goodland and St. Francis on Jan. 4, Tribune, Syracuse and Ulysses on Jan. 5, Elkhart and Liberal on Jan. 6, and Meade and Dodge City on Jan. 7, weather permitting.
Of the 1,393 wells to be measured in 48 counties by the KGS and DWR, 90 percent draw water from the High Plains aquifer, a massive network of underground water-bearing rocks that underlies parts of eight states and includes the extensive Ogallala aquifer. The rest of the wells are drilled into the Dakota aquifer and other deeper systems or shallow alluvial aquifers along creeks and rivers.
Most of the wells the KGS measures tap water from the Ogallala aquifer, which underlies much of western Kansas and makes up the bulk of the High Plains aquifer. On the whole, the wells have been monitored for years, some since the 1960s.
“Nine will be measured for the first time this year, with permission from the landowners, to fill in spatial gaps in the network of wells,” said Brett Wedel, manager of the KGS water-level-data acquisition.
Besides the Ogallala aquifer, the High Plains aquifer encompasses the Great Bend Prairie aquifer in west-central Kansas and the Equus Beds aquifer north and west of Wichita. DWR field offices will measure 825 wells in those central Kansas areas and other parts of High Plains aquifer in western Kansas. The Stockton field office will measure 222, the Garden City field office will measure 242, and the Stafford field office will measure 361.
“Given the above normal precipitation across much of western and south-central Kansas last year, I'm anticipating improved water-level changes relative to what we experienced three to five years ago, especially in southwest and south-central Kansas.” said Brownie Wilson, KGS water-data manager. “That may not hold true in Northwest Kansas, but we will see.”
Any cumulative slowdown of groundwater-level declines, however, would not be due to the excess precipitation seeping down and recharging the High Plains aquifer but to a significant reduction in pumping for irrigation, Wilson said.
Most wells monitored by KGS and DWR are within the boundaries of the state’s five groundwater management districts (GMDs), which are organized and governed by area landowners and large-scale water users to address water-resource issues.
Historical annual measurements for each well are available at the KGS's website. Results of measurements made in January 2017 will be added in late February.