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American Economic Journal: Applied Economics: Vol. 6 No. 1 (January 2014)

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

Article Citation

Hornbeck, Richard, and Pinar Keskin. 2014. "The Historically Evolving Impact of the Ogallala Aquifer: Agricultural Adaptation to Groundwater and Drought." American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 6(1): 190-219.

DOI: 10.1257/app.6.1.190

Abstract

Agriculture on the American Plains has been constrained historically by water scarcity. Post-WWII technologies enabled farmers over the Ogallala aquifer to extract groundwater for large-scale irrigation. Comparing counties over the Ogallala with nearby similar counties, groundwater access increased agricultural land values and initially reduced the impact of droughts. Over time, land use adjusted toward water intensive crops and drought sensitivity increased. Viewed differently, farmers in nearby water-scarce areas maintained lowervalue drought-resistant practices that fully mitigate naturally higher drought sensitivity. The evolving impact of the Ogallala illustrates the importance of water for agricultural production, but also the large scope for agricultural adaptation to groundwater and drought.

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Online Appendix (858.67 KB) | Download Data Set (283.16 MB) | Author Disclosure Statement(s) (123.82 KB)

Authors

Hornbeck, Richard (Harvard U)
Keskin, Pinar (Wellesley College)

JEL Classifications

N51: Economic History: Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment, and Extractive Industries: U.S.; Canada: Pre-1913
N52: Economic History: Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment, and Extractive Industries: U.S.; Canada: 1913-
Q15: Land Ownership and Tenure; Land Reform; Land Use; Irrigation; Agriculture and Environment
Q25: Renewable Resources and Conservation: Water
Q54: Climate; Natural Disasters; Global Warming

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