Farm irrigation
(Photo credit: K-State Research and Extension / Flickr)

To grow potatoes, sugar beets, corn, and wheat, many Idaho farmers rely on water from the Eastern Snake River Plain aquifer.

It’s one of the largest aquifers in the world. But since the ’50s, water supplies have been dwindling because of increased demand and climate change.

So in 2015, groundwater users collectively agreed to reduce their use by an average of 13%.

Two years later, Katrina Running of Idaho State University surveyed farmers to learn how they had adjusted to the new policy.

She found that on average they had implemented nine different water-saving strategies.

Those included making their irrigation systems more efficient and changing what they grow to avoid water-intensive crops.

“So they were cobbling together different adaptation options that would maybe shave off one or two percentage here and then one or two percentage here,” she says.

But in the end, most farmers were able to adapt.

“Only about 6-8% of farmers either chose exiting farming or stopping farming altogether,” Running says. “Typically, those were people who were retiring.”

So she says a similar cooperative approach could help protect water resources and farms in other drought-stricken areas.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.