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Goal: Deliver Benefits to the Public Mitigating groundwater depletion in the Mississippi Embayment

Groundwater is being depleted in the Mississippi Embayment. But a new modeling study suggests that afforestation—converting less productive Mississippi croplands to forests—can mitigate groundwater resource depletion and help groundwater resources recover.

An agricultural field being irrigated
In Mississippi, groundwater is used to irrigate crops such as soy, cotton, and corn. Converting less productive croplands to forests can prevent further groundwater depletion. USDA photo by Gary Feng.

Groundwater depletion is a serious concern in the Mississippi Delta and worldwide. Agricultural crop production in the Delta requires irrigation, and that water use has led to severe groundwater depletion. Afforestation can conserve water resources, improve water quality, and mitigate river floods. However, its effect on groundwater resources has not been fully investigated.

Researchers used the U.S. Geological Survey Mississippi Embayment Regional Aquifer Study model to simulate the afforestation of croplands and estimate impacts on groundwater availability in the Upper Yazoo River watershed in Mississippi.

Model simulations showed that the average groundwater level had declined almost four feet (1.2 meter) in the croplands over a 20-year period from 1987 to 2007, whereas the average decline was less than a half foot (0.13 meter) for forested area. This reduction was mainly due to no groundwater pumping after afforestation. The study indicates that afforestation on less productive croplands in Mississippi can mitigate groundwater resource depletion and help to recover groundwater resources.

Principal Investigators
Ying Ouyang, Research Hydrologist
Theodor D. Leininger, Project Leader, Research Plant Pathologist
4155 - Center for Bottomland Hardwoods Research
Strategic Program Areas
Water, Air, and Soil
Resource Management and Use
Impacts of afforestation on groundwater resource: A case study for Upper Yazoo River watershed, Mississippi, USA
External Partners
Wei Jin - St. Johns River Water Management District, Florida
Gary Feng - USDA Agricultural Research Service
Jia Yang - Mississippi State University