The buffer value of groundwater when well yield is limited

T. Foster, N. Brozović, C. Speir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


A large proportion of the total value of groundwater in conjunctive use systems is associated with the ability to smooth out shortfalls in surface water supply during droughts. Previous research has argued that aquifer depletion in these regions will impact farmers negatively by reducing the available stock of groundwater to buffer production in future periods, and also by increasing the costs of groundwater extraction. However, existing studies have not considered how depletion may impact the productivity of groundwater stocks in conjunctive use systems through reductions in well yields. In this work, we develop a hydro-economic modeling framework to quantify the effects of changes in well yields on the buffer value of groundwater, and apply this model to an illustrative case study of tomato production in California's Central Valley. Our findings demonstrate that farmers with low well yields are forced to forgo significant production and profits because instantaneous groundwater supply is insufficient to buffer surface water shortfalls in drought years. Negative economic impacts of low well yields are an increasing function of surface water variability, and are also greatest for farmers operating less efficient irrigation systems. These results indicate that impacts of well yield reductions on the productivity of groundwater are an important economic impact of aquifer depletion, and that failure to consider this feedback may lead to significant errors in estimates of the value of groundwater management in conjunctive use systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)638-649
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Hydrology
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017


  • Buffer value
  • Conjunctive use
  • Groundwater depletion
  • Irrigation
  • Well yield

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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