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ARS Home » Plains Area » Bushland, Texas » Conservation and Production Research Laboratory » Soil and Water Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #304075

Research Project: IMPROVING WATER PRODUCTIVITY AND NEW WATER MANAGEMENT TECHNOLOGIES TO SUSTAIN RURAL ECONOMIES

Location: Soil and Water Management Research

Title: The future of irrigation on the High Plains

Author
item Evett, Steven - Steve
item Colaizzi, Paul
item O`shaughnessy, Susan
item Lamm, Freddie - Kansas State University
item Trout, Thomas
item Kranz, William - University Of Nebraska

Submitted to: Meeting Abstract
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/25/2014
Publication Date: 3/25/2014
Citation: Evett, S.R., Colaizzi, P.D., Oshaughnessy, S.A., Lamm, F.R., Trout, T.J., Kranz, W.L. 2014. The future of irrigation on the High Plains [abstract].Central Plains Irrigation Conference, Burlington, Colorado,Central Plains Irrigation Association, February 25, 2014.

Interpretive Summary: The future of irrigation on the U.S. High Plains was examined through the lens of past changes in water supply and innovations in irrigation technology, management and agronomy. The innovations have greatly increased the efficiency of water application and use, and the agricultural productivity of the Great Plains. Scientists at the USDA-ARS Conservation & Production Research Laboratory, Bushland, Texas, teamed with agricultural scientists and engineers from Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska to analyze the history of irrigation agriculture through the 1900s to the present day. The team also examined the changes in water stored in the High Plains Aquifer, which is the region’s principle supply for irrigation water. The aquifer has hardly been impacted in Nebraska, despite large increases in irrigated area. Greatly increased irrigation efficiency has played a role in this, but so also has the recharge to the aquifer from the Nebraska Sand Hills and from rivers crossing the state. The outlook for irrigation is less positive in SW Arkansas, SE Colorado and the Panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas. The aquifer in these regions is recharged at rates much less than current pumping, and the aquifer is declining as a result. Improvements in irrigation technology and management plus changes in crops grown have made irrigation ever more efficient. There is good reason to expect that future research and development on the part of federal and state researchers and private companies, often in concert, will continue to improve the efficiency of irrigated agriculture. Public policy changes will also play a role in regulating consumption and motivating on-farm efficiency improvements. Water supplies, while finite, will be stretched much further than projected by some who look only at past rates of consumption. Thus, irrigation will continue to be important economically for an extended period. Sustaining irrigation is crucial to sustained productivity of the Great Plains “bread basket” because irrigation doubles the efficiency with which water is turned into crop yields compared with what can be attained with precipitation alone.

Technical Abstract: The future of irrigation on the U.S. High Plains was examined through the lens of past changes in water supply and innovations in irrigation technology, management and agronomy. The innovations have greatly increased the efficiency of water application and use, and the agricultural productivity of the Great Plains. Scientists at the USDA-ARS Conservation & Production Research Laboratory, Bushland, Texas, teamed with agricultural scientists and engineers from Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska to analyze the history of irrigation agriculture through the 1900s to the present day. The team also examined the changes in water stored in the High Plains Aquifer, which is the region’s principle supply for irrigation water. The aquifer has hardly been impacted in Nebraska, despite large increases in irrigated area. Greatly increased irrigation efficiency has played a role in this, but so also has the recharge to the aquifer from the Nebraska Sand Hills and from rivers crossing the state. The outlook for irrigation is less positive in SW Arkansas, SE Colorado and the Panhandles of Oklahoma and Texas. The aquifer in these regions is recharged at rates much less than current pumping, and the aquifer is declining as a result. Improvements in irrigation technology and management plus changes in crops grown have made irrigation ever more efficient. There is good reason to expect that future research and development on the part of federal and state researchers and private companies, often in concert, will continue to improve the efficiency of irrigated agriculture. Public policy changes will also play a role in regulating consumption and motivating on-farm efficiency improvements. Water supplies, while finite, will be stretched much further than projected by some who look only at past rates of consumption. Thus, irrigation will continue to be important economically for an extended period. Sustaining irrigation is crucial to sustained productivity of the Great Plains “bread basket” because irrigation doubles the efficiency with which water is turned into crop yields compared with what can be attained with precipitation alone