The Evolving Impact of the Ogallala Aquifer: Agricultural Adaptation to Groundwater and Climate
Agriculture on the American Great Plains has been constrained by historical water scarcity. After World War II, technological improvements made groundwater from the Ogallala aquifer available for irrigation. Comparing counties over the Ogallala with nearby similar counties, groundwater access increased irrigation intensity and initially reduced the impact of droughts. Over time, land-use adjusted toward water-intensive crops and drought-sensitivity increased; conversely, farmers in water-scarce counties maintained drought-resistant practices that fully mitigated higher drought-sensitivity. Land values capitalized the Ogallala's value at $26 billion in 1974; as extraction remained high and water levels declined, the Ogallala's value fell to $9 billion in 2002.
For many helpful comments and suggestions, we thank seminar participants at Bocconi, Brown, Columbia, EHA, Harvard, IIES, Kansas, Miami-OH, Michigan, Michigan State, NBER, NEUDC, PERC, Queen's, RES, Santa Barbara, Toronto, Tufts, UPF, Vanderbilt, Wellesley, World Bank, and Yale. For financial support, we thank the Harvard University Center for the Environment and the Harvard Sustainability Science Program. Melissa Eccleston, James Feigenbaum, Jan Kozak, and Jamie Lee provided excellent research assistance. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
"The Historically Evolving Impact of the Ogallala Aquifer: Agricultural Adaptation to Groundwater and Drought," with Pinar Keskin, American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 6(1)190-219 (January 2014).