We all have the tendency to take certain things in our lives for granted. We do not fully appreciate how crucial they are to our existence. We seldom, if ever, contemplate how our lives would change if they were not readily available or if they were more costly.
Water is a classic example. Except when our mouth is parched, many of us usually take water for granted. That’s because it has been an abundant and low-cost resource which many don’t fully appreciate. Just ask residents and farmers in the drought-stricken areas of the U.S. southern tier of states whose appreciation of water has undoubtedly grown considerably.
Maintaining a safe and affordable water supply is a basic responsibility for us all and we must renew our dedication and commitment to conservation of this increasingly precious natural resource. Water provides the very foundation upon which farmers will feed the world.
Many have spoken and written about the importance of increasing food production to feed a rapidly rising world population, currently about 7 billion and expected to reach 9 billion within 40 years. According to estimates of the United Nations, food production must double by 2050 to keep pace. Without vast supplies of fresh water, this objective will be impossible.
Clearly, the world’s success in fighting hunger depends on more efficient use of water. At last week’s observance of World Water Day, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that producing enough food for the world's rapidly growing population will require sustainable use of water -- the world's "most critical finite resource.”
According to Ki-Moon, unless we increase our capacity to use water wisely in agriculture, we will fail in our effort to feed the world and we will open the door to other problems such as drought and famine.
According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development, approximately 70 percent of the world’s water resources are used for agriculture and by 2025 two-thirds of the population could struggle to get access to this resource.
Irrigation accounts for about a third of the water use in the United States and is currently the nation’s largest use of fresh water, according to NationalAtlas.gov.
Along with these sobering agricultural water usage statistics comes big expectations in water conservation. Agriculture must show it is working diligently not only in growing food but also in conserving water.
Farmers in many areas and in many ways are adopting practices and technologies that will lead to more efficient use of water. According to a Colorado State University website, evaporative losses from the field surface are reduced as a result of conservation tillage, mulching and drip irrigation. Development of drought-tolerant crops and certain tillage methods also have aided in water conservation.
Monitoring water use in livestock facilities is an effective water conservation practice. Having a daily or hourly picture of water usage alerts producers to unexpected increases and can help identify possible water-saving opportunities. Prompt repair of leaking livestock waterers also helps conservation efforts.
The enormous challenge facing agriculture will continue to grow due to competition for water from other industries and from growing urban population centers. Access to fresh water has become a global problem yet many solutions are local.
With small changes, we all can help make a difference. Here are a few:
- Take shorter showers
- Fix leaking faucets or toilets promptly
- Lower water level in baths
- Put covers over pools to reduce evaporation
- Turn off water when shaving or brushing teeth
- Water plants in the evening
- Use a broom to clean your driveway, not the hose
- Wash your car from a bucket
Unfortunately, the U.S. home construction industry has neglected to incorporate rainfall-capture systems into most residences. This practice could help reduce water use by using rainwater, instead of fresh water, for toilet flushing as well as lawn and shrub watering.
Since power generation is another of our biggest water users, turning off lights or operating your air-conditioning less can also actually save water.
It is essential that we all make water conservation an on-going commitment on our farms as well as in our homes and communities. Failure to do so will have dire consequences for all.