Technically Speaking
Darin Newsom DTN Senior Analyst

Friday 12/27/13

"Till Your Well Runs Dry"

Picture this: an old farm in southern Kansas awaiting the arrival of a number of guests for the holidays. Then, early Christmas Eve morning, it is discovered that there is no water for the house. None. Nada. Zilch. Nothing but air coming from every faucet. While it was below freezing outside, there was no chance of the pipes being merely frozen. Nor had the breaker to the pump been thrown. All those possibilities had been checked.

Mom eventually got hold of a pump repair company that promised someone would be out asap to take care of the problem. Spot on, in an hour their truck was at the house with two gentlemen ready to pull the pump. What they found was chilling, and a great example of what the future holds for that area that wants, but wasn't designed, to be part of the U.S. Corn Belt.

Back in the 1970's, the water well for the house (originally built back in the early 1900's) was drilled to a depth of about 55 feet. At the time this was thought to be plenty deep. However, things have changed and many neighbors now face the same situation. Recently, in an area of about a five-mile radius from our farm house at least two other house wells have had to be deepened, another a new well dug altogether to find water, and an irrigation well had to go deeper.

As for our house, the pump was basically sitting at the bottom of the original well. While there was still some water available, the pump had stripped itself those times it was sucking air. A new pump was installed and water ran through the faucets, but the gentlemen both wore concerned looks on their faces. Their prognosis is that the pump will work for now, but come spring when the irrigation systems that now dominate the area fire up to fight the seasonal battle with Mother Nature, the water will be gone. A new well, going down at least 85 feet, has to be dug as soon as weather allows.

In 2013 DTN wrote about the water situation in Kansas, and other parts of the Southern Plains, on numerous occasions. Off the top of my head I recall both Chris Clayton and Katie Micik spending time in the state covering the story of the depleting aquifer. The question the area, and again most of the Southern Plains, face as we head into 2014 is how long it wants to owe its existence to corn?

I've spent years talking about what the ramifications could be if the U.S. continued at its pace of increased corn acreage and production. The harvest of 2013 showed us what is possible even when Mother Nature decides not to play nice. Imagine where ending stocks would be calculated if weather actually cooperated for much of a growing season. The idea of nearly 2.5 billion bushels is not as insane as it seems.

Kansas and the other Southern Plains states have to deal with the worsening water situation at hand. It's possible that lessons discussed in Timothy Egan's book "The Worst Hard Times", will have to be relearned over the coming years. For now, the haunting lyrics from the Peter Tosh song used as the title of this post can be heard upon the unceasing Kansas wind, "You never miss your water till your well runs dry."

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Posted at 11:58AM CST 12/27/13 by Darin Newsom
Comments (3)
I was recently reviewing some of the lofty projections from fracking shale in Texas. The question it left me with is "where are they going to get the water?" Fracking takes a huge amount of water, and a tremendous toll on the infrastructure such as roads to bring it to the well pad, much less the water delivery stations. I see a real "water fight" coming in Texas as cities, farmers, and homeowners fight to protect "their" water from the oil companies!
Posted by LeeFarms at 7:13AM CST 12/28/13
Hi Darin; I know this comment has nothing to do with the issue @ hand. I received a phone call from the U.S.D.A. yesterday & they wanted me to do a production report. I live in west central Wis. We had another flash drought, that's what the experts are saying. Anyway we had another bad year, I had 35bu corn & 10bu beans for a average. The lady at the USDA put the numbers in her computer & her computer kicked the numbers back out saying the numbers are to low & her computer needed higher numbers. I wouldn't give her different numbers & she said good bye. So if that doesn't say the USDA is playing with numbers I don't what else does. I caught them red handed!!! Would you be able to check into that for me. Thanks Keith
Posted by KEITH PEARSON at 6:01PM CST 12/28/13
Southern plains agriculture's future is bright in terms of sustainability. It is poor for living a high roller lifestyle. Featuring record yields using irrigation in the southern third of the Ogallala is cool to read, but ultimately irresponsible in terms of how to make a long term viable businesses and communities. Using irrigation to fill some short rainfall periods is probable justifiable, but long term pushing for 300 bu/ac corn on the southern plains is ultimately deficit spending viewing the Ogallala as our bank account. The future is bright on the southern plains because dryland or limited irrigated wheat, cotton, and sorghums can work. No till or minimum till will be a desert farms salvation. Ruminants are the kings of the prairie and will play a significant role in the region going forward. People need to wake up and not force their grand children back to cisterns. We need to stay the land of windmills.
Posted by Chris Grotegut at 9:21AM CST 12/29/13
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