Wayne Bossert, who manages the Northwest Kansas Groundwater Management District No. 4 on the famed Ogallala Aquifer, raised the interesting issue recently in testimony at a Senate field hearing of the effect of federal agricultural policy on water:
Historically the farm bill has been blamed for promoting fencerow-to-fencerow corn production due to it’s design and implementation, which of course, does little for curbing water use in irrigated ag areas. So, we were thinking that a farm bill that would promote less water intensive cropping choices – especially in water stressed or enhanced management areas – could conserve water at no additional program cost. This is apparently a very difficult thing to do, but we asked again, anyway.
We also asked for a crop insurance program that would insure limited irrigation operations. This would actually reduce liability and be less expensive than the current program. It’d allow irrigators to implement a water conserving, limited irrigation plan on land that had been fully irrigated, but also receive a critical level of crop insurance discounted proportionately with the expected yield goals of their limited irrigation plan. This could save a lot of water as well, so we asked for it.
We also asked that NRCS EQIP and AWEP programs support partial water use set asides – allowing producers to enroll the least efficient portions of their irrigation operations rather than the entire irrigated acreages. The water conservation would be the same, at reduced program costs, while returning a higher economic return for the producer.
When I asked around about this issue, I couldn’t find folks here in New Mexico tracking this issue in terms of water use here, but a friend pointed me to the work of George Frisvold (this from 2004):
Agriculture accounts for 80% of U.S. consumptive use of freshwater and has been identified as the largest contributor to nonpoint source water pollution. Over the last 20 years, agricultural policy reforms have greatly reduced, though not eliminated, incentives to overuse water and chemical inputs and have improved targeting of conservation programs to achieve environmental benefits. Recent changes provide greater incentives for voluntary reallocation of water from agriculture to other uses.
I’d love pointers to other folks thinking about this issue.