Aquifer 101


The facts behind Nebraska’s tremendous groundwater resources.

Is an aquifer an “underground ocean” of water?

No. The term “aquifer” actually refers to earth materials, often formations of solid rock, that can store and transmit water. So the aquifer is not water; it’s saturated sediments that have been deposited over the past 35 million years. When we pull water from the aquifer, it’s a bit like sucking water out of a sponge made of rock, gravel, sand and other geologic materials.

What is the Ogallala Aquifer?

The Ogallala Aquifer that lies beneath Nebraska is part of a larger system known as the High Plains Aquifer, which underlies about 174,000 square miles across Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas—as well as parts of Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico.

What is an acre-foot?

An acre-foot is a unit of volume used in reference
for large-scale water resources such as reservoirs,
lakes, etc. An acre-foot is defined as the volume of
one acre of surface area to the depth of one foot. One
acre-foot contains about 325,853 gallons of water.

Is this the only aquifer in Nebraska?

While the Ogallala is the largest, there are actually up to six different aquifers under Nebraska—all part of the High Plains Aquifer.

How much water is in the High Plains Aquifer?

In 1980, it was estimated that the High Plains Aquifer contained about 3.25 billion acre-feet of drainable water. About 66 percent—or some 2.154 billion acre-feet—was in Nebraska. Those figures change with rainfall, drought and demand for municipal, recreational and agricultural usage.

How quickly does water move through the aquifer?

Groundwater in the Ogallala Aquifer moves from west to east at a rate of about 150 feet per year.

A snail moves 1575 times faster than water moves through the aquifer!

A snail can cover 656 feet per day. Water in the aquifer travels  about 5 inches per day.

How does irrigation in Nebraska affect groundwater levels in Texas?

The Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska is not continuous to Texas. The Republican River valley in Nebraska has cut through the Ogallala Aquifer, effectively creating a barrier that keeps Nebraska separate from Texas. Declines in Texas stay within Texas, and declines or rises in Nebraska levels stay in Nebraska.

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CornsTalk is a newsletter produced by the Nebraska Corn Board that covers important subjects and provides regular updates on various programs of interest to corn growers and others.