The future of the High Plains Aquifer: addressing potential desertification in the Great Plains
Date of Award
Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA)
The past century of extractive pumping of underground water coupled with climate change and extreme weather since the 1950s led to great unpredictability and uncertainty about the future of the landscapes of the high plains. The High Plains, or Ogallala Aquifer, has significantly declined as water continues to be pumped to irrigate crops. Reports and scientists estimate that the aquifer will dry in 30 years. The Dust Bowl of the 1930s is an example of a man-made catastrophe that resulted from the mismanagement of the agricultural landscape. The Shelterbelt Project, proposed as part of the New Deal in 1935, did not directly protect the dust bowl core zone. Most of the shelterbelt areas have degraded or been removed as they are aging or conflict with center pivot irrigation. This thesis learns from the past to preempt a landscape crisis as the Ogallala aquifer dries up and farmland can no longer be irrigated at the rate it has been for the past century. The design proposes multifunctional windbreaks and regenerative agriculture through planned grazing rotation. This model will reduce the underground water usage, restore the prairie ecology, increase biodiversity, help reduce potential desertification, and provide a series of social activities to maintain this landscape’s economic and social viability while restoring the prairie.
Zuo, Hongfei, "The future of the High Plains Aquifer: addressing potential desertification in the Great Plains" (2022). Masters Theses. 958.
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View exhibition online: Hongfei Zuo, The Future of High Plains Aquifer