Besides setting the stage for a record-breaking fire season, the drought forced farmers to pump more groundwater to make up for the rainfall deficit. Without the extra pumping, the drought would have decimated their crops.
Farmers in the District draw from the Ogallala Aquifer, a vast underground water reserve that supplies portions of eight states and waters 27 percent of the nation’s irrigated cropland. Since much of the aquifer gets little recharge from rainfall today, rising rates of pumping have led to steady depletion. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a volume of groundwater equivalent to two-thirds of the water held in Lake Erie has been depleted from the Ogallala since 1940.