Water Harvesting and Management

We are living in a rather confusing era. In certain times of the year or certain parts of the world, flood and thunderstorms deluge the land without mercy; then in other times or places, there is nary a drop of drinkable water.

A boat on a water depleted river bed.

This is not only happening to the developing countries but in our own backyards too, from frequent California drought to submerging gulf coasts in Florida and Louisiana.

No water, no food, whether conventional or alternate food source!

Even a year 1 student knows that water is the essential factor of all living things, however, fear of diminishing usable water has become increasingly heard. This situation is not only affecting farming sector but also urban living when the water tabs run dry and the food price is escalating.

Agriculture utilizes 70 percent of total global water consumption. At this rate, it is worrisome how the world is going to have sufficient water to feed projected 9 billion people by 2050 as surface water is running low or polluted and ground reservoir water is increasingly tabbed.

The question of whether we can achieve better water management system to feed the whole world is no longer pertinent for we have no choice but to do it. World organizations, leading universities and research centers, governments and individuals have to come together to work out a sustainable water collection, utilization, and management systems. Water collection and management is a most tangled web of countless factors with each factor affects the water situation negatively or positively.

Studies conducted by leading institutions such as Columbia Water Center of Columbia University and the World Organization have indicated there are sufficient water to cater for human needs if managed properly. The broad strokes recommendations from these institutions are as followed:

Suitable Crop Growing
It is crucial to match the availability of water, biophysical environment, people social and economic capability with suitable crops for the maximum return. The crops grown has to be able to self-sustaining for local economy at the minimum. The good old day of growing water-insatiable plants in savannah region by piping in water to keep the plants alive is probably not the best practice. Looking at all possible alternate food source that are environment economical will be the way going forward.

Water Infrastructure and Water Technology Investment
One of the key success of the Roman Empire was their recognition of the importance of water supply and management. While their water infrastructure and aqua engineering were well developed and second to none, the world today is lagging in both. Unless investment in these areas takes priority and urgency, precious drinkable water will continue to be wasted.

Multiple Recycling of Water
Most drinkable water is utilized only once which is a complete waste of natural resources. In Japan, it is very common to see toilet bowls with sinks mounted directly on top of the water tank. The water used to wash hands flow directly into the tank for later flushing. This is one example of reusing water in a consistent manner. Even that, the water is only used twice. As technology advances, better water harvest and treatment may be the solution to water shortage. A flood management could well be a water resource management opportunity rather than the current disposal management practice.

Carrot Sticks
A radical change from the norm or past farming practice is unlikely to happen without clear government intervention in the form of education, incentives or aids. In Africa and India where most farmers are not well connected to the outside world, government leads are extremely important. Even in the urban area, if a change greatly inconvenient the people for the benefit of future generations, the majority of the people is not going to embrace the change without clear regulations from the government. With proper encouragement, innovation in water conservation and management can materialize faster than later.
As we inch towards 2050, the crucial point to take away is that we can no longer take water- the fluid of life, for granted. Better utilization, recycling, and innovation have to take precedent over others. What have been long practiced may no longer suitable, new thoughts and economical ways have to emerge. Without effective water harvest, the society will eventually perish.
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