Texas agricultural research scientists face a daunting task: By the year 2050 farmers will need cropping systems that require significantly less irrigation water than producers use today.

The Texas Water Development Board reports that by 2050 the state’s population will double from its current 22 million. Even with fairly strict conservation efforts, demand for water will increase by 20 percent to 25 percent. But water supply likely will decrease by 17 percent.

Agricultural irrigation use, currently the largest consumer of available water (more than half of all water use in the state), will decline because of increased competition with human consumption needs, said Comer Tuck, with the Texas Water Development Board.

Tuck, addressing the state’s potential water shortage during the recent Texas Produce Convention in San Antonio, said a significant increase in demand and a significant decrease in supply within the next 50 years creates serious problems for the state.

Sixteen regional water planning areas develop strategies to deal with the shortfalls. A state water plan will be presented for public comment this fall and a proposal, including input from public meetings beginning in September, will be considered by the Texas legislature in January 2007.

Tuck said studies show most water board regions will have less water for agricultural irrigation by 2050. “The Lower Rio Grande Valley is an exception,” he said. “Improved canals and other conservation efforts will not meet irrigated agriculture’s needs. But changes in population will play a role. By 2050 much less acreage in the Valley will be devoted to agriculture. Farmland, in fact, is already disappearing.”

He said in other areas, conservation measures will fall far short of preventing shortages. “LEPA and LESA irrigation, drip irrigation, furrow diking, surge flow valves and other conservation practices will help but will not be enough,” he said. “Even with conservation measures the Lubbock area will not come close to meeting irrigation needs.”

He said by 2010, Texas could face a 3.7 million acre-feet shortage on water needs. By 2050, deficit could be 8 million acre-feet. Those shortages are based on conditions during a serious drought, similar to the 1950s.

“By 2060, the Lubbock area could face a 2 million acre-feet shortage of agricultural irrigation water.”

He said agriculture would not be able to compete economically with urban use for water. “Agriculture will not be able to pay the price (municipalities will be willing to pay for water).”

e-mail: rsmith@farmpress.com