America's Irrigation: Can It Last?

by Jan Van Schilfgaarde, Assoc. Area Director; U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Agriculture Res. Center, Fort Collins, CO,


Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1990, Vol. 60, Issue 3, Pg. 67-69


Document Type: Feature article

Abstract: Although irrigated agriculture has made a substantial contribution to food production and the economy in the U.S., its future is now at a crossroads for a variety of reasons. Irrigation always degrades water quality and more laws and regulations (e.g., the Clean Water Act) may have an impact on irrigation. Public and cultural perceptions about the value of the entire process are also changing; sentiment is moving toward greater protection of the environment and less preferential treatment for irrigation enterprises. In addition, subsidies for irrigation farmers under the 1902 Reclamation Act have served to distort the value of water and have affected water allocation. Contaminants and salination of drainage water, plus the problem of drainage also exact a price that the public may no longer be willing to pay. In short, this crazy quilt of management problems, government regulations and shifting attitudes begs the question: Can America sustain its irrigation indefinitely? The answer is yes. Reforms will force some inefficient operations out of the market, but the bulk of irrigated agriculture will not only survive, but flourish.

Subject Headings: Agriculture | Irrigation | Irrigation practices | Regulations | Environmental issues

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