Blue gold of the Ogallala aquifer
LE3 .A278 2015
Bachelor of Arts
History & Classics
The history of expansion and settlement in the American West is one of conquering the harsh, yet fertile environment and terrain. As European settlers expanded westwards, they encountered geological and climatic diversity in land that Native American cultures had utilised from as early as 10,000 B.C. To survive in this environment settlers needed a reliable and accessible water resource. The Ogallala aquifer was formed between two and six million years ago, from the slow accumulation of fossil water, across geological timescales, from the ancestral Rocky Mountains. It underlies 174,000 square miles of eight High Plains states. Since the 1950s, irrigation technology has enabled industrial-scale extraction from the aquifer. The High Plains region became the wealthiest agricultural region in the country, because the water was, and continues to be, mined as if it were an infinite, essentially cost-free, resource. Groundwater-rights legislation is vital for governing water usage in a sustainable manner. However, the eight states that rely on Ogallala water for irrigation, municipal, and industrial needs, and for human consumption, all have differing legislation that produces conflicts that are resolved through the court system, which is based on precedence rather than rational allocation strategies. Attempts to generate policies governing the more sustainable use of the aquifer are being undertaken. However, for the effective, long-term sustainable future of the aquifer, it is essential that a fundamental change in utilisation and pricing of groundwater must occur within American society. This will necessitate similar large-scale alterations of agricultural subsidy policies and physical practices also. Failure to do so will be catastrophic for the High Plains, and for the people and economy of the United States more generally.
The author grants permission to the University Librarian at Acadia University to reproduce, loan or distribute copies of my thesis in microform, paper or electronic formats on a non-profit basis. The author retains the copyright of the thesis.