Data compiled for the High Plains region of Kansas that includes five Groundwater Management Districts (GMDs) were analyzed for trends in irrigation water use, acres irrigated, precipitation, irrigation system types, and irrigated crop types to determine the effects of irrigation practices on water use over time. For the study period 1991 through 2003, precipitation decreased significantly (with 95-percent confidence) in northwestern and west-central Kansas but not in the southwestern and south-central parts of the State. Irrigation water use had no statistically significant trend during this period. There was a good (R= -0.77) relation between average regional precipitation and total GMD irrigation water use. When irrigation water use was adjusted for this relation, there was a positive trend (90-percent confidence level) in the adjusted irrigation water use. Another adjustment to water use was made using the ratio of annual precipitation to 1991-2005 average precipitation, which resulted in a negative trend (95-percent confidence level) in irrigation water use. This demonstrated the contradictory nature of precipitation adjustments to water use, making their utility somewhat suspect. GMD 3 in southwestern Kansas used 63 percent of the total acre-feet of irrigation water within all the GMDs.
When all GMDs are considered, the number of irrigated acres for flood and center pivot systems without drop nozzles decreased significantly during the study period. At the same time the number of drop nozzle irrigated acres increased significantly. The number of irrigated acres of water-intensive crops (corn, alfalfa, and soybeans) also increased significantly, whereas the number of less- or non-water-intensive crops (grain sorghum and wheat), and multiple crop type acres decreased. Drop nozzle irrigation systems used approximately 2 percent less water in a year-by-year comparison than center pivot systems and 8 to 11 percent less water than flood irrigation.
The best estimator of irrigation water use incorporated total acres irrigated and annual average or March-October regional precipitation. A conclusion that can be drawn from the trend analyses described in this report is that, although irrigation water use for all GMDs showed no statistically significant trend, an apparent increased efficiency of center pivots irrigation systems with drop nozzles has allowed more water-intensive crops to be grown on more irrigated acres.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Effects of irrigation practices on water use in the groundwater management districts within the Kansas high plains, 1991-2003