New York, October 21, 2004 (ENS): Cornell University
ecologists are targeting farmers for water conservation
incentives, saying that agriculture in the United States
consumes 80 percent of the available fresh water each
year, and 60 percent of U.S. water intended for crop
irrigation never reaches the crops.
Their report in the October 2004 issue of the journal
"BioScience" is critical of irrigation practices
in the United States, where subsidized "cheap water"
offers little incentive for conservation.
"Part of the problem is the decision by farmers
on what to grow where," says David Pimentel, a
Cornell professor who led nine student ecologists through
an exhaustive analysis of research conducted at other
institutions and government agencies.
"We learned, for example, that to produce wheat
using irrigation requires three times more fossil energy
than producing the same quantity of rain-fed wheat.
"The next time you make a sandwich, think about
this," said Pimentel, "one pound of bread
requires 250 gallons of water to produce the grains
that go into the bread."
At particular risk are aquifers, underground repositories
of water that are tapped by wells for agricultural irrigation
and drinking water. "Given that many aquifers are
being over-drafted, government efforts are needed to
limit the pumping to sustainable withdrawal levels,"
the Cornell ecologists write.
The advocate integrated water resource management programs
which "offer many opportunities to conserve water
resources for everyone, farmers and the public."
Water-conserving irrigation practices, like drip irrigation,
should be implemented to reduce water waste, they advise,
and water subsidies should be eliminated.
Forests, wetlands and natural resources should be protected
to enhance the conservation of water, the ecologists
say, and water pollution "needs to be controlled
to protect public health, agriculture and the environment."