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Recent rains have little effect on Ogallala Aquifer

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Southeastern New Mexico has had some rain, but it’s likely not doing much to recharge the Ogallala Aquifer.

Mike Johnson with the Office of the State Engineer says whether rain recharges the aquifer is a complicated question, since the agency doesn’t measure recharge directly. State water managers cooperate with the U.S. Geological Survey to measure well levels to get an idea of how much water is in the aquifer and if levels are changing or staying stable.

Johnson tells the Hobbs News-Sun it’s uncommon for wells in the Ogallala Aquifer to be recharged by rain, although it isn’t unheard of.

“It depends on the aquifer,” he said. “Some aquifers are much more responsive to events like that, and you will see the water levels come up in response to rain and/or runoff, stream flow.”

But there aren’t many streams in the High Plains, and the region has been grappling with drought for years. However, current maps show abnormally dry conditions are less than they were just three months ago.

The Ogallala stretches from New Mexico to several other states, providing water to nearly one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cotton and cattle produced in the U.S. Officials say it’s being depleted at an unsustainable rate. Johnson pointed to a well north of Hobbs to show that the water level in the Ogallala is steadily dropping with little influence from the weather. From the early 1940s to 2015, the well in question saw a change of about 70 feet.

“What you see is a pretty steady decline in water level from the 1940s to today with a few blips up and down here and there, but you don’t really see necessarily any kind of departure due to changes in weather. There’s too much of a lag time,” he said.

The pattern is dominated more by pumping throughout the region, Johnson said. He said the well was similar to most wells in the aquifer, particularly those in agricultural regions where constant irrigation use has drastically lowered water levels.

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