Since 1961 more than 40% of the increase in farm food production has been accomplished through increased irrigation. Farmers discovered that by drilling deep wells into the middle of their fields millions of gallons of water could be pumped from underground aquifers – a wonderful substitute for rain, or lack of it.
The results have been marvelous. In fact, the increased use of underground aquifers is considered a revolution in modern farming. Now growers can bring in robust crops even in doughty years. A steady supply of water also makes it easier to coax crops from marginal, sandy soils.
But concern is growing daily about the sustainability of pumping so much groundwater. With the number of farmers applying for irrigation permits skyrocketing, the volume of water being drawn from aquifers has grown astronomically.
One of America’s largest aquifers, the Ogallala Aquifer, is already showing signs of strain. It’s a vast underground cache of water sprawling across an enormous region of underground middle America. Experts believe the Ogallala is possibly 70% depleted. Some wells currently drawing from the Ogallala have already run dry.
That has a lot of people worried. Scientists are concerned that draining underground aquifers may have long-term consequences that are still unknown. Farmers must accept that they can’t keep relying on unlimited groundwater to their farms expanding and profitable.
But once a practice has begun it’s extremely difficult to reverse it, or even slow it down. Farmers now rely on a steady supply of groundwater to being in big crops. Government rules and regulation are always unpopular among farmers.
However, industry observers predict that reality will soon “hit the fan” one way or another. If major groundwater aquifers began to fail farmers will need to change strategies whether they like it or not.