UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Evaluating Water Use for Agricultural Intensification in Southern Amazonia Using the Water Footprint Sustainability Assessment Lathuillière, Michael J.; Coe, Michael T.; Castanho, Andrea; Graesser, Jordan; Johnson, Mark S.


We performed a Water Footprint Sustainability Assessment (WFSA) in the Xingu Basin of Mato Grosso (XBMT), Brazil, with the objectives of (1) tracking blue (as surface water) and green water (as soil moisture regenerated by precipitation) consumption in recent years (2000, 2014); and (2) evaluating agricultural intensification options for future years (2030, 2050) considering the effects of deforestation and climate change on water availability in the basin. The agricultural sector was the largest consumer of water in the basin despite there being almost no irrigation of cropland or pastures. In addition to water use by crops and pasture grass, water consumption attributed to cattle production included evaporation from roughly 9463 ha of small farm reservoirs used to provide drinking water for cattle in 2014. The WFSA showed that while blue and green water consumptive uses were within sustainable limits in 2014, deforestation, cattle confinement, and the use of irrigation to increase cropping frequency could drive water use to unsustainable levels in the future. While land management policies and practices should strive for protection of the remaining natural vegetation, increased agricultural production will require reservoir and irrigation water management to reduce the potential threat of blue water scarcity in the dry season. In addition to providing general guidance for future water allocation decisions in the basin, our study offers an interpretation of blue and green water scarcities with changes in land use and climate in a rapidly evolving agricultural frontier.

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