Agricultural Buffers to Reduce Groundwater Nitrate

At first look studies like are promising. But this approach assumes that (1) the crops grown in the buffer area do not leach nitrate or other contaminants and (2) the “integrated model” represents reality. It does not. It may be useful at this point, but any use of an agricultural buffer to grow “cash” crops must pass the economic test of the free market.

Megan M. Mayzelle, Joshua H. Viers, Josué Medellín-Azuara, Thomas Harter. Economic Feasibility of Irrigated Agricultural Land Use Buffers to Reduce Groundwater Nitrate in Rural Drinking Water Sources. Water 2015, Vol. 7 Issue 1, p12-37.

Agricultural irrigation leachate is often the largest source for aquifer recharge in semi-arid groundwater basins, but contamination from fertilizers and other agro-chemicals may degrade the quality of groundwater. Affected communities are frequently economically disadvantaged, and water supply alternatives may be too costly. This study aimed to demonstrate that, when addressing these issues, environmental sustainability and market profitability are not incompatible. We investigated the viability of two low impact crops, alfalfa and vineyards, and new recharge basins as an alternative land use in recharge buffer zones around affected communities using an integrated hydrologic, socio-geographic, and economic analysis. In the southern Central Valley, California, study area, alfalfa and vineyards currently constitute 30% of all buffer zone cropland. Economic analyses of alternative land use scenarios indicate a wide range of revenue outcomes. Sector output gains and potential cost saving through land use conversion and resulting flood control result in gains of at least $2.3 billion, as compared to costs of $0.3 to $0.7 billion for treatment options over a 20 year period. Buffer zones would maintain the economic integrity of the region and concur with prevailing policy options. Thus, managed agricultural recharge buffer zones are a potentially attractive option for communities facing financial constraint and needing to diversify their portfolio of policy and infrastructure approaches to meet drinking water quality objectives.

Click here for paper (Open Access).

 

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