Groundwater depletion and climate change: future prospects of crop production in the Central High Plains Aquifer
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Crop production in the Central High Plains is at an all-time high due to increased demand for biofuels, food, and animal products. Despite the need to produce more food by mid-century to meet expected population growth, under current management and genetics, crop production is likely to plateau or decline in the Central High Plains due to groundwater withdrawal at rates that greatly exceed recharge to the aquifer. The Central High Plains has experienced a consistent decline in groundwater storage due to groundwater withdrawal for irrigation greatly exceeding natural recharge. In this heavily irrigated region, water is essential to maintain yields and economic stability. Here, we evaluate how current trends in irrigation demand may impact groundwater depletion and quantify the impacts of these changes on crop yield and production through to 2099 using the well-established System Approach to Land Use Sustainability (SALUS) crop model. The results show that status quo groundwater management will likely reduce irrigated corn acreage by ~60% and wheat acreage by ~50%. This widespread forced shift to dryland farming, coupled with the likely effects of climate change, will contribute to overall changes in crop production. Taking into account both changes in yield and available irrigated acreage, corn production would decrease by approximately 60%, while production of wheat would remain fairly steady with a slight increase of about 2%.
This work was supported by National Science Foundation Grant WSC 1039180 and United States Department of Agriculture NIFA Water Cap Award 2015-68007-23133.
KAC executed the experiments. KAC, ADK, BB, and DWH wrote and made significant contributions to the structure of the paper. KAC, ADK, BB, and DWH analyzed the data and interpreted results.
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