Modeling irrigated cotton with shallow groundwater in the Aral Sea Basin of Uzbekistan: I. Water dynamics
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In Khorezm, a region located in the Aral Sea basin of Uzbekistan, water use for irrigation of predominantly cotton is high whereas water use efficiency is low. To quantify the seasonal water and salt balance, water application, crop growth, soil water, and groundwater dynamics were studied on a sandy, sandy loam and loamy cotton field in the years 2003 and 2005. To simulate and quantify improved management strategies and update irrigation standards, the soil water model Hydrus-1D was applied. Results showed that shallow groundwater contributed a substantial share (up to 399 mm) to actual evapotranspiration of cotton (estimated at 488-727 mm), which alleviated water stress in response to suboptimal quantities of water applied for irrigation, but enhanced concurrently secondary soil salinization. Thus, pre-season salt leaching becomes a necessity. Nevertheless, as long as farmers face high uncertainty in irrigation water supply, maintaining shallow groundwater tables can be considered as a safety-net against unreliable water delivery. Simulations showed that in 2003 around 200 mm would have been sufficient during pre-season leaching, whereas up to 300 mm of water was applied in reality amounting to an overuse of almost 33%. Using some of this water during the irrigation season would have alleviated season crop-water stress such as in June 2003. Management strategy analyses revealed that crop water uptake would only marginally benefit from a permanent crop residue layer, often recommended as part of conservation agriculture. Such a mulch layer, however, would substantially reduce soil evaporation, capillary rise of groundwater, and consequently secondary soil salinization. The simulations furthermore demonstrated that not relying on the contribution of shallow groundwater to satisfy crop water demand is possible by implementing timely and soil-specific irrigation scheduling. Water use would then not be higher than the current Uzbek irrigation standards. It is argued that if furrow irrigation is to be continued, pure sandy soils, which constitute < 5% of the agricultural soils in Khorezm, are best to be taken out of annual cotton production.
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