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USDA Investing $8 Million in Ogallala Aquifer Initiative

The USDA announced Monday that it will invest $8 million in the nation’s largest aquifer—the Ogallala Aquifer. This money will supplement the Ogallala Aquifer Initiative (OAI) in fiscal year 2016 and will be distributed to farmers and ranchers across the eight states the aquifer serves in the High Plains region.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) carries out this initiative and has added two new focus areas in the High Plains region. The Middle Republican Natural Resource District in Nebraska and the Oklahoma Ogallala Aquifer Initiative will be added to the list of sponsored projects.

Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack said this initiative “helps landowners build resilience in their farms and ranches and better manage water use in this thirsty region.”

Over the past few years, the Ogallala Aquifer has seen multiple periods of drought and declining water resources. The USDA says this initiative is meant to help conserve billions of gallons of water each year while also strengthening the agriculture operations that rely on the aquifer. 

The Ogallala Aquifer saw its overall water level drop by 36.0 million acre-feet from 2011 to 2013. It extends across 174,000 square miles which includes almost all of Nebraska and also parts of Wyoming, Texas, South Dakota, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, and Colorado. The Aquifer provides water for 30% of all irrigation water used in the U.S. and supports nearly one-fifth of the wheat, corn, cotton, and cattle produced in the country.

Since 2011, the USDA has made a push to help conserve water on 341,000 acres in the U.S. So far, it has invested $74 million in helping over 1,600 agricultural producers to do this through the OAI. 

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