Water in the West

Irrigation ditch

By: Wazenn Nithesh, ASU Food Systems graduate student. 

Water security is a major – and often growing – challenge for many countries today. The magnitude of impact is profound as water scarcity drives the bottom line for food sovereignty and food security. According to the World Bank, feeding 9 billion people by 2050 will require a 60% increase in agricultural production, which accounts for approximately 70% of all freshwater withdrawals globally. 

Dr. Dave White, Director of the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation at ASU, is internationally recognized for his contributions to science in support of sustainability. Dr. White joined Arizona State University in 2001 and has helped lead ASU’s evolution into one of the world’s leading universities for global impact. He serves as Associate Vice President of Research Advancement in ASU Knowledge Enterprise, where he coordinates research strategy, goals, and objectives for the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory (GFL). In his podcast, Dr. White provides insights into opportunities in addressing water scarcity.

Despite severe droughts, the American West has done an exceptionally good job in managing water scarcity through water pricing support mechanisms and drought contingency plans across the West to collectively share water.  Water Sharing Investment Partnerships (WSIPs) modeled by the Nature Conservancy rely on investment capital to acquire a pool of water-use rights within existing markets. Those rights can be used to reallocate water to the environment, provide ongoing water security through lease agreements to users in the community, and generate financial returns to investors. All these efforts collectively have helped agricultural producers in the West pay relatively low cost for water despite a water stressed environment.

Dr. White’s podcast highlights notable changes made in the last decade with regards to Indigenous water rights, and water policy. There is an increasing presence of the Native American communities in water decision making and expanding legal rights for tribal water rights. Establishing such legal rights has provided tribal communities a greater role in securing senior water rights.

Dr. White is prescriptive about water policy innovations; a robust water innovation should involve farmers, ranchers, municipal and industrial users, and policy instruments to respond to increasing water demand. In addition, information systems are needed for water usage monitoring, decision-making under uncertainty, and improved hydro-meteorological forecasts. Continued investments are required in innovative technologies for enhancing productivity, conserving, and protecting groundwater, recycling stormwater and wastewater. Non-conventional water sources should be explored in addition to seeking opportunities for enhanced water storage, including aquifer recharge and recovery. Ensuring the rapid dissemination and appropriate adaptation and application of water innovative solutions will be a key to strengthening global water security.

This blog is part of a series from the December 2021 Arizona immersive component of the MS in Sustainable Food Systems Program. Students toured the state, meeting with farmers, ranchers, entrepreneurs, government staff, and non-profit leaders.

Photo source: Unsplash