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Methods and technologies to improve efficiency of water use

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The competition for existing freshwater supplies will require a paradigmatic shift from maximizing productivity per unit of land area to maximizing productivity per unit of water consumed. This shift will, in turn, demand broad systems approaches that physically and biologically optimize irrigation relative to water delivery and application schemes, rainfall, critical growth stages, soil fertility, location, and weather. Water can be conserved at a watershed or regional level for other uses only if evaporation, transpiration, or both are reduced and unrecoverable losses to unusable sinks are minimized (e.g., salty groundwater or oceans). Agricultural advances will include implementation of crop location strategies, conversion to crops with higher economic value or productivity per unit of water consumed, and adoption of alternate drought-tolerant crops. Emerging computerized GPS-based precision irrigation technologies for self-propelled sprinklers and microirrigation systems will enable growers to apply water and agrochemicals more precisely and site specifically to match soil and plant status and needs as provided by wireless sensor networks. Agriculturalists will need to exercise flexibility in managing the rate, frequency, and duration of water supplies to successfully allocate limited water and other inputs to crops. The most effective means to conserve water appears to be through carefully managed deficit irrigation strategies that are supported by advanced irrigation system and flexible, state-of-the-art water delivery systems. Nonagricultural water users will need to exercise patience as tools reflecting the paradigmatic shift are actualized. Both groups will need to cooperate and compromise as they practice more conservative approaches to freshwater consumption.
Evans, Robert G. , Sadler, E. John
In the special section: Water crisis in irrigated agriculture: how to produce more with less.
Water resources research 2008 July, v. 44, no. 7
Journal Articles, USDA Authors, Peer-Reviewed
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