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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Ames, Iowa » National Laboratory for Agriculture and The Environment » Soil, Water & Air Resources Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #304824


Location: Soil, Water & Air Resources Research

Title: Environmental impact of water use

item Hatfield, Jerry

Submitted to: Agronomy Journal
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/27/2014
Publication Date: 5/15/2015
Citation: Hatfield, J.L. 2015. Environmental impact of water use. Agronomy Journal. 107:1554-1556.

Interpretive Summary: Water is a critical commodity for human existence and agriculture is one of the largest components of the water cycle. One of the questions often asked is the impact of agricultural water use on the environment. A summary of the environmental impacts show that water use in agricultural systems are in the atmosphere, ground water, and surface water and the amount of the impact is dependent on the climate and the agricultural system. For example, in semi-arid areas one the major environmental impacts of agriculture is through the cooling of the air. In more humid or temperate regions the effect is on the movement of water either into the ground or as runoff because the amount of precipitation exceeds the rate of water use by the crop. This information is of value to planners and policymakers to help them understand the dynamics of the problem and how to consider these effects in their approach to agriculture and water use.

Technical Abstract: Agriculture is an important component of the hydrologic cycle and the use of water in agricultural production is necessary to feed the world’s population and provide ecosystem services. As the population increases there is more concern about the potential role of agriculture on environmental quality and the role water management has on environmental quality. Water use by agricultural systems through evapotranspiration effects both the plant and the surrounding microclimate and the modification of the microclimate is a major environmental impact from agricultural water use. Sources of water for agriculture are from direct use of precipitation and indirect through irrigation from either surface or ground water resources. Irrigation has an effect on the hydrologic cycle and alters ground water recharge and the development of the infrastructure to support irrigation disrupts the landscape with effects extending beyond agriculture into wildlife habitat and wetlands. The environmental impacts of water use in agriculture range from onsite effects within the field to the offsite impacts from surface runoff and chemical transport. Our challenge is to understand that agriculture is part of the hydrologic cycle and develop methods which can reduce the environmental impact.