Yaqui Valley Project

The fertile Yaqui Valley produces 40 percent of Mexico’s wheat. In 2004, an eight-year period of low rainfall caused all three surface-water reservoirs to dry up. Wheat production dropped to zero. Our research team studied the impacts of the crippling drought by simulating the irrigated agricultural system using a specialized model.

Situated on the west coast of mainland Mexico on the Gulf of California, the Yaqui Valley comprises 850 square miles of irrigated wheat-based agriculture. It is the birthplace of the Green Revolution for wheat and one of Mexico’s most productive breadbaskets. Today, population growth, agricultural intensification, water diversions, groundwater pumping, land-use changes and aquaculture growth threaten agricultural yields and household incomes.

Our research showed that the impact of the historic 2004 drought could have been significantly reduced without affecting farm profits by better management of risks of allocating surface water and groundwater. Our water management model was implemented by the National Water Commission to reduce the risks associated with future droughts.

In combination with our findings from research in Chennai, India, we drew three wide-reaching conclusions. First, water supplies in developing regions are on the vulnerable edge of sustainability, because people tend to forget past water crises. In other words, when droughts end, the incentive for dealing with future supply problems disappears. Second, central water managers have been ineffective in addressing water crises. Third, integrated predictive models enable policymakers to better manage future crises.