Will water become the defining issue of our time?Will water become the defining issue of our time?
August 12, 2015
In the September magazine, BEEF will wrap up an in-depth series of articles that look at the issue of how we use water (and “we” is everyone, not just agriculture) and whether or not the U.S. has passed the tipping point on our collective ability to provide enough water for everyone, including agriculture.
In case you missed them, here are links to the first three articles in the series:
It’s easy to slip into the negative mindset that the issue is too big and too complex to be solvable. We can’t permit ourselves to do that. And in Kansas, not only have the folks there not permitted themselves to take on that mindset, they have stepped up to ensure they are doing what they can now so they have water for years and generations to come.
Long-time friend Mary Soukup, who now is assistant to the secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, emailed me the other day about a process underway in Kansas to implement a 50-year vision for the future of water in the Sunflower State. The process began in November 2012, when Governor Sam Brownback called on the Kansas Water Office and the Kansas Department of Agriculture to develop a long-term plan for water in the state.
“The Governor recognizes that agriculture drives the state’s economy,” Soukup says. “It’s the largest employer, economic driver and industry, and without water, we can’t produce crops or grow many animals; and so without water, so goes agriculture and so goes the economy.”
Over the past several years, hundreds of meetings we held and more than 15,000 Kansans had their chance to weigh in on the water plan. “The Vision (document) is finalized and now we are beginning to implement the action items. The plan includes consideration of groundwater needs, mostly in Western Kansas; surface water needs, mostly in Eastern Kansas; water quality issues; conservation; water education needs; and more.”
Soukup says the Vision is unique in many ways, mostly in that the vast majority of ideas the plan encompasses came directly from Kansans. And it’s not the first nor will it be the last effort undertaken by the state government to address the water controversy. Several bills were passed in 2012 that will have long-standing and positive effects on ensuring water for Kansas. And Soukup says more water-related bills were passed this year.
Other states have taken on the often fractious water issue, including Texas, which implemented its ninth water plan in 2012. The state is beginning to work on an update for 2017. These plans are examples of how to develop a roadmap to ensure there’s water for everyone. And while it’s safe to assume that not everyone got what they wanted in the plans, it’s likely they got what they needed, even if they don’t recognize it now.
Is providing enough water for everyone an unsolvable issue? It doesn’t have to be. All we have to do is look at Kansas, Texas and perhaps other states for direction and to know that we can bring the many and often disparate water users together and work out a plan to conserve what we’ve got, use it wisely and ensure we have enough to go around.
Will water become the defining issue of our time? Many think it already is. And make no mistake, who gets to use it, how they get to use it, why they get to use it, when they get to use it, where they get to use it, what they get to use it for and more will only escalate in volume and controversy as time goes on.
If agriculture and more specifically agricultural producers, aren’t heavily involved in the discussion, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that we’ll someday drive into town and admire the lush, green, well-watered lawns and city parks while our fields and pastures wither.
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