I’d been on this Ogallala road since birth, just as I’d been on the road with my mother since birth. I’d grown up slaking my thirst with Ogallala water and bathing in it. I’d gotten much of my financial support from Ogallala crops. And ever since I was a young woman and knocked the pipe gates open myself, I’d been thinking Ogallala thoughts. Like my mother, the Ogallala had sacrificed a lot on my behalf. I wasn’t going to get off that road anytime soon, and I didn’t want to.

The Ogallala Road is a very personal book about love–for my family, our land, and the man who I thought would help me get back into right relationship with that land. It’s also a very personal book about water, indeed about my love for water. What could be more personal than the substance that makes up sixty percent of our own body weight and that intimately hydrates our every living cell? 

And so now for some Ogallala Facts…

Ogallala Aquifer Photo
A Center Pivot Sprinkler Over the Ogallala Aquifer
  • The Ogallala is the nation’s largest aquifer.
  • It is part of a slightly larger aquifer system known as the High Plains Aquifer.
  • It underlies parts of 8 Great Plains states, or 174,000 square miles.
  • It is the sole source of water in most of the western plains region.
  • The geologic formation was created 5 million years ago, when rivers originating in the mountains to the west carried erosion onto the plains.
  • The Ogallala waters 30% of U.S. irrigated crops.
  • It feeds streams and rivers once known as The Ladder of Rivers.
  • The Ladder made trade and travel possible all way back to Paleolithic times.
    The Cheyenne Were Last Tribe to Depend on Ladder of Rivers in Western Kansas

    The Cheyenne Were Last Tribe to Depend on Ladder of Rivers in Western Kansas

  • But since irrigation began, in the 1940s, hundreds of miles of these streams and rivers have dried up.
  • Large parts of central Kansas and north Texas no longer have enough aquifer water to sustain irrigation.
  • According to a Kansas State University study, if current withdrawal rates continue, 69% of the aquifer’s water will be gone in 50 years.
  • The aquifer recharges at less than ½ inch per year. In Kansas, irrigators are allowed to extract 40 times that amount.
  • According to the KSU study, “once depleted, the aquifer would take an average of 500-1300 years to refill.”
  • In a 2009 study, 14% of wells  tested by the U.S. Geological Survey contained one or more agricultural pesticide.
  • In 5% of the wells, nitrates from chemical fertilizers equaled or exceeded EPA safety standards.
  • High concentrations of nitrates in infants’ drinking water deprive their blood of oxygen, causing blue-baby syndrome, a serious threat to lifelong health and fatal if left untreated.
  • U.S. Corn and Ethanol Policy Underwrites Aquifer Depletion

    U.S. Corn and Ethanol Policy Underwrites Aquifer Depletion

    Irrigated corn accounts for the largest water use in the aquifer region. In parts of Texas, this amounts to 22 inches of irrigation water each growing season.
  • The government subsidizes corn farmers regardless of whether they live in Iowa, where it rains enough to grow it, or in western Kansas, where it must be irrigated. 
  • One-third of the nation’s corn becomes feed for livestock.
  • Ethanol accounts for another 40%.
  • The federal government has mandated that increasing amounts of ethanol be mixed with the nation’s gasoline until 2015, when 15 billion gallons will be required.
  • This mandate has caused corn prices to skyrocket and the nation’s corn acreage to expand by 20%.