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The Ag Agenda

January 2010

Water Strife Does Not Bode Well for Agriculture


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

To have food you must have water. This may seem like commonsense to farmers, but unfortunately many consumers don’t connect the two.

Consequently, a tug-of-war game being played out in some states over water rights is pitting municipalities and residents against farmers and ranchers. Little do consumers know, they will really be on the losing end if farmers do not have adequate water supplies to continue producing food for our nation.

Muddying the Waters

It is tough enough for producers who continually face drought and other natural water shortages without further being impacted by state water regulations. I have long said the issue of water supply will be one of the biggest challenges facing not only agriculture, but our country as a whole, in the next several decades. The question is when does that challenge become a crisis?

As water supplies dwindle, it only makes sense that state and local governments would impose some sort of water restrictions on residents. But ongoing feuds about allocation between agriculture and household use, coupled with environmental groups using the opportunity to try to add more restrictions to agriculture’s use of water, only muddies the issue.

Take for instance what is currently happening in California. Facing a three-year drought, the government is buckling down on water consumption by residents and farmers. But while residents are being told they can’t water their lawns during specific hours of the day or wash their cars at home while leaving on the water hose, farmers are being forced to fallow as much as 30 percent of their cropland so not to use water. Now, throw into the mix dozens of water-related lawsuits, most filed by environmental groups, who promise to provide a prolonged judicial drought even if it rains like crazy. It’s a tough predicament for California producers.

The struggle for water can also be seen in the decades-long water fight between Alabama, Florida and Georgia, which recently intensified when a federal judge ruled that Georgia has few legal rights to Lake Lanier, the main water supply for Atlanta. Metropolitan Atlanta has roughly 5 million residents and projects more than 2 million more by 2030. Without the use of Lake Lanier, the government is already looking into further tapping into water resources used by farmers across the state – water that’s already being partially diverted to Florida and Alabama to fuel power plants and sustain a federally protected mussel population.

Finding Resolution

Not only are we facing these water challenges in the U.S., but worldwide governments are contemplating how much more freshwater sources they will need to meet population needs by 2050, when the global population is expected to reach more than 9 billion people.

Instead of all the in-house fighting we need to look for resolutions here at home, like building reservoirs to buffer drought years. The construction and use of irrigation reservoir systems could divert what could potentially be a major agricultural crisis. For example, Alabama recently passed legislation to create small ponds to store water during rainy seasons.

We need to continue to talk with consumers about the necessity of water to produce food. If we don’t the turf fights will continue and solutions will not be found. Water is one of our most vital resources. If we don’t protect it now by building resources for the future, our children and grandchildren will reap the dry, dusty consequences.