U.S. Water News Online
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Crop irrigation adds billions of dollars
to Nebraska's economy each year, according to a recently released
The study, released by the Nebraska Policy Institute, said
irrigation generated $4.5 billion and created 45,000 jobs in 2003.
The study measured the value of crop output, business purchases
generated by crop production and personal spending of earned income
generated from irrigation.
The study was led by Charles Lamphear, professor emeritus at the
University of Nebraska-Lincoln and former director of UNL's Bureau of
Lamphear said the economic impact was higher in 2003 because of an
Had precipitation levels been normal in 2003, the total impact of
irrigation would have been just over $3.6 billion.
"It's clear that irrigation reduces economic risk for Nebraska
during times of drought," said Keith Olsen, president of the
institute and the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation. "Irrigation
reduces the weather risk for farmers," he said.
Lamphear said variances in crop yields for corn between 1982 and
2000 were about 62 percent less on irrigated corn than for dryland
"Reductions in yield variability because of irrigation mean the
state's agribusinesses and processors have a stable and reliable
input source," he said.
In 2003, irrigation was responsible for roughly 17 percent of the
total impact of agribusiness activity in Nebraska, Lamphear said.
Purchases of irrigation equipment, farm machinery and computer
hardware by irrigators generated a total economic impact of $293
million and created more than 3,200 jobs.
But farmers and ranchers cannot rely on an endless supply of water
Legal fights with surrounding states have limited the amount of
water Nebraska producers can take because irrigation can affect water
flow to other states.
And the recent, ongoing drought has magnified the problem.
The flow in streams and rivers is controlled by the state, which
sets water allocations for surface irrigators.
Groundwater irrigators, on the other hand, are controlled by area
natural resources districts, which allocate groundwater equally to
Many streams in the state rely heavily on groundwater for
The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the state
can do nothing to stop the proliferation of irrigation wells that are
sucking streams and reservoirs dry.
For example, the North Platte Natural Resources District says
groundwater irrigation wells in the Panhandle's Pumpkin Creek basin
increased from 250 in 1970 to 500 in 2000. The district now has a
moratorium on new wells.
Statewide, the number of wells jumped from 39,660 in 1970 to
nearly 100,000 now, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
In 1970, about 1 million acres in Nebraska were surface
water-irrigated, compared with about 3 million irrigated with
Currently, about 1.2 million acres are irrigated with surface
water, while the number of acres irrigated with groundwater has risen
to about 8.5 million.
The Nebraska Policy Institute is an independent, not-for-profit
research and educational foundation established in 2000.
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