Overcoming Water Scarcity

Water, One of life’s most important molecules. Water plays an essential role in human health, animal health, climate, agriculture, economics, cultures, and many other facets of everyday life. However, many regions of the world go through periods in which they lack sufficient access to this extremely valuable resource.

Upwards of 60% of the Western United States are currently experiencing some sort of drought. Amongst these states experiencing drought, California has experienced an exceptionally long dry period, with this year representing the fifth year of a dry spell. The effects of this drought have cascaded through different parts of society including the economy, agriculture, and, food systems.

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Figure 1: Chart showing the progression of California’s drought through the past 5 years. Image credit: http://www.businessinsider.com/californias-drought-situation-is-worse-than-ever-2015-4

Due to the fact that California is the largest agricultural producer in the United States, it is now critically important to look at ways in which water can be further conserved in order to make these agricultural systems continually sustainably. With research showing that January of 2016 was the driest January on meteorological record, and other research showing that this this year could be the driest yet of the drought, people need to start understanding the consequences of running out of water, and different ways to act to solve the issue.

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Figure 2: Top: Picture of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park on March 19th 2011. Bottom: Half Dome on March 19th 2015.  This contrast shows how much the drought has diminished precipitation in regions of California. Photo Credit: http://www.businessinsider.com/californias-drought-situation-is-worse-than-ever-2015-4

The impacts of the recent California drought on agriculture range from short term impacts, to long term impacts.   The short-term impacts include mostly drastic effects on surface water flows. Decreased surface waters can affect food systems directly through decreases in the water supply that agriculture depends on, and through indirect effects such as impacting aquatic and riparian ecosystems, thus affecting the animals from those habitats that eventually become part of our food systems. Long term impacts include the effects on groundwater, and ecosystems through other disturbances such as wildfire.

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Figure 3: A wildfire in Yosemite National Park caused in part by the Drought.  Shows how drought can cause ecological disturbances than can greatly alter ecosystems, and thus things derived from those ecosystems such as food systems.  Photo Credit:http://www.climatecentral.org/news/drought-fueled-wildfire-near-yosemite-rages-on-16394

With some scientists suggesting the drought has gotten to the point that California has only about one year of water left in its’ reservoirs, people have started coming up with more plans to conserve the water supply.

Many steps such as more efficient household fixtures, and more intensive community education have already been taken. However, these steps have not worked to conserve enough water, and California agriculture and food systems are still under threat from the drought. There have also been severe cutbacks in the amount of water allocated to farmers, and many farms have started to switch to more efficient methods, such as drip-irrigation, and switching to more efficient crops.

While these steps have helped in some areas, the changes have not been drastic enough to curb the threat of the drought. In looking towards the future, as the climate continues to change, California government has stated that they can overcome the effects of the drought through conservation, allocation, and technology.

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Figure 5: Many reservoirs have dropped drastically, so they no longer provide sufficient water to the lower basins.  Photo Credit: http://www.newsweek.com/california-drought-pits-people-against-wildlife-378328

Although these changes should help to conserve water for agriculture and for all other uses, to fully overcome the problems of the drought will take cooperative effort from all parts of the community. In looking towards other places that have experienced similar struggles, the head of Israel’s Water Authority stated that Israel overcame issues revolving around the drought by just having a good attitude that they could, and they would.

With evidence suggesting that this drought could continue, and that it has had great impacts on many parts of society, with a great impact on agriculture and food systems, it is now more important than ever, for all parts of society to work together to conserve water, and make food systems more sustainable.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Overcoming Water Scarcity

  1. amyquandt

    Interesting. Could you provide a specific example of a farmer who has adapted their practices to still be successful regardless of the drought? What have they done to be successful and could this be replicated with other farmers?

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  2. One example of a way in which farmers are adapting is by planting crops that are less exhaustive on surrounding water resources such as pomegranates and other types of fruiting plants (http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2015/0728/Drought-in-California-How-farmers-are-coping). In addition to planting fruit plants that are less water intensive, many farmers are experimenting with finding certain grass species that can flourish better in a drought environment. Farmers like Dan Macon hope that these grasses would help the pastures and farms survive through another drought ridden summer (http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/11/14/360126699/strategies-help-calif-ranchers-farmers-weather-drought)
    Some other farmers have responded to the drought in another way. Many farmers have been digging deeper and new groundwater wells in order to make up for water deficit. However, this method of overcoming water scarcity is seen to be unsustainable and got make the problem worse in the future.

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