Assessing the Impacts of Land Use Change from Cotton to Perennial Bioenergy Grasses on Hydrological Fluxes and Water Quality in a Semi-Arid Agricultural Watershed Using the APEX Model

Friday, 18 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
Yong Chen1,2, Srinivasulu Ale1 and Nithya Rajan2, (1)Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Vernon, TX, United States, (2)Texas A&M University, Soil and Crop Sciences, College Station, TX, United States
The semi-arid Texas High Plains (THP) region, where cotton (Gossypium hirsutum L.) is grown in vast acreage, has the potential to grow perennial bioenergy grasses. A change in land use from cotton cropping systems to perennial grasses such as Alamo switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) and Miscanthus giganteus (Miscanthus sinensis Anderss. [Poaceae]) can significantly affect regional hydrologic cycle and water quality. Assessing the impacts of this potential land use change on hydrology and water quality enables the environmental assessment of feasibility to grow perennial grasses in this region to meet the U.S. national bioenergy target of 2022. The Agricultural Policy/Environmental eXtender (APEX) model was used in this study to assess the impacts of replacing cotton with switchgrass and Miscanthus on water and nitrogen balances in the upstream subwatershed of the Double Mountain Fork Brazos watershed in the THP, which contains 52% cotton land use. The APEX model was initially calibrated against observed streamflow and crop yield data. Since observed data on nitrogen loads in streamflow was not available for this subwatershed, we calibrated the APEX model against the SWAT-simulated nitrogen loads at the outlet of this subwatershed, which were obtained in a parallel study. The calibrated APEX model was used to simulate the impacts of land use change from cotton to Miscanthus and switchgrass on surface and subsurface water and nitrogen balances. Preliminary results revealed that the average (1994-2009) annual surface runoff decreased by 84% and 66% under the irrigated and dryland switchgrass scenarios compared to the baseline scenarios. Average annual percolation increased by 106% and 57% under the irrigated and dryland switchgrass scenarios relative to the baseline scenarios. Preliminary results also indicated Miscanthus and switchgrass appeared to be superior to cotton in terms of better water conservation and water quality, and minimum crop management requirements.