Western Kansas counties running out of water – conservationists look to recharge the aquifer

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LEOTI, Kan. (KSNW) – It’s a multi-million dollar partner-driven project aimed at restoring the aquifer and preserving the future of communities experiencing a decline in groundwater.

A diverse group of organizations and individuals have come together to address a diminishing municipal water supply by restoring parts of the Ogallala Aquifer.

Playa Lakes Joint Venture, among others, has set their sights on the Groundwater Recharge and Sustainability Project (GRASP).

It’s an initiative funded through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

GRASP is focused on restoring, enhancing, and protecting vital wetlands, in particular playas.

Playas are the primary source of water recharge for the Ogallala Aquifer, depositing nearly three inches of water per year.

The current focus area is in Greeley and Wichita counties, parts of the state in a severe drought.

“Water is the driving force of the economy here in southwest Kansas,” said Bill Simshauser, Farmer and Kansas Association of Conservation Districts Board Member.

It is estimated that the two counties combined have nearly 5,000 playas.

But experts say within the next 50 years, the area won’t have enough water to sustain the cities of Leoti and Tribune.

“Wichita and Greeley county are running out of water,” said Simhauser.

Through the project, they hope to promote water and agricultural sustainability, build a healthy ecosystem, and keep towns alive.

Part of the plan includes reducing irrigated acres and converting cropland into native grassland.

“Some of the technology it tells us, we can cut back on water use a little bit and still be as profitable,” said Matt Smith, Playa Lakes Joint Venture Representative.

Recharging the aquifer, one playa at a time.

“If you have a four-acre playa, and at three inches per year, that’s about one-acre foot of water per year. Which is roughly about 325,000 gallons per year, going down toward the aquifer,” said Smith.

Playa Lakes has determined there are nearly 22,000 playas across the state of Kansas, the average one taking up about four acres of land. Although they know the initiative won’t be a complete fix for the water depreciation, it will be a start and they hope to continue to project throughout the state.

To see the full scope of the project, click here.

*Update, clarification on project partnership.

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