Improving Water Security

Monday, October 7, 2013 @ 12:10 PM gHale

Agriculture is one of the biggest users of water resources around the world, and food production will need to increase by about 70 percent over the next 35 years to meet the needs of a growing population. Add on top of that the growing need for water from cities, industries, and recreation.

With limited water and the increasing number of people depending on it, water security is tenuous. But integrated water management plans using “blue,” “green,” and “gray” water can increase water security.

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Those are the central questions behind the symposium “Blue Waves, Green Dreams, and Shades of Gray: Perspectives On Water” Nov. 5. The symposium is part of the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and the Soil Science Society of America Annual Meetings, Nov. 3-6 in Tampa, Florida. The theme of this year’s conference is “Water, Food, Energy, & Innovation for a Sustainable World.”

Blue water is in lakes, rivers, reservoirs, or aquifers. It has quite a few purposes such as drinking water, water for homes and businesses, and irrigation water for agriculture. Freshwater stores have limits, and what’s left of blue water must end up protected and used sparingly.

Green water is the water available in the soil for plants and soil microorganisms. Roots can absorb it and allow the plants to grow, and released back to the atmosphere. The use of green water by crops must end up optimized to better utilize this often overlooked resource.

Gray water is “used” water that may contain some impurities. It can come from cities, households, or industries, and it is waste water usually treated and discharged. The reuse of gray water for agriculture can decrease the amount of blue water withdrawn from stores and increase the green water available for plants to use.

There will need to be a protection plan for these three water sources – blue, gray, and green – to get the most out of them if agriculture is to rise to the challenge of feeding over 9 billion people by 2050 while leaving enough water for other uses.

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