Making Every Drop Count

By: Macy Malone

Water is the lifeblood of agriculture over the Ogallala aquifer, one of the largest aquifer systems in the world covering 174,000 square miles. It is estimated to have about the same amount of water storage capacity as Lake Huron.

For over a century, the massive underground water system has been providing water for residential, industrial and agricultural use in eight states: South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas.

About 27 percent of the irrigated land in the United States overlies the aquifer and farming accounts for 94 percent of the groundwater use in the aquifer. With nearby access to grain and water, most of the nation’s feedlots are also positioned over the aquifer. The aquifer supports nearly one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cotton and cattle produced in the United States, making it in the industry’s best interest to operate in the most sustainable way possible.

Nearly all of the aquifer’s recharge comes from rain water and snow melt, however, recharge has been minimal with the recent drought situations, on top of an already semi-arid climate.

So how do we manage a finite resource that our industry, and America, depends on so heavily? We use common sense and technology to conserve it, reuse it and recycle it every way possible. Recent research from Kansas State highlighted the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, and as a result, the cattle industry garnered some unfavorable press.

In feedyards, cattle are largest users of water. However, there are a few things yards can do to increase their water savings. Installing more efficient water troughs will conserve water and can also reduce energy use and require less maintenance. Quickly repairing existing troughs and leaks in plumbing lines can also result in reduced water use.

Utilizing an overflow collection system for water troughs where the overflow water is collected and recycled back into the drinking system is another way to reduce use. During the winter, overflow is necessary to prevent freezing. However, in the non-freezing months nearly all overflow water can be utilized without waste. This collection system would also recycle water drained from troughs for cleaning.

Collected overflow water can also be used for irrigation purposes or for temperature and dust control through sprinkler systems. Recycled water could also be used in the feed mill.

Many feedyards use water from lagoon pits to water crops on site. A number of facilities also use the reclaimed lagoon water for sprinkler systems to help control temperature and dust. Studies have shown that feedyards implementing these water conservation methods can save millions of gallons of water each year.

News of the looming depletion of the Ogallala aquifer can be distressing; however, if we all do a little, as an industry we can make a big difference in the preservation of this natural resource.   

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