Feb. 10, 2004

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Contact: Blake "Brownie" Wilson, Kansas Geological Survey, (785) 864-2118.

Groundwater levels in central, western Kansas are down, KU researchers report

LAWRENCE -- Groundwater levels measured in wells in central and western Kansas were down an average of about 1.2 feet from January 2003 to January 2004, according to preliminary analyses by researchers at the Kansas Geological Survey, based at the University of Kansas.

The decline was less than the previous year's drop, which averaged nearly 2 feet, but generally more than average declines in the mid to late 1990s.

Those numbers are based on 1,250 wells in central and western Kansas that were measured in 2003 and 2004 by the Kansas Geological Survey and the Division of Water Resources of the Kansas Department of Agriculture. Since 1996, crews generally have measured about 1,350 wells each year under this cooperative program. However, not every well can be measured every year. Most of the wells that are measured are used for irrigation.

This year's declines may have been lessened somewhat because drought has been less severe in some parts of the state, when compared to the previous summer.

"The amount and timing of precipitation can greatly affect the amount of water that is pumped each year, which, in turn, affects the water table," said Survey water scientist Blake "Brownie" Wilson.

The results are considered preliminary and still are being analyzed by Survey scientists.

"This year's declines may be less than last year's, but they are still substantial in some areas," said Wilson. "Decline rates are only part of the story in understanding the state's aquifers. A low decline rate may still be very significant in areas where water supplies in the aquifer are diminished. And higher declines may be less significant in places where groundwater is readily available."

Water level changes varied across the state.

On average, wells measured in west-central Kansas, in an area covered by Groundwater Management District #1, dropped 1 foot from 2003 to 2004. That compares with a decline of 1.44 feet the previous year. In northwestern Kansas, or Groundwater Management District #4, the decline was just less than 1 foot, compared with slightly less than 1.5 feet last year. And in southwestern Kansas, Groundwater Management District #3, the average decline was just less than 2 feet, compared with 3.35 feet the previous year.

These three areas are those generally underlain by the Ogallala aquifer, the primary water source for much of western Kansas.

Water-level declines were the least in south-central Kansas, where water tables generally are shallower and annual precipitation is higher. In the area north of Wichita, covered by the Equus Beds Groundwater Management District, the decline averaged 0.23 feet, compared with 0.61 feet the previous year. In the Big Bend Groundwater Management District, the area generally south of Great Bend, declines averaged 1.17 feet, compared with nearly 2 feet the previous year.

Results of the 2004 measurements for individual wells will be available electronically by mid-February at www.kgs.ku.edu/Magellan/WaterLevels/index.html. The database will provide information on wells and can be searched according to legal description, latitude and longitude, county or groundwater management district.

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