09/06/2012 14:04

As we go about our daily lives, periodically we need to remind ourselves of some basic facts. One of these important facts is that water is a recycled resource not a renewable resource – water molecules are not being created or destroyed.

            “We have no more or less water in the biosphere than we did the day the planet opened for business, and we are clearly running up against limits: we no longer can count on good quality water to be available when we need it. The reason is that historically, we simply did not understand the impacts of our actions, and the rules of water development were set up for maximum utilization without due regard to conservation.”

            We are aware of water moving around in the atmosphere. Most recently the weatherman reported how Hurricane  Isaac was picking up water from the Gulf of Mexico and how its winds were moving this moisture toward more northern parts of the Midwest. But we need to keep in mind that water is moved continuously with human use. When we use it for food and crop production, drinking, and manufacturing, it moves with us and the products we use. This is known as “virtual” water.

            “The virtual water footprint is unknown to most people, and the amounts are surprising. An ear of corn? It takes about 110 gallons of water to grow. A pound of beef? 1,800 gallons. A pair of blue jeans? 2,800 gallons for the cotton. That footprint is what makes your nearby stream or the aquifer under your feet an international player in the global commodities market…

            “As nations around the world develop, their appetites move up the food chain. The Economist recently illustrated this using China as the example: their increase in beef consumption from 1985 to 2009 required additional water resources equivalent to all the annual water use in Europe. In fact, total U.S. Beef production requires 30 trillion gallons of water each year – enough to drain dry six times over the Colorado River.”

            Our water uses are not managed well. In our country and around the world irrigation accounts for the largest consumption of fresh water and irrigations systems as they have existed in the past are very inefficient at using the water. Manufacturing and processing is a similar story.

            We talk a lot about the economy.  Whitworth gives us this reminder: “The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment – it is the source, literally of all the things human use. Meeting future needs requires we make informed tradeoffs between our wants and our actions.”

            Quotes are from an article posted 8/14/12 at www.huffingtonpost.com, Exporting Water in a Drought, Joe S. Whitworth, American Leadership Forum Senior Fellow. For more information search “Virtual Water” on the Internet.


Della Moen, Earth Team Volunteer, NRCS/Stephenson Soil and Water Conservation District, an equal opportunity provider and employer, 09/05/12/12 (for publication on 09/08/12 in the Journal- Standard, Freeport, Illinois) Della can be reached at info@stephensonswcd.org