Food-energy-water nexus to mitigate sustainability challenges in a groundwater reliant agriculturally dominant environment (GRADE)

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Abstract

Groundwater reliant and agriculturally dominant environments (GRADEs) utilize exhaustible aquifer resources to supply food and fiber demands. The sustainability of these GRADES is threatened by over-exploitation of fresher groundwater resources. There is an interest in exploring deeper brackish groundwater resources to sustain agricultural based economies in these regions. Using the southern high plains of Texas (SHP) as a test-bed, the interlinkages between food-energy-water on improving water resiliency through brackish groundwater development is explored. Three scenarios—(1) direct use of deeper formations; (2) blending deeper and shallower groundwaters and 3) desalination of blended resources were evaluated in a spatially explicit manner. The results indicate that direct reuse of deeper water is possible over 30% of the study area, but it is not available in areas of critical need. The parameters limiting the suitability of deeper groundwater for agriculture in the order of decreasing importance are EC > TDS > SAR > B > Na > Cl. Simple blending of water from deeper and shallower aquifers improve water quality over roughly 900,000 acres. While blending greatly reduces the specific ion toxicities caused by sodium absorption ratio (SAR) and boron (B), the limitations of total dissolved solids (TDS) cannot be overcome. The over-burden pressures in the deeper confined aquifer somewhat alleviate the blending energy requirements, especially in the southern portions of SHP. Desalination increases the energy requirements by several fold and is not suitable to sustain current agricultural practices which are focused mostly on lower valued staple crops. Using desalinated water for municipal and industrial uses can help ameliorate the stresses on the Ogallala Aquifer and enhance its longevity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-36
Number of pages16
JournalEnvironmental Progress and Sustainable Energy
Volume37
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2018

Keywords

  • Brackish groundwater
  • Dockum Geological Unit
  • Ogallala Aquifer
  • Southern High Plains

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