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Watershed planning for sustainable irrigation expansion in Alabama
Proceedings of the 2022 Mississippi Water Resources Conference

Year: 2022 Authors: Newby A., Ellenburg L., Estes M.

Although the Southeast enjoys more annual rainfall than most of the U.S., it still experiences periodic droughts and the rainfall distribution throughout the year is not ideal for agriculture. In Alabama, agriculture is further impacted because of relatively poor water holding soils and lack of widespread irrigation. The need to pursue sustainable irrigation expansion and resource conservation in water rich states such as Alabama has been identified in farmer listening sessions. According to the irrigation status of harvested cropland in a agricultural census, Florida had about 1.3 million acres under irrigation, Georgia irrigated around 1.2 million acres, Mississippi had 1.8 million and Alabama had only 162,000 irrigated acres.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Alabama office is working with the Alabama Soil and Water Conservation Committee to allocate financial assistance to sustainably expand irrigation in Alabama. Auburn University and the University of Alabama in Huntsville are supporting the effort through the development of a statewide resource assessment and follow up watershed plans for selected HUC-8 basins. The irrigation watershed plans examine alternatives for increasing acres of on-farm irrigation, identify natural and cultural resources that might be negatively impacted by expanded irrigated agriculture, estimate economic benefits, and evaluate environmental sensitivity concerns. Data at the HUC-12 level is provided where available to assist with the determination of sustainable expansion. Farmers selected for participation are prioritized using recommendations from the watershed plans and by categories including access to water and a record of stewardship practices.

The plans are developed with coordination and guidance from diverse stakeholders including government agencies, non-government organizations, landowners, and others that are interested. This presentation will cover aspects of the overall project, provide updates on completed watershed plans, and share future steps in planning for sustainable water use in Alabama's agricultural industry.

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