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The Ag Agenda

May 2007

We Need to Protect Our Water Before the Well Runs Dry

Bob Stallman
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “We will only know the worth of water when the well is dry.” While it’s easy to take our water supply for granted, farmers and ranchers are confronted each day with the challenge of having enough water to produce the nation’s food.

As the population grows and weather patterns change, we should all be concerned with the availability of water. I have long believed that by the year 2050 water may be the most critical resource issue facing the world, especially for agriculture.

Long-Term Weather Cycles

Coming from Texas, water availability is an issue that is near to my heart. I remember as a child our family trying to farm and ranch during the severe drought of the 1950s. And I will never forget the day we watched a magnificent black rain cloud break over the field, and the relief we felt in that single moment.

The 1950s drought came about because of both low rainfall and extreme high temperatures. In Texas alone, rainfall dropped by 40 percent between 1949-1951 and by 1953, 75 percent of Texas had below-normal precipitation. The drought lasted through 1957.

Science indicates that the 1950s drought, along with the 1930s Dust Bowl, occurred because of cyclical changes in weather patterns. Long-term oscillations lend themselves to major drought conditions when they collide. Because of these cycles that take place over time, we cannot easily discount another major drought in our near future.

A Surge in Growth

Unfortunately, agriculture is being dealt two sets of cards: weather trends coupled with population growth. As urban centers expand, water resources are being reallocated from farmland to cities. In my own rural area in Texas, the surface water supply is being diverted for municipal use to Corpus Christi and San Antonio.

As urban growth continues to spread, agriculture will have fewer water resources for food production. It will likely come down to a state of economics, in which agriculture would be on the losing end. People can always pay more money for water to drink than farmers can pay for food production. And while farmers may be frowned on for their use of water resources, they are producing the food that feeds our nation.

Because of these population changes, along with ongoing cyclical weather patterns, water resources are becoming a critical issue for U.S. agriculture. The time has come for us to prepare for the future and maintain the viability of our water resources before the well runs dry.