Irrigation by Crop in the Continental United States From 2008 to 2020

P. J. Ruess, M. Konar, N. Wanders, M. Bierkens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Agriculture is the largest user of water in the United States. Yet, we do not understand the spatially resolved sources of irrigation water use (IWU) by crop. The goal of this study is to estimate crop-specific IWU from surface water withdrawals (SWW), total groundwater withdrawals (GWW), and nonrenewable groundwater depletion (GWD). To do this, we employ the PCR-GLOBWB 2 global hydrology model to partition irrigation information from the U.S. Geological Survey Water Use Database to specific crops across the Continental United States (CONUS). We incorporate high-resolution input data on agricultural production and climate within the CONUS to obtain crop-specific irrigation estimates for SWW, GWW, and GWD for 20 crops and crop groups from 2008 to 2020 at county spatial resolution. Over the study period, SWW decreased by 20%, while both GWW and GWD increased by 3%. On average, animal feed (alfalfa/hay) uses the most irrigation water across all water sources: 33 from SWW, 13 from GWW, and 10 km3/yr from GWD. Produce used less SWW (43%), but more GWW (57%), and GWD (27%) over the study time-period. The largest changes in IWU for each water source between the years 2008 and 2020 are: rice (SWW decreased by 71%), sugar beets (GWW increased by 232%), and rapeseed (GWD increased by 405%). These results present the first national-scale assessment of irrigation by crop, water source, and year. In total, we contribute nearly 2.5 million data points to the literature (3,142 counties; 13 years; 3 water sources; and 20 crops).
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2022WR032804
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2023


  • irrigation
  • United States
  • depletion
  • groundwater
  • surface water
  • agriculture
  • crop water use

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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