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Title:Hard and soft cap groundwater allocations: a comparison of groundwater pumping restrictions on hydrologic and economic outcomes
Author(s):Young, Richael Kentlee
Advisor(s):Valocchi, Albert J.
Department / Program:Civil & Environmental Eng
Discipline:Environ Engr in Civil Engr
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Groundwater management
Abstract:While groundwater is an important primary and supplementary source of water in the western United States, its overuse can lead to negative consequences such as stream depletion, seawater intrusion, or land subsidence. An increasing number of groundwater management districts are restricting individual pumping in an effort to limit, or even reverse, such consequences. The nature of groundwater availability lends itself to more flexible allocation schemes, which I call "hard caps" and "soft caps." While a hard cap sets a groundwater user's maximum pumping in a single year, a soft cap allows a groundwater user to meet a multi-year average so that the user may pump more in some years and less in others. While there are many examples of hard and soft caps for groundwater in practice, no study to date has compared the resulting hydrologic and economic outcomes of each scheme. Using coupled agronomic, economic, and hydrologic models, I examine the performance of hard and soft caps for groundwater-fed irrigation. Irrigated agriculture uses the majority of groundwater in the United States and therefore the sector represents a significant stakeholder in the development of allocation schemes. I model the profit-maximizing decisions for an agricultural producer growing irrigated corn in western Nebraska. I illustrate the hydrologic and economic outcomes in the case of groundwater-induced stream depletion, which is a spatially and temporally heterogeneous consequence, or externality, of groundwater pumping. To do so, I combine datasets on regional climate, soils, economic parameters, and aquifer properties and use them as inputs to an instraseasonal crop-water model, an economic optimization, and a stream depletion model. I show that at moderate allocation levels, the soft cap results in higher expected profits and lower variance of profits. However, it can come at a cost: In exceptionally dry years, the soft cap can result in acute groundwater pumping, and therefore, stream depletion. The severity of this result depends on the hydrologic properties of the aquifer and well location. At non-binding or very binding allocation levels, the performances of the caps are similar. The implications for developing appropriately flexible allocations will depend on the combined needs for groundwater management and well-specific properties, meaning that a blended approach to caps in some instances may be desirable.
Issue Date:2017-12-14
Rights Information:Copyright 2017 Richael Kentlee Young
Date Available in IDEALS:2018-03-13
Date Deposited:2017-12

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