Agricultural Responses to Changing Water Supplies in Imperial Valley, California

Authors: Gabriela Morales*, San Diego State University, Trent Biggs, San Diego State University, Nadine Barham, San Diego State University
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Agricultural Geography
Keywords: water resources, agriculture, hydrology, mixed methods
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 37
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The Imperial Valley is an agricultural region in the Southwest United States that produces a large share of winter crops for the United States. Situated south of the Salton Sea and along the United States-Mexico border, the Valley’s crop water irrigation system is entirely dependent upon imported Colorado River water. In 2003, the Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) was enacted to reduce California’s dependence on imported water from the Colorado River, resulting in a decrease in the volume of water received by the Imperial Valley (IV). While annual crop reports provide numerical clues to the Valley’s response to reductions in water supply, resulting hydrologic patterns, cropping choices, and responses by local stakeholders remain unknown. In this study, we ask: how did the Imperial Valley agricultural system respond to a decreased water supply? Using a mixed-methods approach, we seek to synthesize hydrologic change, field-level cropping patterns, and stakeholder narratives to explain the Valley-wide response to the QSA. Preliminary results show that despite reduced canal inflow to the Valley as well as an overall decrease in total consumptive water use, annual water productivity in the IV increased since the QSA took effect. Narratives from key informants collected in semi-structured interviews negate our initial hypothesis of water scarcity in the IV, and instead imply an increase in water use efficiency within the IV’s agricultural systems. Ultimately, our research will provide stakeholders with regional insight into hydrologic, socioeconomic, and agricultural change, and furthermore, inform potential adaptations to changing water availability.

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