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Ricefield groundwater cooperative program

The U.S. Geological Survey is conducting a study of the Chicot aquifer system in cooperation with the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center and the Louisiana Rice Research Board. The Chicot aquifer system is the principal source of fresh ground water in southwestern Louisiana. Rice irrigation typically accounts for over one-half of annual withdrawals from the aquifer, which is the most heavily pumped aquifer in Louisiana. Saltwater, present in coastal areas of the aquifer system, could move inland in response to heavy pumping for rice irrigation.

Southwestern Louisiana is currently in the third year of moderate to severe drought conditions. Because precipitation typically supplies about one-half of the water needed for rice growing, farmers will have to use more water from irrigation sources. In addition, the low stream flow in coastal areas has allowed saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico to migrate inland, making many of the traditional surface sources of irrigation unsuitable for rice. Agricultural agents expect very heavy pumping from the Chicot aquifer system this year. This pumping will cause already-declining water levels to fall further and could increase saltwater movement within the aquifer. Area farmers are concerned that the aquifer may not be able to provide water for future generations of rice farmers.

The objective of this study is to provide agricultural agents and farmers with baseline information about conditions in the Chicot aquifer system. To accomplish this objective, water-level and specific conductance data will be collected from wells in the rice-growing area over a 3 year period. Water-level data will indicate areas where water levels are experiencing large seasonal and/or long- term water-level declines. Specific conductance data will help to indicate areas where regional saltwater encroachment or localized up-coning is occurring. This evaluation of the current conditions in the Chicot aquifer system will help agricultural agents and farmers make decisions about the use of water from the Chicot aquifer system for irrigation supplies.

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