The Evolving Impact of the Ogallala Aquifer: Agricultural Adaptation to Groundwater and Climate

42 Pages Posted: 24 Nov 2011 Last revised: 28 Feb 2021

See all articles by Richard Hornbeck

Richard Hornbeck

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business

Pinar Keskin

Wellesley College - Department of Economics

Date Written: November 2011

Abstract

Agriculture on the American Great Plains has been constrained by historical water scarcity. After World War II, technological improvements made groundwater from the Ogallala aquifer available for irrigation. Comparing counties over the Ogallala with nearby similar counties, groundwater access increased irrigation intensity and initially reduced the impact of droughts. Over time, land-use adjusted toward water-intensive crops and drought-sensitivity increased; conversely, farmers in water-scarce counties maintained drought-resistant practices that fully mitigated higher drought-sensitivity. Land values capitalized the Ogallala's value at $26 billion in 1974; as extraction remained high and water levels declined, the Ogallala's value fell to $9 billion in 2002.

Suggested Citation

Hornbeck, Richard and Keskin, Pinar, The Evolving Impact of the Ogallala Aquifer: Agricultural Adaptation to Groundwater and Climate (November 2011). NBER Working Paper No. w17625, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1964170

Richard Hornbeck (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

5807 South Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Pinar Keskin

Wellesley College - Department of Economics ( email )

106 Central Street
Wellesley, MA 02181
United States

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