Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2013

Document Type



Environmental Studies

First Advisor

Paul Lander

Second Advisor

Dale Miller

Third Advisor

Mark Williams


Water is an important, finite resource; efficiency in use is essential. With projected reductions in the water supply due to water shortages from changes in climate and increases in demand from other public sectors, water efficiency within agriculture is becoming of increasing importance. This study evaluates the water efficiency with which water is used in agriculture, in terms of allocation: how much water is designated to agriculture and the usage of this water; and resilience: how resistant agricultural systems are under conditions of limited water. Productivity indicates the ratio of water used to yield produced, further assessing efficiency through allocation. Cropland usage, designation of irrigated acres, and irrigation systems are evaluated. Comparisons between 2002, a high drought year, and 2007, the control year, measure agricultural system resilience. Data is gathered from the USGS National water survey, the Census of Agriculture for 2002 and 2007, and, when necessary, supplemented with USDA survey data. Results show large inefficiencies in water use with 76% of feed grown on irrigated acres compared to 75% of food grown on non-irrigated acres. 63% of total irrigation water is used to produce feed for livestock. Comparisons between years of normal water supply and limited water supply were not conclusive. Results are presented, with discussion of implications and suggestions for future studies. The lack of and difficulty associated with necessary data is also addressed. Possible reorganization of federal data collection methods is proposed. The goal of agriculture is assumed to be human food production. Efficiency of water use in agriculture through allocation and productivity will allow for continued food production under conditions of water stress.