Author’s memoir explores ties to Ogallala Aquifer


March 17th, 2014

Omaha, NE — Growing up on a Kansas farm made author Julene Bair appreciate everything about life on the Great Plains.

The preservation of the Ogallala Aquifer is especially close to her heart.

“The water is very personal to me. I grew up with a windmill that pumped water to the surface at about the rate of five to 10 gallons of water a minute,” Bair said. “That water was delicious; the best in the world my mother always said. So, I grew up with this consciousness that we were very lucky to have such wonderful fresh water.”

Bair explores her sensitive and, at times, controversial relationship with her family’s land and use of the Ogallala Aquifer in her memoir “The Ogallala Road.”Bair-Jacket-Photo-small-lighter (2)

The aquifer serves as a primary source of drinking water for approximately 2.3 million people and also sustains more than one quarter of the Nation’s agricultural production, according to an assessment by the United States Geological Survey’s Groundwater Resources Program.

A report by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture lists corn and soybeans as the second and third leading commodities in 2011. The state has 93,557 registered active irrigation wells supplying water to more than 8.5 million acres of harvested cropland and pasture.

Bair said it was a travesty to watch her family’s dry land wheat farm morph into an irrigation farm for corn and soybeans.

“If you talk to people who were irrigating, they would say ‘yes, that water is precious, and we need to do all that we can to use it wisely.’ But at the same time, the economy, the way it’s set up, the way the federal farm program is set up and also the way the ethanol mandate is set up, there is a lot of pressure on farmers to grow corn because it’s very profitable,” she said.

Bair said we live in a culture that encourages this sort of treatment of the environment and that it’s not always rational. In a piece she wrote for the New York Times, Bair touched on the potential upset to the aquifer the Keystone XL pipeline would pose to the water supply.

“I think it’s really good when people come out and visit the farmers and the ranchers and look at the place where the pipeline is supposed to go and realize what damage to that pipeline could do to that part of the aquifer. It could be quite serious,” Bair said. “What I am addressing in my book is more of what’s happening every day right now with industrial agriculture not only pumping the water at an unsustainable rate but also spreading chemicals over the top of it that are leaching down into the aquifer.”

Bair said she would like people to realize that their relationship with nature is vital and important.

“Our climate is challenged, we’re losing our water, we’re losing our top soil, our atmosphere…there are so many things. We won’t even be able to live on this planet if we keep going at this rate,” she said.

Bair is a part of the Colorado Food Investment Club, which invests money in farmers who grow food locally to reestablish a local food system.

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