Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has made an announcement that the USDA will be putting $8 million in the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative (OAI) in 2016. The purpose of the investment is to help farmers and ranchers conserve water annually while strengthening agricultural operations at the same time. The Ogallala Aquifer expands through eight states, including most all of Nebraska and a large part of Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. Recent droughts have caused significant decline in the water source.
“USDA’s Ogallala Aquifer Initiative helps landowners build resilience in their farms and ranches and better manage water use in this thirsty region,” said Vilsack. “Since 2011, USDA has invested $74 million in helping more than 1,600 agricultural producers conserve water on 341,000 acres through this initiative.”
Ogallala is the largest aquifer in the U.S. It covers approximately 174,000 square miles and supports almost a fifth of the wheat, corn, cotton and cattle the nation produces. It also supplies almost a third of the country’s irrigation water.
Water levels in the region are dropping at an unsustainable rate, making targeted conservation even more important. From 2011 to 2013, the aquifer’s overall water level dropped by 36.0 million acre-feet, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) supports targeted, local efforts to conserve the quality and quantity of water in nine targeted focus areas through the OAI, adding two new focus areas for fiscal year 2016, while continuing support for seven ongoing projects. These projects include improving the efficiency of irrigation systems; building soil health by using cover crops and no-till practices that allow the soil to hold water longer and buffer roots from higher temperatures; and implementing prescribed grazing to relieve pressure on stressed vegetation.
If you’re interested in learning more about the project, the USDA has provided a chart listing the focus areas for each state.