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Evaluation and comparison of methods to estimate irrigation withdrawal for the National Water Census Focus Area Study of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin in southwestern Georgia

September 30, 2015

Methods to estimate irrigation withdrawal using nationally available datasets and techniques that are transferable to other agricultural regions were evaluated by the U.S. Geological Survey as part of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin focus area study of the National Water Census (ACF–FAS). These methods investigated the spatial, temporal, and quantitative distributions of water withdrawal for irrigation in the southwestern Georgia region of the ACF–FAS, filling a vital need to inform science-based decisions regarding resource management and conservation. The crop– demand method assumed that only enough water is pumped onto a crop to satisfy the deficit between evapotranspiration and precipitation. A second method applied a geostatistical regimen of variography and conditional simulation to monthly metered irrigation withdrawal to estimate irrigation withdrawal where data do not exist. A third method analyzed Landsat satellite imagery using an automated approach to generate monthly estimates of irrigated lands. These methods were evaluated independently and compared collectively with measured water withdrawal information available in the Georgia part of the ACF–FAS, principally in the Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin. An assessment of each method’s contribution to the National Water Census program was also made to identify transfer value of the methods to the national program and other water census studies. None of the three methods evaluated represent a turnkey process to estimate irrigation withdrawal on any spatial (local or regional) or temporal (monthly or annual) extent. Each method requires additional information on agricultural practices during the growing season to complete the withdrawal estimation process. Spatial and temporal limitations inherent in identifying irrigated acres during the growing season, and in designing spatially and temporally representative monitor (meter) networks, can belie the ability of the methods to produce accurate irrigation-withdrawal estimates that can be used to produce dependable and consistent assessments of water availability and use for the National Water Census. Emerging satellite-data products and techniques for data analysis can generate high spatial-resolution estimates of irrigated-acres distributions with near-term temporal frequencies compatible with the needs of the ACF–FAS and the National Water Census.