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Ogallala Aquifer levels in Kansas drop

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) -- Water levels in the Ogallala Aquifer, a vast underground reservoir, have dropped significantly in sections of Kansas since last year, according to the Kansas Geological Survey.

Rex Buchanan, interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey, recently completed an annual tour of the 1,400 wells that tap into the Ogallala in western Kansas. He said overall levels dropped about three and a half feet in January 2013 compared to last year. Declines in January 2012 averaged 4.25 feet, he said.

The water level declines were sharper in northwestern Kansas, which was especially dry in 2012. In southwestern Kansas, which saw a little more rain last year than the year before, the decrease wasn't quite as severe, he told the Lawrence Journal-World (http://bit.ly/12nTlT8 ).

The Ogallala, underground water locked inside gravel and sand hundreds of feet below the surface, stretches across several states, from Nebraska to Texas, including about 30,500 square miles in western and central Kansas.

Buchanan said even in a normal year, the aquifer only recharges at an annual rate of about a half-inch. But users in some sections are pumping water out at a rate of two to four feet per year and sometimes more. That rate, however, only increases during periods of prolonged drought like the one the region has been experiencing.

"There's no question about it, we're running smack dab into the limitations of the aquifer itself today and the demand placed upon it by those pumping wells," said Mark Rude, executive director of Groundwater Management District No. 3, which governs water resources in much of southwestern Kansas, said

As water tables in parts of the aquifer have declined, state and local officials have started conservation measures in some parts of the state. This year, for example, Groundwater Management District No. 3 is imposing stiffer penalties for users who pump more than their permits allow, with fines up to $10,000 and a one-year suspension of water rights for repeated violations.

Another measure has been to close off large areas of the aquifer to new water right appropriations. And in Dodge City in southwest Kansas, City manager Ken Stroble said the city recently installed a new water reclamation facility that recycles the city's wastewater so it can be used as a source of irrigation water.