Trend Detection for the Extent of Irrigated Agriculture in Idaho’s Snake River Plain, 1984–2016
Chance, Eric W.
Cobourn, Kelly M.
Thomas, Valerie A.
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Understanding irrigator responses to changes in water availability is critical for building strategies to support effective management of water resources. Using remote sensing data, we examine farmer responses to seasonal changes in water availability in Idaho’s Snake River Plain for the time series 1984–2016. We apply a binary threshold based on the seasonal maximum of the Normalized Difference Moisture Index (NDMI) using Landsat 5–8 images to distinguish irrigated from non-irrigated lands. We find that the NDMI of irrigated lands increased over time, consistent with trends in irrigation technology adoption and increased crop productivity. By combining remote sensing data with geospatial data describing water rights for irrigation, we show that the trend in NDMI is not universal, but differs by farm size and water source. Farmers with small farms that rely on surface water are more likely than average to have a large contraction (over −25%) in irrigated area over the 33-year period of record. In contrast, those with large farms and access to groundwater are more likely than average to have a large expansion (over +25%) in irrigated area over the same period.