Ogallala Aquifer Summit brings together experts

The 2024 Ogallala Aquifer Summit. (Photo by Kansas State University Research and Extension.)

“Change is not necessary, but survival is not mandatory,” was a recurring theme at the 2024 Ogallala Aquifer Summit, leaving a big impression on many attendees. Scientists from the Texas Water Resources Institute (TWRI) and the Ogallala Aquifer Program (OAP) participated in the summit on March 18-19 in Liberal, Kansas.

Around 250 people were present from various states, agencies and industries, “a sold-out crowd,” said Lucas Gregory, TWRI associate director and part of the OAP leadership team.

The Ogallala Aquifer is the largest underground water reservoir in the United States. It covers 174,000 square miles in Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. A major source of water for agricultural, municipal and industrial development on the High Plains, the Ogallala is being depleted as withdrawals exceed recharge.

The Ogallala Summit was hosted by the Kansas Water Office, Kansas State University, the Irrigation Innovation Consortium, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The OAP Annual Meeting followed the summit, March 20-21, also in Liberal, Kansas, and brought together scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Kansas State University, Texas A&M AgriLife Research and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Texas Tech University and West Texas A&M University.

Mobile drip irrigation in Kansas. (Photo by Kansas State University.)

Finding a way forward for the dwindling Ogallala

“There was a great mix of producers and agencies in attendance at the summit,” Gregory said. All aspects of the agricultural industry were present, from production to transportation. Seed companies, farmers and ranchers, cattle feeders, national security experts, and more gathered and had impactful round table discussions.

One standout idea, Gregory said, was the push from both cattle producers and crop producers for better and more efficient water use and consumption.

“An interesting thing we spoke about was that cattle feeders are asking for farmers in the area to switch from growing grain crops, such as corn, to forage crops such as sorghum,” he said. That change could create a ripple effect by potentially using less water to produce forage crops, while also giving feed companies the opportunity to continue buying feed products locally and keep money in the area’s economy.

Many industry professionals are mindful of their water usage and the limitations of the Ogallala Aquifer, and folks realize that change is needed to keep the backbone of the current agriculture system viable, he said.

Crop insurance’s effect on water use was also a major topic of discussion. Crop insurance is federally regulated, and currently, the structure of crop insurance policies often results in irrigation water being applied to crops that are already failing and claimed as a failure, in effect wasting water. Insurance payouts are based on average crop yields, typically over the past 5 growing seasons. Some summit attendees said this incentivizes producers to over-irrigate in an effort to keep their crop yield average as high as possible.  

The Ogallala Aquifer Summit was an educational and eye-opening experience for all those who could attend, Gregory said. TWRI and OAP partners continue to support and facilitate such collaborations, bringing together the brightest minds to help kickstart change and support resilient rural communities in the High Plains.

Learn more

To learn more about innovations in the Ogallala Aquifer region:


Madison Pigg is a communications intern at the Texas Water Resources Institute. In this role she assists with social media, helps develop and publish newsletters, and writes and edit news releases and other educational material published by the institute.

Share this post