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Late-summer rains limit aquifer declines in state

2/25/2014

By MIKE CORN

By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Northwest Kansas water well levels fell more than three-fourths of a foot in the past year, according to preliminary water level data compiled by the Kansas Geological Survey.

The data was compiled in early January when the KGS and the Division of Water Resources took to the field and measured nearly 1,400 wells tapping into the Ogallala Aquifer.

As usual, wells in the southwest part of the state had the greatest declines, falling nearly 2.31 feet.

The decline comes on the heels of even bigger declines in each of the three previous years.

"Since 1996, when the monitoring program began, groundwater levels in the area have dropped, on average, nearly 35 feet," according to a news release issued Monday afternoon by KGS.

Declines totaled 10.4 feet in the three years prior to the 2014 measurements.

The average decline of 0.76 feet in Northwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 4 was less than in 2012, when water levels fell 1.39 feet.

The northwest Kansas counties included in GMD 4 missed out on much of the above-average precipitation that fell across other parts of western Kansas.

KGS water-data manager Brownie Wilson is crediting those heavy rains for limiting the sharp declines that had been seen a year earlier.

"July and August saw some very high rainfall amounts across south-central Kansas, west-central Kansas and even into portions of drought-stricken southwest Kansas," Wilson said. "Obviously, any time you can get your water demands satisfied by Mother Nature, the less you have to pull from aquifers and surface reservoirs."

The heavy rains indirectly were responsible for lower water level declines in areas of the Ogallala where recharge is minimal. In some areas, however, the heavy rains directly were responsible for sharply higher water levels.

Wells in the three western-most groundwater management areas generally have lower recharge rates, while the water levels in south-central GMDs respond more quickly to rainfall.

The other GMD is headquartered in Scott City and had average declines of 0.79 of a foot. Declines were 1.66 feet in 2012 and 1.27 in 2011.

Wells in the Big Bend GMD, where recharge rates are higher, had an increase of more than a half-foot, while the eastern half of the district had a 2-foot increase. Levels fell nearly 5 feet in the previous two years.

In the Equus Bed GMD, which includes parts of Sedgwick, McPherson, Harvey and Reno counties, water levels rose 2.57 feet. They dropped nearly 4 feet in the previous two years.

The nearly 1,400 wells, spread across 47 counties, are measured every year to determine the long-term behavior of the underground aquifer system in the state.