Take a look at recent headlines and many have something to do with water. “Lingering Drought Dims Prospects of Winter Wheat Crop,” “China’s Problem is Water,” “Irene Relief Continues as Some Areas Still Under Water” and this is just a small sampling from popular press articles, take a look through your favorite magazine and I bet you’ll find something about water. Some areas have too much water, others are in a drought, and still others have to worry about the safety of their water. With the following thoughts, I hope to create discussion and challenge you to think about what you would propose as possible solutions!
What does water mean to you and your family? Living on the Ogallala Aquifer, we take water for granted on our farm, this is until we have a pivot that is broken down and the crops are without water for a week or two. Even more alarming is when we have an empty dam or broken water tank, then is time for fast action to get water to the cattle or hogs NOW! Think about it for a minute, we use water in everything we do at home and in agriculture. According to http://www.usgs.gov/ each person uses nearly 80-100 gallons of water a day in the U.S. and this is just for personal use. As I think of water, I think of 2 things: weather and controversy.
When we look at raising enough food to feed a rising population (expected to be 9 billion by 2050), one of the key reasons that decision making in agriculture is different from other businesses are the biological and physical laws of nature. If I were ranching in Texas right now, I would be considering my options to keep my cattle herd alive with no forage available because of the drought. If I lived on the eastern seaboard, I would be hoping flood waters caused by Hurricane Irene would recede so that I could have electricity restored to be able to milk my cows without having to run off of a generator. Our farm is irrigated, we have the option to mitigate some of the challenges thrown at us by Mother Nature, but we still dealt with some flooded acres this spring.
Controversy continually surrounds water and its use. Who determines exactly what reasonable use is, how would we manage water markets if we were to move water beyond being a free good, what about water rights, and the allocation of water? I wouldn’t want to forget to mention the debates surrounding water regulations at the local, state and federal level. Water also creates controversy and war around the world. Water.org states that nearly 1 billion people lack access to safe water-think on that statistic for a few minutes. Are there ways we can increase the supply of water that is available for our use? Water is currently a free good in most settings and its use is encouraged, over time will it become subjected to the challenges of scarcity everywhere?
In our own backyard, we look at the court challenges of the Republican River Compact between Nebraska and Kansas, the restrictions on well drilling, and who could overlook the current debate over the Keystone XL pipeline proposal to cross through the Sandhills of Nebraska. Water is a limited resource and I only wish that I had all of the answers to solve the controversy the will continue to surround the use of water, but I don’t. I just hope that anyone who reads this thinks about our water use and appreciates that we still have access to a safe and abundant supply of water at this time in much of agriculture. We need to realize that water is going to become more important as we move into the future.
As farmers, we are expected to feed the world, but we have to be able to raise a crop that needs a lot of water. Who decides who gets the water; does it get diverted from food production for use in urban areas? Who decides how water quality will be regulated, water has long been a limited resource issue and the state and local governments have had jurisdiction, but what happens when the EPA starts to regulate more through the Clean Water Act provisions? These are all thoughts to ponder, so I will end with a statement that my students are sick of hearing; Water will be the commodity of the future in agriculture. It may be confusing and impossible to ever be an expert, but water is an issue that we had better try to understand and start formulating how we will handle the water issues that each of us will face as we strive to feed the world!