Bureau of Reclamation Banner

Adaptation of Western US Agriculture to Climate Change Induced Water Scarcity

Project ID: 7430
Principal Investigator: Todd Gaston
Research Topic: Agriculture Water Supplies
Priority Area Assignments: 2013 (Climate Change and Variability Research), 2014 (Climate Change and Variability Research)
Funded Fiscal Years: 2013
Keywords: climate change, agriculture, adaptation, impact assessment, technological change, economics

Research Question

Agriculture is the dominant user of water in the western US. Past droughts led Federal and State suppliers to reduce water available for irrigation. Future climate change is expected to result in increased severity of water scarcity, thus, learning from the past would be useful for evaluating policies for the future. Farmers in the western US have adapted to past water scarcity and continue to thrive.

The Research question consists of 3 components:

(1) Does water availability and surface water withdrawal help explain the variation in farm values across the West?

(2) Does adding water availability variables to models used in previous work on climate change impact on US agriculture (Mendelsohn, Nordhaus, and Shaw 1994; 1996) change the measured climate sensitivity of agriculture?"

(3) What is the economic value of various adaptation measures undertaken by farmers throughout the Southwest?

We expect to better understand, using past and present information, how farmers responded to past droughts/water scarcity (climate changes) and how they may respond to future changes in water availability and temperatures. We have two interrelated hypotheses:

(1) We expect to find that irrigated cropland is sensitive (in terms of economic value change) to changes in precipitation and temperature, and we expect that the extent of this sensitivity will vary across physical, technological, and institutional conditions.

(2) We expect that there are determinants that explain farmers' decisions to adopt various irrigation technologies (drip, sprinklers), moving away from gravity systems, and modifying other management practices for facing water scarce situations.

Need and Benefit

The proposed research addresses the following research gaps identified in the document Addressing Climate Change in Long-Term Water Resources Planning and Management: User Needs for Improving Tools and Information:

Gap 1.01: Access to a clearinghouse of climate change literature relevant to water management or access to a bibliography of recommended literature to represent in literature syntheses.

Gap 1.02: Region-specific literature summaries, regularly maintained and peer reviewed.

Gap 3.02: Understanding how to interpret future variability in climate projections and relevance to operating constraints on shorter- to longer-term time scales (from daily to multi-decadal).

Gap 5.03: Understanding how institutional realities currently control socioeconomic responses to climate variability and could control socioeconomic responses under a changing climate.

This research will:
(1) Develop an archive of studies, addressing:
a. work that develops methodologies and provides estimates regarding the determinants of adoption of technologies and management practices under water scarce conditions;
b. Work on the impact of climate change on precipitation and river flows in the western US; and
c. Work that develops methodologies and provides estimates for impact of climate change (precipitation and temperature) on agricultural production.

(2) Provide an authentic set of responses to drought from documented interviews of farmers and water managers.

(3) Provide a catalogue of the impacts of climate change on water and agriculture and possible responses as reflected in previous work and in actual practice by contemporary western farmers.

Contributing Partners


This information was last updated on April 16, 2014
Contact the Research and Development Office with questions or comments about this page