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Fact Sheet 2011-3069

Groundwater Resources Program

Changes in Water Levels and Storage in the High Plains Aquifer, Predevelopment to 2009

By V.L. McGuire

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (987 kB)Introduction

The High Plains aquifer underlies 111.8 million acres (175,000 square miles) in parts of eight States—Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. The area overlying the High Plains aquifer is one of the primary agricultural regions in the Nation. Water-level declines began in parts of the High Plains aquifer soon after the onset of substantial irrigation with groundwater from the aquifer (about 1950 and termed "predevelopment" in this fact sheet). By 1980, water levels in the High Plains aquifer in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and southwestern Kansas had declined more than 100 feet (ft) (Luckey and others, 1981). In 1987, in response to declining water levels, Congress directed the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in collaboration with numerous Federal, State, and local water-resources entities, to assess and track water-level changes in the aquifer. This fact sheet summarizes changes in water levels and drainable water in storage in the High Plains aquifer from predevelopment to 2009. Drainable water in storage is the fraction of water in the aquifer that will drain by gravity and can be withdrawn by wells. The remaining water in the aquifer is held to the aquifer material by capillary forces and generally cannot be withdrawn by wells. Drainable water in storage is termed "water in storage" in this report. A companion USGS report presents more detailed and technical information about water-level and storage changes in the High Plains aquifer during this period (McGuire, 2011).

Revised December 15, 2011

First posted July 22, 2011

For additional information contact:
Director, USGS Nebraska Water Science Center
5231 South 19th Street, Lincoln, Nebraska 68512

Part or all of this report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF); the latest version of Adobe Reader or similar software is required to view it. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge.

Suggested citation:

McGuire, V.L., 2011, Changes in water levels and storage in the High Plains Aquifer, predevelopment to 2009, U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2011-3069, 2 p. Available on the Web at

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