“Nebraska” comes from an Oto Indian word meaning “flat water,” referring to the Platte River. York County is south of the Platte River and is drained by the Big Blue River, Beaver Creek, Lincoln Creek, and Coon Creek. Early settlers hauled water from natural springs, dug wells by hand, or dug ditches to water their crops. Windmills were vital to pumping water for crops, livestock, and household use in the 1920s. Today’s farmers use windmills mostly to pump water for livestock. Irrigation wells are pumped with diesel or electric motors.

In the 1920s, York County farmers began to use groundwater for irrigating crops, but it wasn’t until the late 1930s that farmers drilled very deep wells and pumped water to the surface with gasoline or diesel powered pumps. Later, farmers used a series of tubes and gates to move water from deep wells to crops in the fields. Today, Nebraska is a leader in the use of center pivot irrigation, pumping water from deep below ground to irrigate crops.

What Is “Groundwater”?

aquifer mapGroundwater is the water found underground in the tiny cracks and spaces between layers of rocks, soil, and sand. Groundwater comes from rain and melting snow that seeps into the soil and collects in underground reservoirs called aquifers. The Ogallala Aquifer is like a huge bucket of gravel filled with water that lies beneath parts of eight states in the central plains, including Nebraska. Most of the water in the Ogallala Aquifer has been held there for thousands of years.

Written by Claudia Reinhardt.

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