Additionally, Secretary Vilsack noted that over the period of the recently expired Farm Bill, conservation systems installed with support from NRCS programs reduced water withdrawn from the Ogallala Aquifer by at least 860,000 acre feet. This is more than enough water to cover the area of Washington D.C. nearly 20 feet deep and is equivalent to the domestic water use of approximately 9.6 million individuals for a year (based on USGS estimated use of 80 gallons per person per day). The quantity represents about 1.1 percent of the total groundwater irrigation withdrawals from the aquifer over the same period. At the agricultural sales level from the 2007 Census of Agriculture, an extension of aquifer life of 1.1 percent would transfer into sales "today" of about $82 million. These reduced water withdrawals have also resulted in a related energy savings of the equivalent of at least 18 million gallons of diesel fuel.
The NRCS Ogallala Aquifer Initiative supported over one-quarter of these reduced withdrawals, approximately 238,000 acre feet, and achieved these reductions in the most sensitive areas of States in the Ogallala region. Funding through the initiative is targeted to areas where there has been a significant (over 25 foot) decline in the level of the aquifer or where there is a significant vulnerability for contamination of the aquifer through groundwater recharge.
While USDA's efforts during the drought have delivered assistance to those who need it most, Vilsack noted that the Department is hampered in its efforts by lack of a Farm Bill and he urged Congress to take action so that programs that could assist affected producers could be used to help them. Vilsack also announced that, in the wake of a series of regional drought conferences with farmers, ranchers, business owners and other stakeholders, a memorandum of understanding is being entered into with the Department of Commerce, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to improve sharing of data and expertise, monitoring networks, and drought forecasting efforts. The MOU is a direct outcome of the regional conferences, Vilsack said. In recent months, USDA has partnered with local governments, colleges, state and federal partners to conduct a series of regional drought workshops. Hundreds of producers met with government officials to discuss needs, and programs available to them. Vilsack kicked off the first meeting in Nebraska, and additional meetings were held in Colorado, Arkansas, and Ohio.