Farmers refute claim Ogallala Aquifer is running dry

Jim Bendfeldt chairs the Central Platte Natural Resources District and also the Nebraska Association of Resources Districts (NTV News)

Farmers refute claims they're pumping the aquifer dry. A new analysis says the Ogallala Aquifer shrank twice as fast the past six years compared to the previous 60, but local irrigators say that's not the whole story.

Jim Bendfeldt wants his grandkids to be able to follow his footsteps on the farm.

“That's why I do it. That's why I care,” he said.

And that includes the ability to irrigate. It's why Jim serves on his local natural resources district board and the Nebraska Association of Resources District board as well.

“We're all managed by our neighbors and our friends,” he said of the NRD system.

But a new analysis says the aquifer that supplies water is running dry, suggesting the region will become the “great American desert.”

A Denver Post report shared through the Associated Press says it threatens the livelihood of farmers.

And this farmer takes issue with those claims.

Bendfeldt said, “It leads to economic scare for the viability of Nebraska and I don't want that. We are well managed by the NRDs, we are well taken care of, the fact we have essentially no declines we manage it well to sustainability.”

A government report paints a mixed picture. It shows a decline of 10 million acre–feet over a two year period.

But government scientists say reduced groundwater pumping has slowed the rate of decline.

And wile the aquifer has changed greatly under Texas, the U.S. Geological Survey report shows only a slight change in Nebraska.

“They don't reference the right portion of the USGS study,” Bendfeldt said of the newspaper analysis.

USGS research says there's an imbalance between water being used and rainfall recharging the aquifer.

However, the change in water level varies greatly, from a rise of 84 feet in parts of Nebraska to a decline of 234 feet in Texas.

In Nebraska, Bendfeldt said, “The Ogallala Aquifer has only decreased by less than one percent and actually in many areas of Nebraska has increased.”

He says Nebraska's unique system of local control is the envy of other states, and improvements in crop and irrigation technology will result in water savings.

“Going forward we'll realize it,” he said.

The government report makes it clear there are challenges. But those who rely on water say they're making a difference.

“Always move forward using less,” Bendfeldt said.

the aquifer underlies 111 million acres over eight states, and while water levels have dropped, the government report says reduced pumping is making a difference.

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