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Simulating the Impact of Efficient Irrigation Scheduling on Water Scarcity

Authors: Mark Braza*, U.S. Government Accountability Office, Applied Research and Methods Team, Jennifer Beddor, U.S. Government Accountability Office, Science Technology Assessment and Analytics Team, Sam Portnow, U.S. Government Accountability Office, Applied Research and Methods Team
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Coupled Human and Natural Systems, Land Use and Land Cover Change
Keywords: Water scarcity, irrigation, simulation, scenario analysis
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This study used the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) to estimate the potential impacts of efficient irrigation scheduling on water scarcity for a watershed in South Central Nebraska covered by corn, soybeans and rangeland. We calibrated the model to local data on crop yield, irrigation amounts, and planting dates. We then modeled two scenarios. In the first scenario, we simulated farmers switching from conventional irrigation scheduling to efficient irrigation scheduling on existing cropland. In the second scenario, we simulated farmers converting non-irrigated rangeland to cornfields irrigated with efficient scheduling. For each scenario, we examined the impact of efficient irrigation scheduling on the amount of irrigation water applied to the field, the return flow that reaches streams, the amount of water consumed through evapotranspiration and crop yield. We found that efficient irrigation scheduling could have both positive and negative impacts on water scarcity. In terms of positive impacts, our simulations suggest that efficient irrigation scheduling could decrease the amount of irrigation water applied to the field, assuming that farmers do not expand their irrigated cropland. In terms of negative impacts, however, our simulations suggest that efficient irrigation scheduling could increase the amount of water consumed through evapotranspiration if farmers do subsequently expand their irrigated cropland. Our simulations illustrate the potential impacts of efficient irrigation scheduling in one of the most highly irrigated regions of the country but they are not generalizable to other locations nor are they precise quantitative forecasts.

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