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Climate Variability and Water Infrastructure

Climate Variability and Water Infrastructure

Historical Experience in the Western United States

(p.253) 9 Climate Variability and Water Infrastructure
The Economics of Climate Change
Zeynep K. HansenGary D. LibecapScott E. Lowe
University of Chicago Press

This chapter discusses how a major policy initiative, massive investment in dams and related canals, largely for irrigation and flood control in the twentieth century, affected crop yields and mixes during times of extreme drought and wetness. The chapter assembles a county-level data set of 3,620 observations for five western states, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming using census data for the twentieth century. These states have similar temperature and precipitation patterns, crops, and soil types, but the availability of irrigation varies widely. The crop data are for hay, wheat, barley, corn, and potatoes. The data set includes total planted acreage, total failed acreage, total fallow or idle acreage, and total harvested acreage by crop, along with information on topography, soil quality, water storage and distribution, temperature, and precipitation. There was variation in agricultural production and crop mix before and after the water infrastructure was installed, and across counties with and without such infrastructure during times of excessive drought and precipitation. The results underscore how important the water infrastructure has been for long-term adaptation strategies to respond to highly variable climatic conditions.

Keywords:   climate variability, water infrastructure, crop yields, drought, precipitation patterns, soil types, irrigation, topography, water storage

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