Irrigation Agriculture: Is it Sustainable?

by Jan van Schilfgaarde, Agricultural Researh Service, United States,

Document Type: Proceeding Paper

Part of: National Water Conference


Irrigation in (semi-) arid climates can be managed in such a way that it can be sustained indefinitely. Salination can be avoided by providing adequate drainage. Drainage, however, exacts a price. The drainage water needs disposal and causes a degradation of water quality along its disposal route. Increased pressure on natural resources generally, and on Western water resources specifically, suggests that the benefits of irrigation and acceptance of the disbenefits of irrigation drainage can no longer be taken for granted. Irrigation agriculture must adopt to changing physical and social conditions in order to survive. Fortunately, the technology exists to increase irrigation efficiency substantially and thus to reduce the volume of drainage water needing disposal. Changes in institutional arrangements and reductions in direct or indirect subsidies to more nearly reflect the true costs of irrigation may well force some economically inefficient operations out of business. The bulk of irrigated agriculture will adapt to new circumstances.

Subject Headings: Water resources | Irrigation | Irrigation water | Sustainable development | Soil pollution | Salt water | Water pollution | Soil water

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