Groundwater Levels Rise in Western, Central Kansas

April 16, 2019

In Western & Central Kansas, groundwater levels are slightly up or near steady

Groundwater levels during 2018, on average, rose or remained even throughout most of western and central Kansas, according to preliminary data compiled by the Kansas Geological Survey.

“By and large, 2018 was a good year for groundwater levels,” said Brownie Wilson, KGS water-data manager, to the University of Kansas. “Virtually all levels in south-central Kansas wells were up along with a good portion of those in northwest Kansas, and although southwest Kansas saw a few decline areas in the usual spots, they were not as great as in years past.”

The KGS, based at the University of Kansas, and the Kansas Department of Agriculture’s Division of Water Resources (DWR) measure more than 1,400 water wells in Kansas annually, according to the University of Kansas.

According to the University, 90% of the data comes from wells tapping the aquifer. The other wells are drilled into other aquifers underlying the High Plains aquifer and shallow aquifers adjacent to surface-water sources, such as the Arkansas River. Most of the 1,400 wells have been measured for decades.

The High Plains aquifer is comprised of three individual aquifers— the widespread Ogallala aquifer that underlies most of the western third of Kansas, the Equus Beds around Wichita and Hutchinson, and the Great Bend Prairie aquifer around Pratt and Great Bend.

According to the University, water levels in the Ogallala aquifer are influenced by the amount of water withdrawn each year, which in turn is affected by the rate and timing of precipitation. Recharge adds little groundwater to the Ogallala. In central Kansas, recharge has more of an impact because the Equus Beds and Great Bend Prairie aquifer are shallower and average precipitation in that part of the state is higher.

Most of the wells in the network monitored by the KGS and DWR are within the boundaries of the state’s five Groundwater Management Districts (GMDs), which are organized and governed by area landowners and local water users to address water-resource issues, according to the University.

In Southwest Kansas GMD 3, average levels dropped .39 ft. According to the University, the change was less than in 17 of the last 20 years when levels fell between .5  and 3.5 ft annually. A rise of .05 ft in 2017 was the only positive movement during that time.