WATER SECURITYTexas Farmers Are Worried One of the State’s Most Precious Water Resources Is Running Dry. You Should Be, Too.

By Jayme Lozano Carver

Published 21 June 2023

The Ogallala Aquifer serves farming communities in multiple states. When it runs dry, the agriculture industry in Texas and the nation is in jeopardy.

The Ogallala Aquifer is buried deep throughout the High Plains. The water flowing underneath is as good as gold for farmers in the region, serving as a lifeline in years when the drought and Texas heat wither crops.

It is a critical resource for the agricultural industry — not just in Texas, but in the other seven states that it lies beneath.

“At the end of the day, the Ogallala is propping us all up,” said Eric Simpson, the farm manager at At’l Do Farms on the outskirts of Lubbock. “No matter what, I’ll probably have to use water from it this summer because, without that, I don’t think we could grow much in West Texas unless it’s a cactus or a mesquite tree.”

Following several years of dry land and hardly any rainfall, farmers like Simpson in the High Plains are depending more on the aquifer. And that has consequences that are coming into focus.

On the heels of Texas’ worst drought in a decade, a report from the High Plains Underground Water Conservation District shows water levels in the Ogallala Aquifer, also known as the High Plains Aquifer, have dropped consistently in the region over the last five years. More than 1,300 wells were measured earlier this year, including ones from the smaller Edwards-Trinity Aquifer, all of which show varying degrees of decline. The biggest decrease was in Parmer County, which sits on the New Mexico border in between Lubbock and Amarillo, where there was a decline of 1.30 feet in the water levels.

This has caused concern for the future of agriculture in the High Plains. Scientists have found that climate change has pushed average temperatures higher in Texas, making heat waves and droughts worse. And with the warm temperatures continuing at night — and offering less relief — it’s harder to get the bountiful crops of cotton, grapes and corn the region is known for.

“Out here in West Texas, the one thing that they’re so dependent on to grow crops is water,” said Melanie Barnes, a senior research associate in geosciences for Texas Tech University. “That’s the one thing that really controls whether you can economically survive out here.”