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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Conserving, The Mother Load

Conserving, The Mother Load

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Tuesday, March 19, 2019/Categories: natural history, wildlife conservation, video, sustainability, art and design, environment, Archive Pick of the Week

                     Ogallala Aquifer State Coverage Map (credit: Wiki-commons)

            Mining the Mother Load by Andy Wilkinson  (credit: the Western Folklife Center)

The Ogallala Aquifer has been called the "mother load" of water on the plains. The groundwater represents a reservoir of freshwater stretching northwards in underground sands and gravels from the prairies of West Texas and Oklahoma to South Dakota. The Ogallala is one of the largest in the world covering an area of ~175,000 square miles including portions of eight American states. Like water resources everywhere west of the 100th Meridian, the aquifer is being overdrawn. Similar to another human-caused environmental abuse on the arid western plains during the 1930's, eloquently portrayed in the documentary on the Dust Bowl, the western 'water tank' is being rapidly depleted. Geological and environmental studies have shown that:

"Since 1950, agricultural irrigation reduced the aquifer by ~10% alone while between 2001-2008, the depletion of the aquifer was ~32% of the cumulative total during the entire 20th century."

The overuse of the Ogallala has occurred due to many reasons: industrial-scale irrigation since WWII; over-consumption by farms, cities, and industries; pollution, and by simple greed. A hydrologic artifact from the Ice Ages, the depleted underground layers could take more than 6000 years to recharge naturally.


   Dust Bowl Road, the 'Black Blizzard', Texas Panhandle, March 1936 (credit: Library of Congress archives, PBS)
Sustainability of any natural resource requires an understanding of the underlying environmental science; the costs associated with resource depletion; and a change in behavior towards more respect for conservation. It also takes the talents of artists to frame the situation in terms that wide audiences can appreciate. Like the Dust Bowl documentarians who presented the preventable disaster in the 1930's, the importance of conserving the Ogallala's water has caught the attention of 21st Century observers. Andy Hedges, a Texas native of a state that sadly knew the Dust Bowl well. The storyteller offers his own interpretation of the situation by reciting a poem by the western writer Andy Wilkinson. Hopefully, their cautionary words will help prevent another dust bowl and be heard widely:



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