Combating Global Water Scarcity at the Local Level

Global water scarcity is continuing to grow and is one of the main threats in the climate crisis. Climate change, along with population growth, and depleting groundwater sources are just a few causes of water scarcity across the globe. At the current rate of consumption, The World Wildlife Fund projects that two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages by 2025. 

While many people view water scarcity as an issue isolated to developing countries, the issue of water scarcity has affected the Southwestern region of the United States and continues to spread further east. The southwest region is growing in population 30% faster than the rest of the country. Since the year 2000, the region’s main water source, the Colorado River, has experienced an average 20% decrease in water flow as a result of the region’s historic drought. 

The issue of water scarcity is increasingly becoming one that the nation must address. With demand continuing to increase and evaporation of freshwater sources occurring at a higher rate due to increasing global temperatures, shortages are expected to eventually affect most regions in the U.S.

Globally, we use 70% of our water sources for agriculture and irrigation, and only 10% on domestic uses. This data point illustrates the opportunity to reduce water use in the agriculture industry in order to mitigate the threat of water scarcity not only in the U.S., but globally. Water conservation needs to be a joint effort between governmental agencies, conservationists, environmentalists and land owners. Reducing the water scarcity threat could materialize in many ways; one solution is through the irrigation systems.

In Spring Creek, Georgia, the Nature Conservancy of Georgia and the Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District work collaboratively with farmers along an ecological tributary, Spring Creek. The project uses variable rate irrigation to retrofit irrigation systems with technology, reducing groundwater withdrawal by up to 20%.

The variable rate irrigation technology (VRI)  allows farmers to apply precise amounts of water to the specific areas that need it. There are many variables to take into account when deciding when and where to water a particular field. The different management zones are determined based on factors like soil type, elevation, yield data, and field history.

By identifying the different management zones, farmers are able to adjust water rates, develop on/off systems for non-crop areas and determine site-specific placement of water. This project is one example of how collaboration amongst stakeholders can lead to sustainable solutions to help mitigate the threats on our ecosystem.