Trends and Patterns of Water Use in US Cotton Production

This study compared water use and productivity in cotton production in western U.S. states and the United States in general across 30 years, based on data from USDA’s Farm and Ranch Irrigation Survey, a follow-on survey to the Census of Agriculture. From 1984 to 2013 (the most recent survey year) water applications to cotton in California, Arizona, and New Mexico fell by more than 3.9 million acre-feet (MAF). This 71-percent reduction in water use is equivalent to 68% of total residential water use in the region. Western states also saw reductions in water applied per acre of cotton and water applied per cotton bale produced. From 1984 to 2013 the total amount of water applied in total U.S. cotton production fell 48%, while total irrigated cotton production remained relatively constant. Nationally, the amount of water applied to produce a bale of irrigated cotton fell 56% between the two Census years, while water applied per acre fell by 38%. Absolute water applications outside the western states increased by 0.4 MAF, but nationally absolute water applied to U.S. cotton fell by 3.5 MAF (48%).


George B. Frisvold

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