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Ogallala Aquifer Initiative

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.

Using a comprehensive set of conservation practices, the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative (OAI) aims to reduce aquifer water use, improve water quality and enhance the economic viability of croplands and rangelands in Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, New Mexico, Texas, South Dakota and Wyoming.

What's New



USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) supports targeted, local efforts to conserve the quality and quantity of water in nine targeted focus areas through the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative, adding two new focus areas for fiscal year 2016, while continuing support for seven ongoing projects. These projects include building soil health by using cover crops and no-till, which allow the soil to hold water longer and buffer roots from higher temperatures; improving the efficiency of irrigation systems; and implementing prescribed grazing to relieve pressure on stressed vegetation.

The new focus areas include:

Middle Republican Natural Resource District in Nebraska: The project addresses groundwater quantity and quality concerns. The focus will be in areas where groundwater pumping contributes to high levels of stream flow depletion. Priority will be given to areas where groundwater pumping contributes to more than 48 percent of the overall aquifer depletion rate. The project will enable participants to voluntarily implement practices to conserve irrigation water and improve groundwater quality.

Oklahoma Ogallala Aquifer Initiative: This project will help landowners implement conservation practices that decrease water use. It includes an educational component that will educate citizens about water conservation and conservation systems. These systems include converting from irrigated to dryland farming and conservation practices that improve irrigation water management; crop residue and tillage management; nutrient and pesticide management; grazing systems; and playa wetland restorations. The targeted area includes places where great amounts of water are consumed. Focal areas will be heavily-populated municipalities in the aquifer region.

How it works



thumbnail of map focus areas for fy17 ogallala aquifer initiative


Conservation activities are targeted in focus areas where NRCS and partners have identified projects that conserve water and strengthen agricultural operations. NRCS provides agricultural producers with technical and financial assistance to implement a variety of conservation practices, including improving irrigation efficiency, managing nutrients, implementing prescribed grazing and other conservation systems. Funding comes from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and partners typically leverage additional funds in focus areas.

During fiscal years 2011-2014, OAI addressed water quantity and water quality concerns in wide-ranging targeted areas in eight states that occupy the Ogallala Aquifer region. 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 work with producers to plan and implement conservation systems that result in meaningful water conservation benefits in those focus areas. These efforts can also reduce leaching of nutrients to drinking water sources.

NRCS collaborates with local conservation districts, state environmental agencies and land grant universities to select focus areas and other opportunities for conservation projects.




The overall goal of OAI is 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 has set five milestones for its work with producers and partners to complete by 2018. These milestones include the conservation of 102,320 acre-feet of water, improving irrigation efficiency on 49,400 acres, converting operations to dryland farming on 30,350 acres, installing 202 irrigation water management systems, and applying nutrient management on 21,000 acres.

Initiative Result



By improving irrigating efficiency and implementing conservation systems, producers benefit from using less inputs. Improved water management reduces expenditures for energy, chemicals and labor inputs, while enhancing revenues through higher crop yields and improved crop quality. Additionally these efforts help maintain the long-term viability of the irrigated agricultural sector and offset the effect of rising water costs and restricted water supplies on producer income. 

By conserving water, the useful life of the aquifer may be extended, flow is increased in rivers, benefiting wildlife like the least tern, whooping crane, pallid sturgeon and piping plover. 

2017 Progress Report

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