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Modeling the Atmospheric Response to Irrigation in the Great Plains. Part II: The Precipitation of Irrigated Water and Changes in Precipitation Recycling

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  • 1 Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, Minnesota
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Abstract

The rapid expansion of irrigation in the Great Plains since World War II has resulted in significant water table declines, threatening the long-term sustainability of the Ogallala Aquifer. As discussed in Part I of this paper, the Weather Research and Forecasting Model (WRF) was modified to simulate the effects of irrigation at subgrid scales. Simulations of nine April–October periods (three drought, three normal, and three pluvial) over the Great Plains were completed to assess the full impact of irrigation on the water budget. Averaged over all simulated years, irrigation over the Great Plains contributes to May–September evapotranspiration increases of approximately 4% and precipitation increases of 1%, with localized increases of up to 20%. Results from these WRF simulations are used along with a backward trajectory analysis to identify where evapotranspiration from irrigated fields falls as precipitation (i.e., irrigation-induced precipitation) and how irrigation impacts precipitation recycling. On average, only 15.8% of evapotranspiration from irrigated fields falls as precipitation over the Great Plains, resulting in 5.11 mm of May–September irrigation-induced precipitation and contributing to 6.71 mm of recycled precipitation. Reductions in nonrecycled precipitation suggest that irrigation reduces precipitation of moisture advected into the region. The heaviest irrigation-induced precipitation is coincident with simulated and observed precipitation increases, suggesting that observed precipitation increases in north-central Nebraska are strongly related to evapotranspiration of irrigated water. Water losses due to evapotranspiration are much larger than irrigation-induced precipitation and recycled precipitation increases, confirming that irrigation results in net water loss over the Great Plains.

Corresponding author address: Peter K. Snyder, Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, 439 Borlaug Hall, 1991 Upper Buford Circle, Saint Paul, MN 55108. E-mail: pksnyder@umn.edu

This article is included in the Exchanges of Energy and Water at the Land-Atmosphere Interface special collection.

Abstract

The rapid expansion of irrigation in the Great Plains since World War II has resulted in significant water table declines, threatening the long-term sustainability of the Ogallala Aquifer. As discussed in Part I of this paper, the Weather Research and Forecasting Model (WRF) was modified to simulate the effects of irrigation at subgrid scales. Simulations of nine April–October periods (three drought, three normal, and three pluvial) over the Great Plains were completed to assess the full impact of irrigation on the water budget. Averaged over all simulated years, irrigation over the Great Plains contributes to May–September evapotranspiration increases of approximately 4% and precipitation increases of 1%, with localized increases of up to 20%. Results from these WRF simulations are used along with a backward trajectory analysis to identify where evapotranspiration from irrigated fields falls as precipitation (i.e., irrigation-induced precipitation) and how irrigation impacts precipitation recycling. On average, only 15.8% of evapotranspiration from irrigated fields falls as precipitation over the Great Plains, resulting in 5.11 mm of May–September irrigation-induced precipitation and contributing to 6.71 mm of recycled precipitation. Reductions in nonrecycled precipitation suggest that irrigation reduces precipitation of moisture advected into the region. The heaviest irrigation-induced precipitation is coincident with simulated and observed precipitation increases, suggesting that observed precipitation increases in north-central Nebraska are strongly related to evapotranspiration of irrigated water. Water losses due to evapotranspiration are much larger than irrigation-induced precipitation and recycled precipitation increases, confirming that irrigation results in net water loss over the Great Plains.

Corresponding author address: Peter K. Snyder, Department of Soil, Water, and Climate, 439 Borlaug Hall, 1991 Upper Buford Circle, Saint Paul, MN 55108. E-mail: pksnyder@umn.edu

This article is included in the Exchanges of Energy and Water at the Land-Atmosphere Interface special collection.

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