The High Plains aquifer underlies one of the major agricultural regions in the world, including parts of eight States--Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. In the area underlain by the High Plains aquifer (called the High Plains region in this report), the total number of acres irrigated with ground water expanded rapidly after 1940: 1949--2.1 million acres; 1959--6.1 million acres; 1969--9.0 million acres; and 1980--13.7 million acres (Gutentag and others, 1984; Thelin and Heimes, 1987). In 1990, about 95 percent of the water withdrawn from the High Plains aquifer (about 15.7 million acre-feet) was used for irrigation (Marilee Horn, U.S.Geological Survey, written commun., 1996).
Water-level declines appeared in the High Plains aquifer soon after extensive ground-water irrigation development began. By 1980, water levels in the High Plains aquifer in parts of Texas, Oklahoma, and southwestern Kansas had declined more than 100 feet (Luckey and others, 1981). In response to these declines, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with numerous Federal, State, and local water resource agencies, began a ground-water monitoring program in 1988 to assess annual water-level change in the aquifer using water-level measurements from more than 7,000 wells. The purpose of this report is to present (1) water-level changes in the High Plains aquifer from 1980 to 1997 and from 1996 to 1997, (2) the precipitation pattern in the High Plains region during 1996, and (3) estimated saturated thickness of the High Plains aquifer in 1996-97. The water-level measurements used in this report were collected in winter or early spring when irrigation wells were not pumping. Map scale and density of water-level elevation data preclude showing small areas in the maps of water-level change and saturated thickness where the value may be more or less than indicated.