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.
Ranchers place windmills at key locations on their land to provide cattle with a fresh source of water. With several windmills sprawled across the land, ranchers can graze their cattle on a rotational basis, from pasture to pasture, in order to prevent overgrazing or harm to the fragile soil. In between grazing the grasslands, cattle gather at the stock tanks to drink the cold water and rest, making the small section around the tank bare. Though this small area experiences stress, the rest of the native grassland remains unharmed due to its vast extent and the rotational grazing system.
Groundwater is the major source of water and what makes life possible in the Nebraska Sandhills. It is used in homes, for livestock, and for irrigating crop fields. Windmills are one of many innovative tools used in the West to fulfill our water needs. Without these tools, the Nebraska Sandhills would have a different appearance altogether.
Sierra Harris was a PBT intern and staff member from 2011 through 2014 while she was a student in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s School of Natural Resources.