Because groundwater is so important, water quality scientists spend a lot of time studying how contaminants can get into the aquifer, deep underground. Dan Snow says growing up, he wasn’t planning on being a scientist.

While surface water development led the early history of irrigation in Nebraska, it became common for farmers to tap the wealth of water below ground beginning in the 1930s.

Water loss through porous canals and ditches has always been an issue for irrigators, so districts and farmers alike have lined or sealed the waterways to reduce loss. “We can’t afford to lose a whole lot of water out of the canal,” Busch said, but “sealing a canal is a catch-22 because that water that comes out of them canals does replenish our groundwater system.”

Across the semi-arid landscape of the Nebraska Sandhills, ranchers have utilized the power of wind since the settlement period more than a century ago. Windmills are used to pump groundwater from the underlying aquifer to the surface where it is stored in stock tanks for livestock.