Effects of irrigated agroecosystems: 2. Quality of soil water and groundwater in the southern High Plains, Texas

B. R. Scanlon, J. B. Gates, R. C. Reedy, William Jackson, P. Bordovsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Trade-offs between water-resource depletion and salinization need to be understood when promoting water-conservative irrigation practices. This companion paper assesses impacts of groundwater-fed irrigation on soil water and groundwater quality using data from the southern High Plains (SHP). Unsaturated zone soil samples from 13 boreholes beneath irrigated agroecosystems were analyzed for water-extractable anions. Salt accumulation in soils varies with irrigation water quality, which ranges from low salinity in the north (median Cl: 21 mg/L) to higher salinity in the south (median Cl: 180 mg/L). Large Cl bulges under irrigated agroecosystems in the south are similar to those under natural ecosystems, but they accumulated over decades rather than millennia typical of natural ecosystems. Profile peak Cl concentrations (1200-6400 mg/L) correspond to irrigation efficiencies of 92-98% with respect to drainage and are attributed to deficit irrigation with minimal flushing. Perchlorate (ClO 4) also accumulates under irrigated agroecosystems, primarily from irrigation water, and behaves similarly to Cl. Most NO3-N accumulation is below the root zone. Groundwater total dissolved solids (TDS) have increased by ≤960 mg/L and NO3-N by ≤9.4 mg/L since the early 1960s. Mobilization of salts that have accumulated under irrigated agroecosystems is projected to degrade groundwater much more in the future because of the essentially closed-basin status of the aquifer, with discharge occurring primarily through irrigation pumpage. TDS are projected to increase by an additional 2200 mg/L (median), ClO4 by 21 μg/L, and NO 3-N by 52 mg/L. Water and salt balances should be considered in irrigation management in order to minimize salinization issues.

Original languageEnglish
JournalWater Resources Research
StatePublished - 2010


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