US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Agricultural Systems 127 (2014) 28–40

doi 10.1016/j.agsy.2014.01.004


US government work


Over 22 million hectares (ha) of U.S. croplands are irrigated. Irrigation is an intensified agricultural land use that increases crop yields and the practice affects water and energy cycles at, above, and below the land surface. Until recently, there has been a scarcity of geospatially detailed information about irrigation that is comprehensive, consistent, and timely to support studies tying agricultural land use change to aquifer water use and other factors. This study shows evidence for a recent overall net expansion of 522 thousand ha across the U.S. (2.33%) and 519 thousand ha (8.7%) in irrigated cropped area across the High Plains Aquifer (HPA) from 2002 to 2007. In fact, over 97% of the net national expansion in irrigated agriculture overlays the HPA. We employed a modeling approach implemented at two time intervals (2002 and 2007) for mapping irrigated agriculture across the conterminous U.S. (CONUS). We utilized U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) county statistics, satellite imagery, and a national land cover map in the model. The model output, called the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Irrigated Agriculture Dataset for the U.S. (MIrAD-US), was then used to reveal relatively detailed spatial patterns of irrigation change across the nation and the HPA. Causes for the irrigation increase in the HPA are complex, but factors include crop commodity price increases, the corn ethanol industry, and government policies related to water use. Impacts of more irrigation may include shifts in local and regional climate, further groundwater depletion, and increasing crop yields and farm income.