Anatomy of the 2016 Drought in New York State: Implications for Agriculture and Water Resources

Track 4B: Improving Watershed Management
Friday, October 13, 2017, 10:00 am – 11:50 am

Shannan Sweet
NatureNet Science Postdoctoral Fellow
Cornell University
The Nature Conservancy

NY State 2016 snowfall, rainfall, streamflows (and air temperatures) were significantly below (or above) 60-year averages, which contributed to the 2016 drought. Model estimates of agricultural crop irrigation water use suggest increased water use of 3 to 9 times in drought years. This is important because NY agricultural water use is not well understood and severe short-term droughts could increase in frequency with climate change. Surveys of NY farmers suggest >70% of rainfed field and pasture crops suffered losses >30% in the 2016 drought, with some losses >90%. Losses >30% were reported even for irrigated crops because farmers lacked adequate water supplies and/or irrigation equipment. Farmers believe drought will occur more frequently in the future and are investing in irrigation equipment and water sources to prepare. Given this, plus the economic importance of supplemental irrigation and that short- term droughts may increase in frequency, irrigation in NY will likely increase, straining water resources. More research on improving irrigation efficiency and infrastructure is needed to sustain farm productivity and water resources.