Optimal and Sustainable Groundwater Use: Evidence from Nebraska

Abstract

The agricultural sector is the primary water consumer in the US. Groundwater is one of its main sources, with 65% of irrigated farmland relying on groundwater for their water supply. Groundwater use presents a common pool problem: if a farmer pumps groundwater, she decreases the aquifer’s water table and thus increases the cost of pumping for farmers in the same aquifer. Studying such a problem is challenging due to a lack of markets and data on groundwater use. In this paper, I leverage detailed farmer-level data on (ground)water use, crop choices, and crop yields to study the equilibrium implications of the current groundwater costs. I focus on the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska. In order to estimate the effect of water costs on water use and crop choices, I combine a crop-growth model with an economic model. I use the crop-growth model to recover the precise relation between water use and crop yields. I use the economic model to estimate the marginal cost of water for farmers. I then quantify how farmers respond to water costs by switching which crop they plant or changing the water use per planted crop. I find that farmers are inelastic to water costs: a 10% increase in the water cost would decrease water use by 3%. Moreover, I find that farmers adapt to higher water costs by both reducing the water use per planted crop and fallowing the land. Lastly, I utilize my estimates to compute the optimal and sustainable tax on groundwater use.

Publication
Optimal and Sustainable Groundwater Use: Evidence from Nebraska

This project was a finalist for the “Best PhD Presentation Award” at the 98th Annual Conference of The Agricultural Economics Society.

Facundo Danza
Facundo Danza
PhD in Economics

PhD in economics at NYU. Fields of interest : environmental economics, agricultural economics, energy economics.

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