During the most heated point in the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline last year, the state of Nebraska was poised to act as spoiler. The pipeline as initially proposed ran over Nebraska farmland, but also -- critically for the region -- over the Ogallala Aquifer, a pristine water source widely tapped for drinking and irrigation.
Given the significant possible damage to the aquifer from a spill, TransCanada, the Canadian company that hopes to build the pipeline, proposed an alternate route. That new route avoids the Nebraska Sand Hills, a region that acts as a sort of sponge for the aquifer. Mother Nature Network describes it:
[The Sand Hills] may not be as well-known as the Mississippi Delta, the Everglades or the Chesapeake Bay, but they harbor one of the most pristine wetland ecosystems in the entire Lower 48 states. Not only is the area home to swaths of unspoiled prairie and wetlands -- which themselves are home to a diverse menagerie of wildlife -- but it also serves as a capstone for the Ogallala Aquifer, a giant underground freshwater source that provides nearly one-third of the country's irrigation groundwater. …
As much as half of the region's annual rainfall percolates down to the Ogallala Aquifer, which contains an estimated 1 billion acre-feet of groundwater below the Sand Hills.
An uncontrolled spill of thick, corrosive tar-sands oil would be a massive disaster. Here's the new route proposed by TransCanada, threading the needle on the Sand Hills.