Researchers at Michigan State University are warning about the impact on the underground body of water, also known as the Ogallala Aquifer, that stretches from Texas to South Dakota and drives much of the region's economy.
"Already, there are regions in Texas and Kansas where farmers can't pump enough water to meet the demands of their crops," MSU ecosystem scientist Bruno Basso said. "If current withdrawal rates continue, such depletion will expand across extensive portions of the central and southern areas served by the aquifer during the next few decades."
The number of irrigated acres across the region is still increasing despite the widespread, rapid decline of the water table, the researchers said, offering some policy solutions to avert some aspects of the water crisis.
Federal crop insurance could be changed to allow substantial water reductions, they said, especially for crops categorized as fully irrigated.
Adoption of precision agriculture strategies would allow farmers to combine GPS technologies with site-specific management to identify which areas in fields need more -- or less -- water and fertilizer.
Such targeted policy changes could both increase farmer's profitability and reduce environmental impact, the researchers said.
"When you have a cut in your hand and need disinfectant, you don't dive into a pool of medicine, you apply it only where you need it and in the quantity that is strictly necessary; we can do the same in agricultural now," Basso said.