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Water Conservation in Irrigated Agriculture: Trends and Challenges in the Face of Emerging Demands

by Glenn Schaible and Marcel Aillery

Economic Information Bulletin No. (EIB-99) 67 pp, September 2012

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This report relies on findings from several national surveys and current literature to assess water resource use and conservation measures within the U.S. irrigated crop sector. U.S. agriculture accounts for 80-90 percent of the Nation’s consumptive water use (water lost to the environment by evaporation, crop transpiration, or incorporation into products). Expanding water demands to support population and economic growth, environmental flows (water within wetlands, rivers, and groundwater systems needed to maintain natural ecosystems), and energy-sector growth, combined with Native American water-right claims and supply/demand shifts expected with climate change, will present new challenges for agricultural water use and conservation, particularly for the 17 Western States that account for nearly three-quarters of U.S. irrigated agriculture. Despite technological innovations, at least half of U.S. irrigated cropland acreage is still irrigated with less efficient, traditional irrigation application systems. Sustainability of irrigated agriculture will depend partly on whether producers adopt more efficient irrigation production systems that integrate improved on farm water management practices with efficient irrigation application systems.

Keywords: Agricultural water conservation, irrigated agriculture, irrigation efficiency, water supply and demand, irrigation technologies, water management practices, water conservation policy

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Last updated: Tuesday, April 15, 2014

For more information contact: Glenn Schaible and Marcel Aillery

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