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Ogallala Aquifer Initiative FY 2011 to FY 2018

Ogallala Aquifer Initiative

Underlying the Great Plains in eight states, the Ogallala supports nearly one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cotton and cattle produced in the United States. It has long been the main water supply for the High Plains’ population and is being used at an unsustainable rate. The reservoir was created more than a million years ago through geologic action and covers about 174,000 square miles.

NRCS and Conservation Partners operated an Ogallala Aquifer Initiative (OAI) between 2011 and 2018 to
support targeted, local efforts to conserve the availability of water, both its quantity and quality, in each of the
States covering one of the world's largest fresh groundwater resources. Five milestones were established to
guide the delivery of comprehensive conservation assistance, with aim to help farmers and ranchers reduce
aquifer water use, improve water quality and enhance the economic viability of agriculture in nine high priority
focus areas in six of the eight states: Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

What's New



USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) continues to work with Conservation Partners to support targeted, local efforts to help producers and organizations conserve the natural resources of the Great Plains for agricultural production and environmental services. The final report of the OAI shows the overall summary of NRCS investments made in the nine high priority focus areas targeted during this particular effort. At least 96% of each milestone was achieved leading to healthier soil nutrient and water cycling in cropping systems, improved efficiency of irrigation systems on the farm, healthier vegetation on pastures and range, and better management of water resources for the whole community.

Learn more about the nine OAI focus areas here and ongoing efforts by NRCS at each of its state websites.

How it works

thumbnail of map focus areas for fy17 ogallala aquifer initiative



Conservation activities were targeted to high priority focus areas where NRCS and partners helped producers conserve water and strengthen agricultural operations. NRCS provided technical and financial assistance to implement conservation practices needed to improve irrigation efficiency, nutrient cycling, plant and animal health, and other services of well-managed conservation systems. Funding came from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and partners typically leveraged additional funds
in focus areas.

During fiscal years 2011-2014, OAI addressed water quantity and water quality concerns in wide-ranging areas across the eight states that cover the Ogallala Aquifer. Starting in 2015, funds were targeted to smaller focus areas identified by state and local partners as high priorities for OAI technical and financial assistance. NRCS and these partners worked with producers to plan and implement conservation systems that resulted in meaningful water conservation and quality benefits in those focus areas including protection of drinking water sources in the communities.

NRCS collaborates with local conservation districts, state
environmental agencies, land grant universities, NGOs and private businesses and industry to select focus areas and enable the delivery of high impact conservation solutions.

Goals and accomplishments header



The overall goal of OAI was to reduce withdrawals of water and support local projects that demonstrate
how agriculture can be productive and sustainable in the Ogallala region. To achieve this, NRCS and
partners set five milestones starting in 2015 to deliver assistance to producers in nine high priority focus
areas by 2018. Over the four year period, 625 contracts were obligated to deliver $48.85M of financial
assistance to improve over 98 thousand contracted acres.

Initiative Result



100% of the milestones established for conserving 102,320 acre-feet of water, improving irrigation efficiency on 49,400 acres, installing 202 irrigation water management systems, applying nutrient management on 21,000 acres, and 96% of the milestone for converting 30,350 acres to dryland farming were achieved.

By improving irrigating efficiency and implementing soil and water conservation systems, crop producers can
benefit from using less inputs, lower expenditures for water and energy, and enhanced revenues through higher crop yields and improved crop quality. Additionally these improvements help maintain the long-term economic viability of the irrigated agricultural sector by offsetting the effect of restricted water supplies on income.

Cover of Ogallala 2019 final report

FY 2018 Final Report (PDF, 1MB)

Contact: Dan Dostie, Coordinator, (202) 720-6558