Essay on The Ogallala: Preserving the Great American Desert

Essay on The Ogallala: Preserving the Great American Desert

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Long ago, the middle of the North American continent was a treeless prairie covered by tall grasses and roaming buffalo. When European settlers came, they called this area the Great American Desert. Today, this "desert" is covered with fields of wheat, corn, and alfalfa made possible by center-pivot irrigation. My grandfather used to sell center-pivot systems and when my family drove to my grandparent's home in Nebraska, we would count how many "sprinklers" were watering each section of land. At the time, I didn't know that this water was being pumped from somethng called the Ogallala Aquifer, a huge underground water supply. Throughout the years, this aquifer has made the Great American Desert one of the best farming areas in the world. Unfortunately, the Ogallala Aquifer's future as a valuable resource is in jeopardy, unless citizens of the Plains states reduce their water consumption.
Background of the Problem
To understand why the problem is important, it is necessary to know some basic facts about the Ogalla Aquifer. This underground reservoir covers 174,000 square miles. According to John Opie, author of Ogallala: Water for a Dry Land, the Ogallala was formed over the course of millions of years as the land flooded, dried out, and flooded again. As centuries passed, glaciers melted, carrying water, silt, and rocks from the Rockies down to the Great Plains to form the Ogalla. Dirt, clay, and rocks accumulated above it so that the waters of the Ogallala can now be reached at depths of 300 feet beneath the surface (29-35). Some people think that the Ogallala is a huge underground lake, but this idea is wrong. As Erla Zwingle puts it, an aquifer such as the Ogallala is like a "gigantic underground sponge"(83). The water fills in the spaces between the sand, silt, clay, and gravel that make up the Ogallala formation. This 1,000 feet; the average thickness, however, is about 200 feet (Zwingle 85). The aquifer reaches its deepest points under the state of Nebraska, which is not surprising because most of the because Ogallala's water lies beneath this state. The rest lies under Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming.
Th Ogallala Aquifer is the largest "underground sponge" in the United States. It contains more that 977 trillion gallons, or three billion acre-feet of water. (An acre-foot...

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... as well as the survival of the farms and the cities of the Great Anerican Desert, depends on it.

Gerston, Jan, and Lynn Mosely. "Shorter Irrigation Cycles Boost Crop Yields." Texas Water Savers. Spring 1997. Texas Water Resources Institue. 9 Nov 2000 .

Lewis,Jack. "The ogallala Aquifer: An Underground Sea." EPA Journal 16.6 (Nov./Dec. 1990): 42. MasterFILE Premier. EBSCOhost. Lynchburg Public Library. 5 Nov. 2000 .

McGuire, Virginia L., and Jennifer B. Sharpe. "Water-Level Changes int he High Plains Aquifer, 1980-1995." U.S. Geological Survey. Fact Sheet FS-068-97 (1997)/ 9 Nov. 2000 .

Nebel, Bernard J., and Richard T. Wright. Environmental Science. 6th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998.

Opie, John. Ogallala: Water for a Dry Land. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

Sheaffer, John R., and Leonard A. Stevens. Future Water. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1983.

Thorpe, Helen. "Waterworld". Texas Monthly 23.9 (Sept. 1995): 44. MasterFILE Premier. EBSCOhost. Lynchburg Public Library. 5 Nov. 2000 .

Zwingle, Erla. "Wellspring of the High Plains." National Geographic Mar. 1993: 80-109.

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