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Problem: Irrigation Subsidies

Federally subsidized electric cooperatives established under the New Deal program helped bring low-cost electricity to the Great Plains regions of the United States. Much of the electricity brokered by the cooperatives went to power groundwater pumps that helped transform arid plains into productive farmland (Rhodes and Wheeler, 1996). Many of the artificially low rate contracts between agricultural producers and electric suppliers were guaranteed for 50 or 100 years, and have not yet expired.

Groundwater irrigation expanded the agricultural production capacity of the United States, but higher crop yields came with an environmental cost. Indiscriminate pumping of groundwater to support agriculture has led to severely depleted aquifer levels. Today, nearly 30 percent of all US groundwater withdrawals occur within the High Plains aquifer, which underlies parts of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas (McGuire et al., 1999). As previously mentioned, a Kansas research study has identified significant areas of its aquifer which, due to depletion, will be unusable in 25 years or less (Buddemeier et al., 2000). Nevertheless, the federal government continues to support nationwide irrigation infrastructure and energy requirements with annual irrigation subsidies totaling $2.2 billion dollars (Edwards and DeHaven, 2001).


next up previous contents
Next: Problem: Water Inefficient Crops Up: Irrigation Previous: Problem: Irrigation Efficiency   Contents
Andy Wingo 2001-12-10