When should irrigators invest in more water-efficient technologies as an adaptation to climate change?

Monday, 14 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Keyvan Malek, Jennifer C Adam, Claudio Stockle, Michael Brady and Jonathan Yoder, Washington State University, Pullman, WA, United States
The western US is expected to experience more frequent droughts with higher magnitudes and persistence due to the climate change, with potentially large impacts on agricultural productivity and the economy. Irrigated farmers have many options for minimizing drought impacts including changing crops, engaging in water markets, and switching irrigation technologies. Switching to more efficient irrigation technologies, which increase water availability in the crop root zone through reduction of irrigation losses, receives significant attention because of the promise of maintaining current production with less. However, more efficient irrigation systems are almost always more capital-intensive adaptation strategy particularly compared to changing crops or trading water. A farmer’s decision to switch will depend on how much money they project to save from reducing drought damages. The objective of this study is to explore when (and under what climate change scenarios) it makes sense economically for farmers to invest in a new irrigation system. This study was performed over the Yakima River Basin (YRB) in Washington State, although the tools and information gained from this study are transferable to other watersheds in the western US. We used VIC-CropSyst, a large-scale grid-based modeling framework that simulates hydrological processes while mechanistically capturing crop water use, growth and development. The water flows simulated by VIC-CropSyst were used to run the RiverWare river system and water management model (YAK-RW), which simulates river processes and calculates regional water availability for agricultural use each day (i.e., the prorationing ratio). An automated computational platform has been developed and programed to perform the economic analysis for each grid cell, crop types and future climate projections separately, which allows us to explore whether or not implementing a new irrigation system is economically viable. Results of this study indicate that climate change could justify the investment in new irrigation systems during this century, but the timing of a farmer’s response is likely to depend on a variety of factors, including changes in the frequency and magnitude of drought events, current irrigation systems, climatological characteristics within the basin, and crop type.