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Exploiting an Underutilized Trove of Agrohydrology Information: Interpretation of Hydrographs from Aquifers Supporting Irrigated Agriculture
  • James Butler,
  • Steven Knobbe,
  • Edward Reboulet
James Butler
University of Kansas

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Steven Knobbe
University of Kansas
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Edward Reboulet
Kansas Geological Survey
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Many of the world’s major aquifers are under severe stress as a result of intensive pumping in support of irrigated agriculture. The question of what the future holds for these aquifers and the agricultural production they support is of paramount importance in a world of burgeoning populations, dietary shifts, and climate change. Addressing that question requires a better understanding of the how and why of a particular aquifer’s response to pumping. One important, but largely underutilized, source of information is the data from monitoring well networks that provide near-continuous records of water levels through time. Although many regions have such networks operated by local, state, or Federal entities, the vast majority of efforts are, by fiscal necessity, focused on keeping the networks up and running. Little, if any, time is spent on interpreting the acquired hydrographs. The index well network in the High Plains aquifer (HPA) in central and western Kansas is an exception, as hydrograph interpretation is an important program emphasis. Examination of multiyear hydrographs has resulted in the development of profound insights concerning, for example, the frequency of episodic recharge, the magnitude and variability of net inflow, characteristics of the monitored aquifer (continuity, hydraulic regime, etc.), and the impact of extreme meteorological events. These insights have allowed us to develop a significantly better understanding of how the aquifer will respond to proposed management actions; such an understanding is critical for charting more sustainable paths for aquifers across the globe. We will demonstrate these points through an examination of two multiyear hydrographs from the HPA in western Kansas with an emphasis on the insights that shed light on the prospects for the sustainability of this heavily stressed system and the agricultural production that it supports.