The presence of water beneath the High Plains of Texas was widely known of by the first decade of the twentieth century, but it could not be abstracted economically until efficient pumps and engines were developed in the 1930s. Irrigation on the High Plains expanded rapidly during the late 1940s and early 1950s. At this time most people believed that the underground water-resources in the Ogallala Aquifer were limitless, and this led to the belief that water conservation measures were unnecessary. Given the perceived abundance of water, it was felt that control over the resource should reside at the local level and not be subject to the constraints of state or federal authorities. By the late 1950s and early 1960s, as well-water levels declined, it became apparent to a growing number of farmers that the reserves of the Ogallala Aquifer were finite and that they were being depleted at a rapid rate. This led to the voluntary introduction of water conservation techniques of which perhaps the best example was the spread of sprinkler irrigation.
Even more important, however, was the realization that if large-scale irrigation on the High Plains was to continue into the twenty-first century, it would only be able to do so on the basis of imported water, rather than by extraction of water from the Ogallala Formation. This seems to have dramatically changed the attitude of the local farmers— from a belief that the State had no part to play in water-resource management on the High Plains, to one in which the State is regarded as almost having a duty to supply the water needs of all its citizens. It is not suprising, therefore, that the farmers of the High Plains pressed strongly for the adoption of the Texas Water Plan in the mid-1960s. One of the main objectives of the Plan was to provide water from the Mississippi drainage basin via a major aqueduct through northern Texas to the Great Plains. Although the basic structure of the Texas Water Plan was accepted as a flexible framework for developing the water resources of the State in the late 1960s, it became obvious in the 1970s that the citizens in other parts of Texas were not willing to commit themselves to a massive water development scheme of enormous cost without its being widely felt to be absolutely essential.
By the early 1980s, many of the farmers of the High Plains had accepted that the State of Texas might not be willing, or even able, to supply the full water-needs of all its citizens and in particular the high irrigation needs of northwest Texas. Over the last few years, rising energy-costs have meant that it has become increasingly expensive to pump water from the ground, and this has forced farmers to employ water-conservation measures which in future may lead to less and less water being used—which in turn will permit the resource to be utilized for a prolonged period. In the long term, though, it does seem that increased emphasis will have to be placed on a return to dry-farming on the High Plains—such as alone existed before the 1930s—and that the irrigation boom of the late twentieth century will have been a temporary land-use phenomenon lasting for only a few decades.