“We think irrigation will increase in Alabama, regardless of whether we promote it or not. We want to make sure it is done in a way which is sustainable,” says Fowler.

It is probable, he says, that irrigation in Alabama will increase significantly over the next five years. “We’ll be coming out very shortly with new data from NASS showing an irrigation increase in the state from 2007 to 2012. I think we’ll have the biggest percentage increase in irrigation of any state in the nation, primarily because we started with such a small base.”

The objectives of the AUII have evolved over the decade that it has been in existence, says Fowler. “In the beginning, it looked at irrigation trends nationwide, especially in the Western U.S., and the fact that it wasn’t going to be sustainable, that irrigation might migrate to the eastern U.S., and whether the state of Alabama could benefit from that migration,” he says.

It also has looked at the economic impact and the environmental sustainability of increased irrigation in the state, he adds.

“We looked at the potential increased irrigation could have for Alabama’s rural economy, the environmental challenges caused by increased irrigation, and steps which can be taken to insure increased irrigation is sustainable and does not negatively affect the environment.”

The initiative also has asked why Alabama has only 120,000 acres of irrigated cropland when there are surrounding states with as many as one and a half million irrigated acres.

“We looked at the challenges of using surface water versus using groundwater. We also analyzed steps we think would be essential for a strategic plan for the future of irrigation growth in Alabama,” says Fowler.

Looking at water use in Alabama, according to 2005 data and looking strictly at consumptive uses of water, none of the agricultural uses of water is a major use of water compared to industrial and public uses, he says.