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Agriculture can Contribute to Texas Water Sustainability

Published by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, St. Joseph, Michigan

Citation:  2016 ASABE Annual International Meeting  162456938.(doi:10.13031/aim.20162456938)
Authors:   Michael Clough
Keywords:   agriculture, conservation, groundwater, irrigation, surface water, sustainability, Texas, water law, water transfers

Abstract. The recent (and in some places continuing) drought in Texas has focused attention to the availability and use of water. The State Water Plan provides a prediction of how future water supplies in Texas will be used – municipal, irrigation, manufacturing, steam electric and other uses. In the State Water Plan, water used for agricultural irrigation decreases over the period 2020 to 2070, the only category to do so. Some of the decrease is due to increased irrigation efficiency, but much of the decrease is due to decreasing irrigated acreage due to urbanization and transfer of agricultural water rights to municipal uses. Also funding mechanisms for the irrigation conservation improvements that are recommended are not sufficient for the need. This will result in transfers of water from rural to municipal areas with the resulting loss to the rural economies. However, in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas and in other states, municipalities and other water users have teamed up to provide funding for irrigation improvements and have gotten rights to the saved water for their own use. This is a win-win situation where agricultural production is preserved, irrigation efficiency is enhanced and more water is available for municipalities. In fact, the investment in agricultural water savings can be less expensive for municipalities and manufacturing than investment in other water supply strategies, such as desalinization or direct potable reuse. The irrigation conservation measures will cost from $7-$180 per dam3 ($9 to $220 per ac-ft) of water saved, while the cost for securing additional water will cost municipalities $200-$650 per dam3 ($400-$800 per ac-ft). However there are legal impediments to transferring the water where current Texas water law does not allow or does not encourage water transfers for the implementation of conservation measures. Recommendations for modifications to the laws and rules are made to encourage the funding of agricultural water conservation projects.

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