Date of this Version
2018 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Understanding the controls of agriculture and climate change on recharge rates is critically important to develop appropriate sustainable management plans for groundwater resources and coupled irrigated agricultural systems. In this study, several physical (total potential (ψT) time series) and chemical tracer and dating (3H, Cl−, Br−, CFCs, SF6, and 3H/3He) methods were used to quantify diffuse recharge rates beneath two rangeland sites and irrigation recharge rates beneath two irrigated corn sites along an east-west (wet-dry) transect of the northern High Plains aquifer, Platte River Basin, central Nebraska. The field-based recharge estimates and historical climate were used to calibrate site-specific Hydrus-1D models, and irrigation requirements were estimated using the Crops Simulation Model (CROPSIM). Future model simulations were driven by an ensemble of 16 global climate models and two global warming scenarios to project a 2050 climate relative to the historical baseline 1990 climate, and simulate changes in precipitation, irrigation, evapotranspiration, and diffuse and irrigation recharge rates. Although results indicate statistical differences between the historical variables at the eastern and western sites and rangeland and irrigated sites, the low warming scenario (+1.0 °C) simulations indicate no statistical differences between 2050 and 1990. However, the high warming scenarios (+2.4 °C) indicate a 25% and 15% increase in median annual evapotranspiration and irrigation demand, and decreases in future diffuse recharge by 53% and 98% and irrigation recharge by 47% and 29% at the eastern and western sites, respectively. These results indicate an important threshold between the low and high warming scenarios that if exceeded could trigger a significant bidirectional shift in 2050 hydroclimatology and recharge gradients. The bidirectional shift is that future northern High Plains temperatures will resemble present central High Plains temperatures and future recharge rates in the east will resemble present recharge rates in the western part of the northern High Plains aquifer. The reductions in recharge rates could accelerate declining water levels if irrigation demand and other management strategies are not implemented. Findings here have important implications for future management of irrigation practices and to slow groundwater depletion in this important agricultural region.