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ARS Home » Southeast Area » Oxford, Mississippi » National Sedimentation Laboratory » Water Quality and Ecology Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #370605

Research Project: Strategic Investigations to Improve Water Quality and Ecosystem Sustainability in Agricultural Landscapes

Location: Water Quality and Ecology Research

Title: Trends in land use, irrigation, and streamflow alteration in the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain

Author
item Yasarer, Lindsey
item Taylor, Jason
item Vacant, Vacant
item Locke, Martin

Submitted to: Frontiers in Environmental Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/7/2020
Publication Date: 6/5/2020
Citation: Yasarer, L.M., Taylor, J.M., Rigby Jr, J.R., Locke, M.A. 2020. Trends in land use, irrigation, and streamflow alteration in the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain. Frontiers in Environmental Science. 8(66):1-13. https://doi.org/10.3389/fenvs.2020.00066.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.3389/fenvs.2020.00066

Interpretive Summary: The Mississippi River Alluvial Plain is a critical region for agricultural production in the United States, providing the majority of the nation’s rice, catfish, and cotton. Although it is a humid region, high agricultural yields are maintained through irrigation from groundwater and surface water sources during the growing season. Heavy groundwater extraction has led to cones of depression in the alluvial aquifer in both Arkansas and Mississippi. This study examines the link between increasing groundwater and surface water extraction for irrigation and an increase in extreme low flow conditions in regional rivers. We found that most of the long-term streamflow records showed evidence of increased low flow events, or decreasing low flow values, over the record and especially after 1987. Change in stream flow patterns, especially increases in extremely low flow, can disrupt ecological communities and harm natural ecosystems. These results help researchers and producers understand tradeoffs between intensive agricultural production and sustainability of regional aquatic ecosystems.

Technical Abstract: The Mississippi River Alluvial Plain is a critical region for agricultural production in the United States, providing the majority of the nation’s rice, catfish, and cotton. Although it is a humid region, high agricultural yields are maintained through irrigation from groundwater and surface water sources. Heavy groundwater extraction has led to cones of depression in the alluvial aquifer in both Arkansas and Mississippi. This study explores the link between increasing irrigation and streamflow alteration within the alluvial plain. Changing land use patterns were evaluated utilizing the USDA Census of Agriculture datasets to determine changes in land-use, irrigation, and crop yield from 1969 to 2017. Temporal land use patterns set the background for the analysis of sixteen long-term streamflow records from the USGS, which were assessed using the Indicators of Hydrologic Alteration (IHA) software to determine changes in low flow patterns in rivers overlying the Mississippi River Valley alluvial aquifer. Most streamflow records had significant hydrologic alteration with respect to low flow conditions, including higher frequency of low flow events, lower annual minima, or a declining base flow index. Changes in streamflow coincide with areas of massive increases in irrigated cropland area. This study provides further context for the tradeoffs between intensive agricultural production and agroecosystem sustainability.