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A Kansas native's personal reckoning with the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer

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The long arms of pivot irrigation rigs deliver water from the Ogallala Aquifer to circular fields of corn in northwestern Kansas.
Dan Charles
/
NPR
The long arms of pivot irrigation rigs deliver water from the Ogallala Aquifer to circular fields of corn in northwestern Kansas.

Anthropologist and author Lucas Bessire says the influence of corporate agribusiness over the political process in Kansas has prevented policymakers from saving the Ogallala Aquifer.

As agricultural irrigation continues to drain the crucial water supply of the Ogallala Aquifer beneath the Great Plains, Lucas Bessire — whose family spent five generations working as irrigation farmers and ranchers in western Kansas — says it's clear why the government hasn't addressed this issue.

"Part of the reason is because of the outsize influence of corporate agribusiness in the political process in Kansas," says Bessire, now an anthropologist at the University of Oklahoma.

Last year, the bipartisan Kansas House Water Committee built a proposal that would have restructured water governance in Kansas, but it was derailed at the last minute.

Bessire joined KCUR's Up To Date to talk about the state of the Ogallala Aquifer from his own perspective and to discuss his 2021 book "Running Out: In Search of Water on the High Plains."

  • Lucas Bessire, author, University of Oklahoma anthropology professor
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