High Plains Water-Level Monitoring Study

Science Center Objects

The High Plains aquifer underlies 111.8 million acres (about 175,000 square miles) in parts of eight States—Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. In response to a directive from Congress, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in cooperation with local, state, and federal entities, has collected water-level data from wells screened in the High Plains aquifer and has estimated water-level and storage changes in the aquifer from the time before substantial groundwater irrigation development began (predevelopment or generally before 1950) to the present.

Location map of the Great Plains Physiographic Province and the High Plains Aquifer

Location of the High Plains Aquifer.

The directive from Congress was contained in the Water Resources Development Act of 1986 (Public Law 99-662). This law recognized the economic importance of the High Plains aquifer to the States in the High Plains region and added Title III to the Water Resources Research Act of 1984 (Public Law 98-242). Title III states that the USGS in cooperation with "...the States of the High Plains region is authorized and directed to monitor the levels of the Ogallala [High Plains] Aquifer, and report annually to Congress."

Specifically, scientists at the USGS Nebraska Water Science Center

  • Assemble water-level measurements from the States that overlie the High Plains aquifer.
     
  • Map water-level changes in the aquifer from predevelopment (generally 1950) or 1980 to spring of the report year using water levels measured by Federal, State, and local agencies.
     
  • Map water-level changes in the aquifer for the last two years using water levels measured by Federal, State, and local agencies.
     
  • Determine change in water in storage in the aquifer for the reporting periods using the water-level data and estimates of specific yield.
     
  • Report water-level changes and changes in water in storage to Congress and to the public every two years.

Findings from the Current Report

  • Water-level changes from predevelopment to 2015, by well, ranged from a rise of 84 feet to a decline of 234 feet.
     
  • Area-weighted, average water-level changes from
    • Predevelopment to 2015 was a decline of 15.8 feet.
    • From 2013 to 2015 was a decline of 0.6 feet.
       
  • Recoverable water in storage in the aquifer in 2015 was about 2.91 billion acre-feet.
     
  • Change in water in storage from
    • Predevelopment to 2015 was a decline of 273.2 million acre-feet.
    • From 2013 to 2015 was a decline of 10.7 million acre-feet.

These results are available in USGS Scientific Investigations Report 2017-5040 titled "Water-level and recoverable water in storage changes, High Plains aquifer, predevelopment to 2015 and 2013–15".

 

High Plains Area

The High Plains aquifer underlies 174,000 mi2 in parts of eight States:

  • Colorado
  • Kansas
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • Oklahoma
  • South Dakota
  • Texas
  • Wyoming

The area that overlies the aquifer occupies part of the Great Plains Physiographic Province. The Great Plains Physiographic Province is a vast east-tilted surface formed by deposition of sediment eroded from the ancestral Rocky Mountains, beginning about 65 million years ago. The Great Plains Physiographic Province is characterized by gently sloping, smooth plains. The land surface elevation of the High Plains area ranges from about 7,800 feet above the National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929 (NGVD 29) on the western boundary to 1,160 feet above NGVD 29 on the eastern boundary.

Additional Information

Additional information about the High Plains area, the High Plains Aquifer, data, and publications are available on the High Plains Water-Level Monitoring Study web site.