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‘Crop Per Drop’: a new metric in water/agriculture analysis?

May 30, 2013Patrick NunnallyRiversComments Off on ‘Crop Per Drop’: a new metric in water/agriculture analysis?

A recent news release from the University of Minnesota highlights the publication of an important global analysis of the relationship between food and water.  The study’s lead author, post-doctoral research scholar Kate A. Brauman, suggests that because crop irrigation is the largest consumptive use of freshwater on the planet, the study has implications both for food security and for water stress.

It’s the latter point that is particularly relevant to our studies of the Mississippi River, its watershed, and related groundwater issues.  Irrigation across the Great Plains is drawing down the region’s aquifers at an alarming rate; some predict that the water conflicts now playing out in the American West may well be coming to the Mississippi Valley in the not-too-distant future.  For example, this piece points out that the multiple demands on the Mississippi River in the delta region can easily be seen as leading to regional conflict over water supplies.

I work at a university, so see the answer to challenges as lying in research, analysis, and education.  Of course, there’s more to solving future “water wars” than simply knowing more and persuading people to change their habits.  Brauman’s research may or may not point to important lines of inquiry and discussion in places like the Minnesota River valley, where too often the debate is pitted as “farmers vs. river folks.”  But it’s very clear that we all need to know more about how agricultural practices use water, and how those uses can be improved, in order to envision a sustainable future for ourselves and our waters.

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