Lost in the Stacks: Ogallala aquifer farewell

Once there was a verdant spot near the Cimarron River in southwest Kansas where weary, thirsty travelers could access clear spring water. Dubbed “Wagon Bed Springs” this welcome spot of rest and refreshment was an important stop on the Sante Fe Trail. Lucas Bessire’s grandmother Fern, a passionate local historian, was instrumental in marking the correct location of the springs. It was Lucas Bessire’s great-grandfather RW who destroyed the springs by depleting the groundwater – the Ogallala aquifer – with his pivot irrigation.  

In his award-winning book Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains, Lucas Bessire explores what the depletion of the Ogallala aquifer means for the land and the people of the Plains. Stretching from Texas to South Dakota, the Ogallala aquifer supplies irrigation for one third of the United States. Groundwater pumped from this ancient inland sea irrigates a bounty of water-intensive crops such as corn and alfalfa that nature never intended for the arid High Plains. Despite the green fields and plentiful harvests, the dry wells and vanished rivers of southwest Kansas tell another story: the Ogallala aquifer is running out of water. 

Bessire spoke with farmers, family members, bankers, crop insurers, those in favor of squeezing every drop from the aquifer and others actively supporting conservation. He discovered many are complicit in groundwater loss, but few are villains in the complex and interconnected world of agribusiness. Farmers over pump and double crop to pay off debts. Local water management boards advocate for “controlled depletion” to bolster the economy. State government struggles to implement meaningful policy to slow depletion when profit and growth conflict with conservation. 

The theme of depletion pervades Running Out – depletion of water, depletion of land, and depletion of time, resources and relationships. Bessire remembers an old bison bone he found as a child and reflects on the extermination of the fabled roaming buffalo. He meditates upon a trip he took with his Grandmother Fern to the nearby site of the Sand Creek massacre and the genocide of the Native American peoples. With so much loss, inevitably Running Out reads like an elegy for not just the Ogallala aquifer but also for the land and the people of the High Plains. Beautifully written and emotionally resonant, Running Out is a cry from the heart for us all to pay attention to the loss of a vital resource.

Author Talk April 21, 2022

Hear Bessire talk about his work and ask him questions during his author talk at the library Thu, April 21, 7-9pm in Claire’s Courtyard. His presentation is part of the National Book Foundation Presents the Power of Choice Author Talk with National Book Award-honored author and Kansas native Lucas Bessire and 2020 Fiction Longlist author Megha Majumdar. They will examine the power of choice in their two books with moderator Huascar Medina, Kansas Poet Laureate.

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Constant reader, book selector, shameless promoter of good reads - these are just a few of the things I do as a Collection Development Professional. I love sharing the hidden gems in our nonfiction collection!