Water Resources in Changing Landscapes: A View from an Overdeveloped Aquifer
Departement of Earth Sciences
University of Kansas
Landscape change is a defining feature of the Anthropocene, affecting water resource quantity and quality in a myriad of ways. Changes in land use, agricultural practices, resource extraction methods, and climate are occurring with increasing rapidity, often with unexpected and unfortunate consequences. This is especially acute in locations where water availability is at a breaking point. For instance, portions of the Ogallala-High Plains aquifer (HPA) in the United States are expected to run out of water within the next five years. Despite the importance of this aquifer system, long history of study, and decades of warnings about over-development, basic hydrologic information across the vast region is still unknown, hindering efforts to identify and predict effects of landscape-scale changes.
This goal of this research is to improve understanding of how landscape changes are affecting our water resources, with a focus on the HPA. First, I will discuss identifying recharge pathways and amounts to the HPA and how both farming practices and increasing climate variability have affected the hydrology of the system. The immense size of the aquifer footprint provides inherent scaling issues; mining “big-data” provides one pathway to improve resource estimates. Oil and gas development, including shale gas, under the region provides additional pressures to HPA water quantity and quality. Improving the usability of isotopic tools to fingerprint produced fluids from these deep basins can enhance identification of contaminant sources. Finally, emerging landscape changes that may threaten this water resource are considered, particularly the cannabis agricultural frontier.