FIGURE 1-2 Irrigated land in the United States. Note that most of this is located in the more arid regions of the country.

SOURCE: N.Gollehon, USDA ERS, written commun., July 12, 2007. Based on data from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) Census of Agriculture.

the applied water is incorporated into the crop, but most of it leaves the fields as (1) evaporation from the soil and transpiration from plants (called evapotranspiration or ET), (2) runoff to rivers and streams (sometimes called “return flow”), and (3) infiltration to the surficial aquifer. The water that is incorporated into the crops or lost to evapotranspiration is referred to as “consumptive use,” because it cannot be reused for another purpose in the immediate vicinity.

Rates of ET vary greatly by the type of crop. During a growing season, a leaf will transpire many times more water than its own weight. An acre of corn gives off about 3,000–4,000 gallons of water each day while a large oak tree can transpire 40,000 gallons per year (USGS, 2007). Grasses that might be in cellulosic production have a slightly higher ET rate than corn, but a considerably lower ET rate than trees.

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