Frank Cockerill is an internationally recognized microbiologist who is interested in environmental matters, including the state of aquifers and groundwater. Groundwater, as he knows, as always been a valuable resource to human societies, but virtually none of it is monitored and there is no oversight to prevent either contamination or overuse.
The case of the Ogallala Aquifer is a case in point. As Frank Cockerill knows, the Ogallala Aquifer runs beneath parts of eight states in the American West and Midwest, from South Dakota to Texas. In the 1970s it became apparent that the Ogallala Aquifer was being depleted – a vital matter, since it supplies groundwater to such a vast area. It became increasingly politicized, and by 2001 a special citizens’ committee was formed in Kansas to advise state officials about possible conservation policies.
The fate of the Ogallala has been debated at the national level as well, as Frank Cockerill knows all too well. The focus has been on the regional impact of federal policies. Central to all of the debates is the question of why water conservation should even be considered a priority. The questions center on whether groundwater conservation is a matter of economic efficiency, one of equity, or a moral principle.
Of those three questions, economic efficiency has been given the greatest weight in shaping High Plains water policies. More recently, sustainability motives have entered the picture, with a “zero depletion” proposal in Kansas that would limit the withdrawals allowed in a given area to a specified period of time.