Irrigation as an Adaptation Strategy to Climate Change: The Relative Influence of Groundwater and Canal Irrigation on Winter Crop Production and its Sensitivity to Weather Variability in India

Monday, 15 December 2014
Meha Jain1, Ram Fishman2, Pinki Mondal1, Gillian L Galford3, Shahid Naeem1, Vijay Modi1 and Ruth S DeFries1, (1)Columbia University, New York, NY, United States, (2)George Washington University, Washington, DC, United States, (3)University of Vermont, Burlington, VT, United States
India is a hotspot for food security issues over the upcoming decades, due to increasing population pressures, groundwater depletion, and climate change. Investing in additional irrigation infrastructure may bolster food security, however, the relative influence of different types of irrigation (e.g. groundwater versus canal) on agricultural production remains unclear. One reason that the relative impact of different irrigation strategies on agricultural production has not been analyzed across India is because national-scale data on crop production and the types of irrigation technologies used are typically available at too coarse of spatial and temporal resolutions to answer this question adequately. Thus, we develop a novel algorithm to map cropped area across India at a 1 x 1 km scale using MODIS satellite data, and link these high-resolution cropped area maps with village-level data (n = 600,000) on irrigation. This allowed us to assess the relative impact of groundwater (i.e. dug, shallow, and deep wells) and canal irrigation (i.e. surface lift and flow canals) on winter cropped area and its sensitivity to rainfall across India at the village-scale from 2000 to 2006. We find that deep well irrigation is both associated with the greatest amount of winter cropped area, and is also the least sensitive to monsoon and winter rainfall variability. However, the effectiveness of deep well irrigation varies across India, with the greatest benefits seen in the regions that are most at risk for losing groundwater as a possible source of irrigation over the upcoming decades (e.g. Northwest India). This work highlights the need to develop ways to use remaining groundwater more efficiently (e.g. drip irrigation, less water-intensive crops) given that canal irrigation is not an adequate substitute, particularly in the regions that are facing the greatest levels of groundwater depletion.