The US Geological Survey (USGS) has released an analysis that warns that the amount of water used for irrigation and the climate will change dramatically by the end of the century, depending on how quickly we extract, store and use it.
“There’s going to be a lot of water that is going to become valuable for farming and irrigation, and we’re going to need to think about how we store it,” said USGS research associate Scott Buell.
“It’s going get worse.”
Water from aquifer water conservation projects, like those in Arizona and Montana, has already been shown to be much less costly than water used by agriculture, but the USGS report also highlights that more water could become more valuable.
USGS Associate Director of Water Resource Planning Scott Bueschel, left, talks about water conservation in the San Francisco Bay area.
Photo: Reuters The report found that by 2100, aquifer water conservation could reduce US agricultural irrigation by as much as 15%, but water would still be much more valuable than agricultural irrigation, given that agricultural water is about 40% more valuable in terms of yield.
In Arizona and Wyoming, for example, the report found a similar scenario, with a 13% reduction in agricultural irrigation.
But water could be much cheaper than farming, and there is a higher chance of a water-rich soil being harvested and used.
The report also noted that the water we use is often contaminated with pollutants, and that it can have a negative effect on the health of our rivers, lakes and aquifering systems.
It is estimated that if the amount used for agricultural irrigation is reduced to just 3% of what is currently used, the water from the aquifercutures would be more valuable, the USG report found.
According to the US Geological survey, only around 4% of the water in the US comes from the Colorado River, which is a major source of water for agriculture and recreation.
For the aquifer, the most important water source for irrigation, the study found that only about 15% of water is used to irrigate crops.
But the study also highlighted the importance of aquifereas aquiferal water conservation.
Currently, there are about 7,500 dams, many of which are located in California, and are used to prevent water from flowing into streams, rivers and groundwater aquifes.
If we do not reverse the degradation of the aquifiable water infrastructure, the aquified water could soon become depleted and potentially lead to an increase in disease outbreaks in the United States, the authors of the report warned.
As more and more aquiferents are developed, they could also help in conserving groundwater, as well as helping farmers and ranchers reduce their dependence on imports, such as grain.
Dr Buehl said that by 2025, it is estimated the US will need to use about 1.5 billion acre-feet (about 1.8 trillion litres) of water per day, compared to 1.4 billion acre feet (1.3 trillion litres), to grow the agricultural water supply for the nation.
However, if we do reduce our reliance on agriculture, he said, water can be more readily stored and used for other things.
“The water from a hydropower plant can be reused as drinking water for the community, and aquifer resources can be used for urban development,” Dr Bueill said.
When it comes to groundwater, the researchers said that we have a lot to learn from other countries about what works.
“The main thing is to remember that water conservation is about water and not water,” Dr Rene Muhlenberg, a senior scientist at the US National Academy of Sciences, said.
“There’s so much water that we’re not using.”
US Geological Survey Assistant Director of Research and Planning Scott Auerbach, left.
Photo by Scott Buedchel (USGS photo) Dr Muhrenberg said that in the next 10 to 20 years, the United Nations is calling for a $50bn global commitment to conserve water.
He said that with that money, the world could have a much more effective approach to water conservation than we currently have.
“If we don’t change our thinking, then we’re just going to continue with the same unsustainable patterns,” he said.
“We’re not going to have any effective conservation strategies.”
What we need is to rethink the way we look at water and what we’re doing to conserve it.