USDA Conservation Programs and Groundwater – Advances in Data and Modeling
USDA Economic Research Service
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USDA’s Economic Research Service is engaged in a collaboration with researchers at USGS and at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to link hydrologic and economic models for the High Plains Aquifer System. This talk describes the foundations of that research effort. The focus of this research is on the interactions between USDA conservation programs and groundwater characteristics. Both working lands and land conservation programs are critical to USDA’s role in encouraging sustainable groundwater use. On the land conservation side, more than 8 million acres of lands over the High Plains Aquifer are currently enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), but that number is down by more than 2 million acres since 2008. On the working lands side, from 2008 to 2013, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) has provided financial assistance to support more than 5,000 improved irrigation systems (sprinklers and microirrigation) on more than 700,000 acres. Understanding how these programs have impacted the aquifer requires spatially explicit information on aquifer characteristics, which can be derived from new models developed by the USGS for their groundwater availability studies. Aquifer characteristics, in turn, play a crucial role in determining which farmers participate in these conservation programs or, in the case of CRP, decide to leave these programs. The farmers’ participation decisions then interact with the aquifer characteristics and local water management institutions to influence the ultimate levels of water extraction and recharge rates. A better understanding of the interactions between aquifer characteristics, producer enrollment decisions, and resulting effects on groundwater systems ultimately provides an improved foundation for USDA’s conservation programs.