Declining water sources focus of virtual summit

By Jennifer Dorsett

Almost a year after the originally scheduled in-person event was cancelled by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Ogallala Aquifer Virtual Summit is slated to take place Feb. 24-25.

The program, a series of conversations and discussions, is scheduled from 8 a.m. to noon each day. Farmers, ranchers and residents of the communities who depend on the Ogallala Aquifer are encouraged to participate and connect over various issues surrounding the use and conservation of the declining resource.

“Although our focus remains the same as we originally planned—asking tough questions, especially about the human dimension of conserving the Ogallala—we’ve condensed the program and reworked it from top to bottom to ensure that participants have a rewarding, engaging Zoom experience,” said Brent Auvermann, Ph.D., Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center director in Amarillo.

The summit is a collaboration between AgriLife, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project, Kansas Water Office and the Ogallala Aquifer Program. It will consist of pre-recorded panel discussions with live question-and-answer rounds.

Keynote addresses will be delivered by Texas Water Resources Institute Director Dr. John Tracy and Natalie Houston, U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist.

The Ogallala Aquifer stretches south from Wyoming to the Texas Panhandle, underlying portions of eight states along the way. Regional economies depend almost exclusively on agriculture irrigated by groundwater pumped from the Ogallala, but the water is being extracted faster than it can be replenished, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website.

The virtual summit gives representatives from all eight states the opportunity to have open dialogue about actions that may be taken to conserve and protect the critical water table, Auvermann noted.

“Researchers around the world are learning that although advances in irrigation technology are vitally important, they are not enough by themselves to help us conserve a depletable resource like the Ogallala,” he said. “What we need are advances in the human dimension of conservation, policies and market frameworks that create space for innovative, voluntary, collective action. We need to experiment. Individual states and their smaller political subdivisions are great laboratories for that kind of experimentation.”

The last summit held in Garden City, Kansas, in 2018, created ideas for some new programs and projects. An update will be provided on new activities and policy changes that arose because of that feedback and input.

“Water conservation technologies are helpful, and we need more of them, but human decision-making is the real key to conserving the Ogallala,” Auvermann said. “The emergence of voluntary associations among agricultural water users to reduce groundwater use is an encouraging step, and we need to learn from those associations’ experiences with regard to what works and what doesn’t, and what possibilities exist that don’t require expanding the regulatory state.”

A complete schedule, as well as registration links, are available at USDA Ogallala Water Coordinated Agriculture Project’s website.

Advanced registration by Feb. 23 is required. General admission is $20 per day or $40 total, but farmers, ranchers and students only pay $10 per day or $20 total.

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