National Geographic : 2016 Aug
110 national geographic • August 2016 Julene Bair, author of The Ogallala Road, a memoir about love, loss, and selling the farm that had been in her family for three genera- tions, recounted how her father had heard, as she put it, the Ogallala’s “siren call” and switched from sustainable dryland wheat to unsustain- able corn. She spoke emphatically about the failure of volunteer efforts to limit pumping of the aquifer. “Local control is not working,” she told the farmers in the audience. “It asks too much of the farmer to regulate himself. It’s not the farmer’s job to decide about the aquifer, it’s the government’s job.” THE LLANO ESTACADO, the largest flat plateau in North America, spreads out from Odessa north to Amarillo, Texas, and west into New Mexico. The aquifer here is so dry that center-pivot sprinklers draw from multiple wells, the unofficial record being one pivot near Lubbock that draws from 21 wells. Not only is irrigated farming in trouble, but water supplies for surrounding towns are too. Sediment that formed the Ogallala aquifer sloughed off from the Rocky Mountains, creating gravel that is mined for construction materials. Sixteen acres of the gravel are stored near Slaton, Texas.