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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, June 26, 2018/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 aquifer 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 aquifer 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 Ogallala is being overutilized. Similar to another human-caused environmental situation of abuse in the arid western plains during the early years of the 20th Century, eloquently portrayed in the documentary on the Dust Bowl, the western plains 'water tank' is rapidly being 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 for many reasons: industrial-scale irrigation introduced after WWII, over-comsumption by farms, cities, industries, water pollution, and simple greed. An aqueous 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 understaning of the underlying environmental science; the costs associated with resource depletion; and a change in behavior towards give more respect to conservation. It also takes the talents of artists to frame the situation in terms wide audiences can appreciate. Like the Dust Bowl filmmakers who captured a preventable disaster in the 1930's, the importance of conserving the Ogallala's water has caught the attention of 21st Century observers including Andy Hedges, a native of a state that sadly knew the Dust Bowl well. The young Texan offers his own intrepretation of the situation by repeating the poem of western writer Andy Wilkinson. Hopefully, their combined words will help prevent another dust bowl occuring. The cautionary West Texas words should be heard widely:

WHB

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