Agricultural demand is inelastic and unmanageable at times. Its production and sustained yield is guided by demand and supply. But what about the demand and supply of water that is needed for growing crops?
Conserving water is one of the hardest sustainable development challenges of our time, especially when it comes to agricultural purposes.80% of the US’ water usage is agricultural based. In 2013 there was 55.3 million acres that were irrigated by 229,237 US farms. And to even hit closer to home, the Colorado River supports 70% of all irrigated agriculture. Let’s take a closer look at California, the state struggling the most to conserve water.
California is currently in a drought, as one can tell from the picture above. Vegetation is slowly beginning to die, and water passes are shrinking. California’s temperatures are increasing as snow in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges is extensively lacking as a consequence of this. Snow is actually a critical piece in obtaining water for California as it replenishes lakes and streams water volume. California is the #1 agriculture and farming state, with 9.6 million acres devoted to farmlands. 40% of the state’s water consumption practices are dedicated to agriculture. Statewide, California had to reduce its water consumption by 25%, which applies to farmers as well.
Farmers pump their cows with water; 2.7 trillion gallons of water a year goes to cattle. Cows have completely surpassed the almond industry water consumption at 1.2 trillion gallons per year. The US cannot turn everyone into a vegan/vegetarian over night. Thriving in a plant-based diet isn’t going to solve water conservation issues over night. Think about it. Almonds aren’t meat, but we find almonds in many items we use daily like make up. Who has the right to take things like this off the market?
Palestine and its farmers are suffering from a drought too. Palestine used to be known for its fertile land and its biodiversity of crops planted. They are now facing shortages in water due to illegal Israelis coming in across the boarder and cultivating the land for crops, occupation and settlement.91% of the fertile Jordan Valley is now off limits to Palestinians due to settlements and closures by the Israeli military. There is not enough water for their livestock and have to shorten their growing season. They rely on rainfall to water their crops and the average rainfall is unevenly distributed, extremely decreasing as you move further South, as they only get less than 100 millimeters annually.
So what can farms do to help maintain low water usage? They can create more efficient irrigation systems, but how efficient really is it? A proposed solution spreading globally is converting irrigated farming into aquaponic farming, the farming of the future. Aquaponics raises fish and plants in the same system. The fish waste is used to feed the plants, and the plants help filter the water the fish live in. This system is especially prominent in the drought-stricken West. Beginning in the mid-1980’s, aquaponics uses only 1/10th of the water that soil gardening and crop irrigation does, which in turn requires a lot less maintenance in return.
The US needs to stop viewing water as a “public resource” and regulate how much water can farms be allowed to use. It is not only hurting us environmentally, but hurting us socially, economically and culturally.