Water Conservation in Agriculture Sector – Modern Solutions to Past Failures
Part of our How to Conserve Water in Agriculture Guide
Water is critical for life on this planet. Yet, only 3% of the world’s water is freshwater. Just 1% of the world’s water can be used for human consumption. Water conservation in the agriculture sector is a necessity.
The main use of water is agriculture. In fact, agriculture is responsible for about 80% of freshwater consumption in the United States and over 90% of freshwater in some of the nation’s western states, according to USDA. While water is sometimes viewed as a renewable resource because of the water cycle, its availability is finite with respect to how much is available at any given place, during any given time.
Meaning, water can become non-renewable by region and the subsequent extraction, usage, or transportation costs can be prohibitive. This spells trouble for investors, growers, and others in the agriculture industry.
Famous environmental analyst Lester R. Brown gave a keynote address at the 2000 Stockholm Water Conference. In the address, he said, “While the demand [for water] continues to rise, the basic amount of freshwater supply provided by the hydrological cycle does not.”
Certain regions of the planet are drying out while others are experiencing floods. Although the total amount of water stays the same, changing climate patterns are causing the distribution of water to shift. With water scarcity becoming a larger problem every day, implementing water conservation in the agriculture sector is crucial.
“By 2025, scientists predict that one in five humans will live in regions suffering from water scarcity, areas with insufficient resources to meet water usage demands,” the Atlantic reported.
In the future, the need for water will increase alongside a growing world population and greater demand for agricultural products. By 2050, the total population of the world is expected to reach 10 billion people, and by then, agricultural output needs to expand 70%.
By 2030, if current practices are sustained, the world will be forced to contend with a 40% shortfall between the expected demand and available water supply.
However, as EPCOR Chairman Bob Sandford eloquently puts it in, Damned If We Don’t,
“This is not a time for pessimism or resignation. It is a time for courageous and relentless citizenship and heroic leadership. We have to figure out the new math and make it add up in a changing world. In doing so, we will offer hope which, in the future, may become as precious as water.”
Current Solutions to Past Failures – Water Conservation in Agriculture Sector
One of the most famous examples of water distribution failures starts in the Rocky Mountains and ends in Southern California. The Colorado River is shared by millions of people across seven U.S. states, and Mexico. Snowpack is now being annually reduced in the Rocky Mountains, which will impact the water levels downstream. The water rights are distributed by a complicated set of agreements, court decisions, federal law, and contracts. This compilation is known as the “Law of the River.”
Southern California, along with much of the southwestern United States, very heavily relies on the Colorado River for their water needs. In fact, according to USBR:
“The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to nearly 40 million people for municipal use, supply water to irrigate nearly 5.5 million acres of land, and is the lifeblood for at least 22 federally recognized tribes, 7 National Wildlife Refuges, 4 National Recreation Areas, and 11 National Parks.”
During periods of drought, however, this reliance on the Colorado River can dramatically increase. With increasing population growth in the southwestern United States, there is fear that there will soon be no water left over for southern California to use.
In response to this, solutions can sometimes take the form of regulations and legislation.
Facing dire water scarcity in the near to medium future, the state of California passed legislation known as SGMA, which requires Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSA) to create and enforce a Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSP). With the GSP, new restrictions will be implemented on groundwater pumping based on how much water is estimated in underground water basins.
This solution places regulations around water usage, aimed to build toward water sustainability. But with these new regulations, agricultural investors and growers are faced with an ever-more challenging investment environment.
This is where another deeper, modern solution can be applied.
Water Is a People Issue Too
Change needs to happen in the agriculture sector. It is not a matter of point of view, nor is it bi-partisan, nor is it an issue that leans to one side or the other. It doesn’t lean strictly toward the environmentalist perspective more than it does toward the perspective of commercial need.
The simple truth: water is a people issue. All people.
Historically, water information in agriculture has been largely fragmented. It has been kept in silos, partial to certain areas and, in some cases, has become inaccurate or outdated.
What this dispersed information has led to is a lack of communication – a lack of collaboration and idea-sharing. When the purpose of water is so widespread within agriculture and beyond, the idea of intellectual and action-driven alliances seems like an implied mandate. Yet it has not happened nearly enough.
Each area of the water sector, including agriculture, demonstrates its own discipline around water use and best practices. Each one has its own methods and expertise while also having its hardships. So, why not work together to pool knowledge?
In Damned If We Don’t, Jonathan Grant, one of AQUAOSO’s advisors, says:
“Clusters create advantages across the spectrum for those involved and turn into an exercise; it’s like a survival of the fittest, but with expert support.”
In other words, the experts across the water sector can work together to create a collaborative web of information and expertise that can act as a catalyst for professionals in agriculture – and everyone touched by water – to help each other.
With more regulations being put in place, it is imperative for correct and relevant information to become more centralized and normalized. Widespread and transparent data can support this idea of collaboration and, therefore, accelerate positive change.
Collaboration over best practices, processes, tools, and knowledge while using this information can be incredibly helpful – not just for water conservation in agriculture, but for the people who are a part of it. Technology can make this easier than ever. All that needs to happen is action.
When this reasoning is applied to agriculture – the usage of 90% of the western United States’ water – it becomes extremely relevant and helpful to people. Especially with the implementation of technology, this concept emerges as a modern solution.
Learn more about how to conserve water in agriculture in our comprehensive guide.
The Bottom Line
With the passage of new regulations, the reality of water scarcity now spreads through the agriculture sector. It points spotlights at a new set of water regulations and risks that must be managed by agricultural investors, growers, and other agriculture professionals.
Collaboration around new ideas and information is a modern solution to past failures and can help people work with new regulations around water. Ultimately, it can allow people to work together toward a water-resilient future.
At AQUAOSO, we are a team of water experts who are dedicated to building this water-resilient future. The AQUAOSO team helps investors, growers, lenders, and other agriculture professionals navigate and remove risk caused by water scarcity.
AQUAOSO collects and refines, data points of water, land, and agriculture to provide actionable insights to our members. See the regions we serve here.
Our decision-making tools reduce costs by eliminating expensive overhead while reducing the time it takes to wade through the silos of otherwise disorganized data. We want to contribute to knowledge sharing and collaboration to help build a water-resilient future.