Farmers restore native grasslands as groundwater disappears

MULESHOE, Texas (AP) — Tim Black‘s cell phone dings, signaling the time to reverse sprinklers spitting water across a pie-shaped section of grass that will provide pasture for his cattle.
It’s important not to waste a drop. His family’s future depends on it.
For decades, the Texas Panhandle was green with cotton, corn and wheat. Wells drew a thousand gallons (3,785 liters) a minute from the seemingly bottomless Ogallala aquifer, allowing farmers to thrive despite frequent dry spells and summer heat.
But now farmers face a difficult reckoning. Groundwater that sustained livelihoods for generations is disappearing, which has created another problem across the southern plains: When there isn’t enough rain or groundwater to germinate crops, soil can blow away — just as it did during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
“We wasted the hell out of the water,” says Black, recalling how farmers irrigated when he was a kid — as if it would last forever. Water flooded furrows or sprayed in high arcs before farmers adopted more efficient center-pivot systems that gave the Southwest its polka-dot landscape.
His grandfather could reach water with a post-hole digger. Now, Black is lucky to draw 50 gallons (189 liters) a minute from high-pressure wells, some almost 400 feet (122 meters) deep. He buys bottled water for his family because the well water is salty.
The problem isn’t unique to the Ogallala. Aquifers from California’s Central Valley farm country to India and China are being depleted. But the 174,000-square-mile (450,658-square-kilometer) Ogallala — one of the world’s largest — is vital to farmers and ranchers in parts of eight plains states from South Dakota southward.
The region produces almost one-third of U.S. commodity crops and livestock protein, which…
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