Groundwater Depletion Threatens U.S. Food Security

Groundwater Depletion Threatens U.S. Food Security

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Researchers believe the nation’s food supply may be vulnerable to rapid groundwater depletion from irrigated agriculture. The study, which appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, paints the highest resolution picture yet of how groundwater depletion varies across space and time in California’s Central Valley and the High Plains of the central U.S. Scientists hope this information will enable more sustainable use of water in these areas, although they think irrigated agriculture may be unsustainable in some parts.

Three results of the new study are particularly striking: First, during the most recent drought in California’s Central Valley, from 2006 to 2009, farmers in the south depleted enough groundwater to fill the nation’s largest man-made reservoir, Lake Mead near Las Vegas—a level of groundwater depletion that is unsustainable at current recharge rates. Second, 33% of the groundwater depletion in the High Plains occurs in just 4% of the land area. And third, the researchers project that if current trends continue some parts of the southern High Plains that currently support irrigated agriculture, mostly in the Texas Panhandle and western Kansas, will be unable to do so within a few decades.

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