MANHATTAN, Kan. – Kansas State University has received funding to further its work in managing groundwater – a topic especially important in Kansas and other states where critical water resources are being depleted much faster than they’re being replenished.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded $499,917 to the university to determine the best ways for farmers participating in local groups to effectively manage groundwater resources such as the Ogallala Aquifer, on which rural communities rely for water and farmers have depended on for years to irrigate their crops
The Ogallala underlies eight Great Plains states and provides water to nearly one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cotton and cattle raised in the United States. But the million-year-old, 174,000-square-mile underground reservoir is being depleted at an unsustainable rate.
Depleting an aquifer such as the Ogallala, a part of the High Plains Aquifer, through agricultural irrigation can ultimately have negative economic impacts on farmers due to reduced returns in the future, said Nathan Hendricks, a K-State agricultural economist who is leading the four-year project. For that reason, farmers have an incentive to collectively manage the extraction of water from the aquifer to maximize the net benefits of using it over time.
To help extend the life of aquifers by conserving the water in them, Kansas recently embarked on a policy experiment to encourage greater collective management of the Ogallala in western Kansas by local farmers. In some areas, management plans called Local Enhanced Management Areas or LEMAs, have been developed. Once approved by boards of directors from Groundwater Management Districts, those plans become binding on everyone within the policy boundary.
Other plans, called Water Conservation Areas (WCAs) are management plans that have also been implemented in parts of Kansas. Participation in WCAs is purely voluntary.
“Our project will examine how to formulate these LEMAs and WCAs in a way that obtains support among farmers to effectively manage the groundwater,” Hendricks said. “We will also look at how LEMAs and WCAs can be used together effectively.”
Hendricks and a team will study how economic incentives, characteristics of water users and policy design affect support for the collective management among water users. The team will also examine voluntary approaches compared with mandatory approaches to water management and the interaction between the two approaches.
The intent is help foster the success of LEMAs and WCAs with an eye toward slowing the aquifer’s depletion.
“More broadly, our project is of interest to other regions of the U.S. that seek to find ways for local resource users to collectively manage their resources,” Hendricks added.
The grant is one of 49 USDA-NIFA awards to improve sustainable agriculture and help rural communities thrive, according to a USDA statement. The funding, announced May 16 and totaling $17.9 million, was made possible through NIFA’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) program, authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill.
USDA-NIFA also awarded $49,716 to Kansas State University to coordinate and host a workshop on the economics of animal health and biosecurity. K-State agricultural economist Dustin Pendell is the lead investigator on that project.
“A number of factors are involved in achieving economic success in rural communities,” said NIFA Director Sonny Ramaswamy in the announcement. “These NIFA investments will help us understand the social and behavioral factors that inform decision-making in agriculture, which can help rural communities thrive.”