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Sustainable aquifer management for food security

March 2, 2023

In aquifer-dependent regions, balancing aquifer protection, desalination, economic development, agricultural irrigation, and food security can be better managed through discovery and development of sources of sustainable groundwater pumping. Aquifer desalination for irrigation to protect food security can mitigate pressure on local freshwater aquifers. Despite its importance, little peer reviewed work to date has identified the economic capacity to pay for aquifer desalination for irrigation to mitigate freshwater aquifer drawdown. The novel contribution of this work is the development and application of an innovative method to assess the economic capacity to pay for aquifer desalination for irrigation for a recently discovered large saline aquifer. It develops an original framework to assess the capacity to pay for aquifer desalination, the results of which can help guide policymakers on efficient and sustainable pumping approaches across users, aquifers, and time periods. A mathematical programming model is developed to economically analyze the 200 billion cubic meter Lotikipi Aquifer, discovered in 2013 in northern Kenya using modern remote sensing methods. While initial pumping of the Lotikipi Aquifer was halted due to high groundwater salinity levels, interest remains strong in assessing the economic capacity to pay for groundwater desalination because of its potential role in protecting regional food security generated by aquifer pumping for irrigation. The model is formulated by calibrating optimized pumping patterns in two existing freshwater aquifers to replicate observed historical pumping levels. Based on that exercise, a second model is developed to identify a least cost set of pumping restrictions that return each of three regional aquifers to starting conditions over a seven-year time period. A third model extends the second by adding a constraint of a minimum required level of food grain security supported by irrigation pumping from the aquifer system. Results show that the economic capacity to pay for aquifer desalination for irrigated agriculture lies in the range of $0.08 - $0.18 USD per cubic meter under current economic conditions and desalination technologies available. While this economic capacity to pay is lower than its current cost in most places, the future could be more optimistic. Advances in desalination technology, higher crop prices, technical advance in agriculture, and development of drought-resistant crops can all contribute to a future capacity to economically justify the expense of desalination.

Publication Year 2023
Title Sustainable aquifer management for food security
DOI 10.1016/j.agwat.2022.108073
Authors Bryana Funk, Saud A. Amer, Frank A. Ward
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Agricultural Systems Journal
Index ID 70249000
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization International Water Resources Branch