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University Relations

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Feb. 2, 2005
Contact: Brownie Wilson, Kansas Geological Survey, (785) 864-2118.

Water levels decline in western Kansas, hold steady in central Kansas

LAWRENCE -- Groundwater levels in western Kansas continued to decline last year, but at a slower rate than previous years.

Those are the preliminary results of water level measurements made in western and central Kansas in early January 2005. Wells were measured by the Kansas Geological Survey, based at the University of Kansas, and the Division of Water Resources of the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

Water levels in central Kansas were about steady and even rose in some places, according to the measurements.

The lessening of declines in western Kansas probably was due to increased precipitation, and the timing of rainfall, in 2004, particularly following several dry years. With increased rainfall, irrigators generally pump less water, which may result in a lower rate of decline. Other factors, such as changing crop patterns and higher energy prices, may also have led to less irrigation.

The results are based on the measurement of more than 1,300 wells across central and western Kansas that are picked to show regional trends in water levels. Most of those wells are used for irrigation, though some are used for livestock watering. Many of the wells that are measured are in the High Plains aquifer, which includes the well-known Ogallala aquifer.

Wells are measured in January, when the irrigation season is over and water levels have stabilized.

The January 2005 measurements in northwestern Kansas showed a decline of just over 6 inches since January 2004. That compares to a decline of just over 1 foot from January 2003 to January 2004, and about 1.5 feet the year before that. From 1996 to 2005, water levels in this area declined an average of 0.63 feet per year.

In southwestern Kansas, the average well measured in January 2005 was down about 0.3 feet, compared to nearly 2 feet the previous year and more than 3 feet from January 2002 to January 2003. From 1996 to 2005, water levels here declined an average of 1.37 feet per year.

Water levels in west-central Kansas were up very slightly, about 0.1 foot, compared to declines of about 1 foot the previous year and about 1.5 feet the year before. From 1996 to 2005, water levels here declined an average of 0.41 feet per year.

Water levels also held about steady in the Big Bend area of central Kansas. They had declined about a foot the previous year. From 1996 to 2005, water levels declined about 0.19 feet per year.

In the Equus Beds area of central Kansas, the average well measured was up about a foot, compared to a slight decline the previous year. From 1996 to 2005, water levels have held relatively steady, though they have varied from year to year.

Areas that showed particularly heavy areas of decline from January 2004 to January 2005 were western Sheridan County in northwestern Kansas and parts of Grant, Haskell, Finney, Gray and Kearny counties in southwestern Kansas. In those areas, wells showed declines of greater than 3 feet over the past year.

The 2005 water-level data are considered preliminary at this point and are subject to additional study and revision, say Survey scientists. Final review should be completed by March 1, when the 2005 measurements can be viewed and accessed online at


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