High-tech, low-cost solutions needed to conserve water supply
Most of the world's farmers still irrigate by flooding their fields
January 4, 2000
Web posted at: 3:04 p.m. EST (2004 GMT)
From Correspondent Siobhan Darrow
[EDITOR'S NOTE: The following report is the second in a two-part series
exploring the issues of water supply in distribution facing
the next millennium. The first installment was posted
(CNN) -- To ensure safe water into the next century, people
must first look to agriculture, which uses two-thirds of all
water taken from rivers, lakes and aquifers.
| MESSAGE BOARD|
Correspondent Siobhan Darrow looks at agricultural use of water
Most of the world's farmers still irrigate the way their
ancestors did 5,000 years ago, flooding their fields, losing
most of the water meant to benefit crops.
Israel has developed a method called drip irrigation that is
95 percent efficient. Half the country's farmers use it. So
do some in Southern California.
But the technique is too expensive for most farmers in
developing countries. Worldwide less than 1 percent of
irrigated land uses drip irrigation.
Drip irrigation is an expensive, extremely efficient way to water crops
Water too cheap in developed nations?
While technologies are too costly for poorer countries to
adopt, many experts complain that water is generally too
cheap in industrialized nations.
"We need to price water to ensure the adoption of adequate
technology and to avoid waste," says Ismail Serageldin of the
World Water Council.
In California, industrial use dropped 30 percent between 1980
and 1990 because laws required companies to reuse their
wastewater. The cost of the treatment process compelled
businesses to conserve water.
Some countries rely on desalinization plants that can turn
saltwater into drinking water, but they are expensive too.
William Cosgrove of the World Water Council cautions that
more than high-tech measures will be required in the future.
"It's not just enough to apply technical solutions anymore.
It requires a change in the way of life," he said.
Desalinization is the process of removing the salt fom sea water to make it drinkable
Outmoded toilets, Victorian plumbing
Some of the changes are relatively easy. Toilets are big
water guzzlers in the home. Installing low-flush versions
save gallons daily. Stopping leaky water pipes also would
save much water. In Britain almost half of drinking water is
lost to Victorian-era plumbing.
In parts of the world that do not have plumbing, where poor
sanitation spreads diseases, simple hygiene practices can
make a significant difference.
"Until (we) take sanitation out of the closet and talk about
it, people will not realize the importance and get the
lessons that need to be pursued," said Richard Jolly of the
U.N. Development Program.
Toilets are responsible for most of the water consumption in a home
Jolly estimated that it would cost an extra $10 billion a
year for 10 years to provide water and sanitation worldwide.
"That's about what Europe spends on alcohol for one year.
It's about the same the U.S. spends on perfume for one year,"
Water supply experts say the world must consider the needs of
aquatic life as well.
"There's a growing understanding that natural systems have
been neglected over the history of water development this
century," said James Morrison of the Pacific Institute.
"Unless fundamental changes are made and more attention is
given to those systems, we will lose them entirely."
Like the Cienega de Santa Clara marsh in Mexico, a habitat
supporting not only birds and fish but people as well,
Mexican and U.S. officials are working to reverse
human-induced damage to part of the Colorado River delta.
Cienega de Santa Clara marsh
Recycling water for a Mexican marsh
Now recycled agricultural water from Yuma, Arizona, is
replenishing a marsh 60 miles south of the U.S. border. The
effort has temporarily restored the marsh but its future is
"We need to commit a relatively small amount of water to
allow it to flow into Mexico for ecological reasons. We're
not talking about a major undertaking. We're talking about a
little bit of commitment to do the right thing," said Bill
Snape of Defenders of Wildlife.
Because of competition for every drop of water from growing
populations on both sides of the border, there is no
guarantee water will continue to be delivered. It is a
scenario played out around the world as agriculture,
industry, and residential populations all vie for the same
International agreements, new technologies and improved
efficiency are all necessary to preserve the world's water
supply, but effective water conservation and protection could
require more profound changes.
"Every individual needs to be sensitive to the value of water
and to start treating it with respect," Cosgrove said. Not
merely as a resource to be managed, but as a force of nature
whose destiny is interwoven with our own.
Part 1: Water, water everywhere -- but will there be enough to drink?
January 3, 2000
y: Droughts come and go, but growing demand for water remains
August 12, 1999
World Water Council
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Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council
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