Sustainable Water Technology and Practice Advancements for Agriculture
Part of our How to Conserve Water in Agriculture Guide
In 2018, stakeholders from around the world gathered at the 8th World Water Forum to discuss challenges related to financing water infrastructure. The consensus was clear: “only 20% of the funding needed to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) is being invested each year.” Sustainable water technology must be invested in for positive change to happen in any industry that is touched by water.
Agriculture lenders, investors, and financiers alike know that there is a clear case for investing in sustainable water technology and infrastructure. But according to the OECD, the “lack of appropriate analytical tools and data to assess complex water-related investments, and track record of such investments can deter financiers.”
The time for investing in sustainable water technology for agriculture is now; without it, the GDP could drop by 6% by 2050 in some countries, with $94 billion in losses due to water insecurity and $260 billion lost due to insufficient water supply.
As the U.N.’s SDG 6 Global Acceleration Framework explains:
“Water demand and withdrawals are increasing due to population growth, socio-economic development, urbanization and land-use change, inefficient use in water-using sectors, and changing consumption patterns.”
How can we find common ground across all of these disparate sectors to address water scarcity at a macro level? Let’s take a look at what new technologies and practices are on the horizon, and how stakeholders can work together to make them a reality.
New Sustainable Water Technology and Practices
In Water Security, Vol. 9, the writers propose that there are three main ways to address water scarcity: supply augmentation; demand-side management; and reallocation. We’ll take a look at one example from each of these three categories, although keep in mind that no single solution is fully representative of each technology or practice:
- Supply augmentation
- Demand-side management
- Water reallocation
Supply augmentation refers to increasing the amount of water resources available in a region, usually by building infrastructures, such as dams or irrigation systems. There’s no clearer example of supply augmentation than desalination, in which saltwater – typically seawater – is processed into freshwater suitable for irrigation and drinking.
Currently, Israel uses desalination plants to produce more freshwater than it can use, while Kuwait acquires 100% of its water through desalination. In the U.S., the Carlsbad Plant near San Diego produces 50 million gallons of usable water per day, accounting for as much as 10 percent of freshwater used in the region.
Other forms of supply augmentation increase access to water via better transportation or storage systems. In California, policymakers have proposed everything from bigger reservoirs to 30-mile-long tunnels under the Sacramento River Delta.
However, as Nature.org puts it: “These efforts often ignore the paradox of increasing water supply: while increasing supply may temporarily alleviate water scarcity, it also encourages levels of demand that cannot be sustained through dry periods.”
The second approach to addressing water scarcity is demand-side management. While this can encompass everything from education to better regulations, new technologies have a role to play here too – primarily in the form of smart tech.
For example, evapotranspiration – a combination of water loss due to transpiration and evaporation – is a key indicator of water consumption in a given area, but until recently, growers had to rely on third parties to provide irrigation recommendations based on ET data. New tools make it easier to measure evapotranspiration data in real-time, giving growers insight into upcoming weather events and environmental conditions.
One project in Australia proposes the use of drones to “provide accurate, immediate and cost-effective snapshots of the micro-climate anywhere in or above vineyards.” These unmanned aerial vehicles use a combination of cameras and other sensors to produce 3D images incorporating temperature, wind velocity, and more.
Along with market incentives to lower demand, technologies like these may have an increasingly large role to play in reducing water use in agriculture.
Finally, there’s water reallocation, which may include market incentives, local and regional regulations, public investments, and other attempts to change water use patterns, often with the goal of replenishing depleted aquifers.
At the heart of water reallocation is water accounting, which the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. defines as “quantifying water resources and uses of water, much like financial accounts provide information on income and expenditure.”
This is what will allow for water trading, water banking, and other types of smart water markets, which are key to ensuring a sustainable water supply in agriculture.
“The ability to trade water increases its value and can spur public and private investments in irrigation efficiency…. [I]mproved water allocation policies have been associated with reduced risks from water scarcity.”
Finding Solutions Through Collaboration and Conversation
Of course, none of these technological advances and practices exist in isolation, and in the past, various stakeholders in agriculture, finance, and conservation have rarely been aligned. Chris Peacock, founder, and CEO of AQUAOSO, put it this way in a recent podcast interview:
“There’s usually a lot of conflict across different user groups…. because they’re working from different vantage points.”
In order to put these water conservation technologies into practice, we’ll need to see a concerted effort across multiple stakeholder groups to drive innovation and investment in these technologies. This means large-scale collaborations, data-sharing at both the macro and micro levels, and more stakeholder input in government regulations.
In Ten Actions for Financing Water Infrastructure, the World Water Council recommends “empirically grounded, scalable programs that engage both public and private sector actors, principally by appealing to their rational self-interest.” After all, improved water security practices in agriculture can benefit the global economy, and while individual technologies are incredibly important, they won’t solve the problem on their own.
“Without a comprehensive view,” says Chris, “you fund point solutions – you don’t fund holistic solutions that potentially solve the bigger issues that we’re facing…. As we start to break down the silos of data, we can start to break down the silos of decision-making that happens at the watershed level,” ultimately leading to better decisions overall.
That’s why AQUAOSO is committed to providing an easy way to monitor water risk with our unique Water Security Platform – a geospatial tool that collects data from disparate sources to provide actionable information for farmers, lenders, and investors alike.
We believe that one of the ways we can help increase water resilience is by sparking conversations about water scarcity across a range of industries. By discussing these topics with open and transparent data in hand, we can encourage collaboration and action, rather than conflict, as we work toward a more water-resilient future.
Read more about the financial benefits of conserving water in agriculture in our comprehensive guide.
The Bottom Line
AQUAOSO’s Water Security Platform is a one-of-kind-tool designed to support a range of stakeholders in the agricultural industry. But that isn’t the only way we contribute. We also offer a Programmatic Assistance with Water Data program to help small non-profits better understand water risk, and a variety of free resources for the general public.
Whether you’re a lender or investor looking for the information you need to make better decisions, or a local organization trying to better understand regional water data, reach out to us to start a conversation about the water security issues that affect you.