Optimizing Water Use between Irrigation and the Environment

By Ian Teñido

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Water usage across the world is a sentimental aspect of everyday life. It is touted that the next global crisis would be water crisis. Over the years, the water needs have grown and thus competition for the availability of water has increased. Efficient use of water at an individual level has been advocated for but still, there are needs for increased efficiency if water crisis is to be avoided in the future. In the US, citizens are lucky to have an easy access to the safest form of water for human consumption just by turning on the tap. An average American family uses an average of 300 gallons of water per day at home only. However, this estimate is for indoor use only and it can be higher in drier areas of the country. For instance, due to irrigation activities in the arid west parts of the country, there are higher use of water per capita (Bizier & DeBarry, 2003).

Water plays a vital role in communities by supporting industries and businesses. No one can imagine the world without water; we need water in the municipal parks, swimming pools and firefighting. I would like to focus this article on how water usage between the environmental health and irrigation can be optimized.

The US water withdrawal statistics show that irrigation gets around 40% of fresh water. Throughout the world, water for irrigation is regarded and it is the most important use of water. Around 70% of the world’s waters are channeled to irrigation. As the world’s population grows exponentially, large-scale farming is encouraged in order to meet the food needs of the populations. Increased need for balanced diet and better nutrition also necessitates irrigation in a bid to meet the highly varied demand for food stuffs. As this is done, the constantly assumed aspect is the health of the environment. Irrigation is specifically related to environmental health because waters channeled for irrigation are shared between environmental health functions and the crops irrigated. Are we overdrawing water to irrigate and forget about the water needs of the environment?

water propaganda
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Natural ecosystems have suffered acute water shortages because more water from both surface and underground sources are drawn to facilitate irrigation. While irrigation is a good strategy to improve land productivity per unit, it should not be forgotten that the entire nature fully depend on the same water sources to support healthy ecosystems. Every species of plants and animals in the environment depend on the natural balance of water in their habitats to flourish. Water inadequacy in the natural environment means poor health for the species in that environment and when the web and food-chains are drawn, humans ultimately suffer as a result of reduced nutrients at the apex of the pyramid.

It is therefore prudent for an optimizing solution to be struck for the sake of both the environmental health and irrigation. The competition that exist for freshwater supplies requires a paradigm shift from simply maximizing productivity of land where the unit square of land’s productivity is considered to productivity per unit of water, say a liter (Wu et al., 2016). This shift will inform how systems and approaches designed for irrigation will shift both biologically and physically to optimize water usage for irrigation. By optimizing water use for irrigation, water for ecological use is automatically optimized.

This therefore calls for creative and innovative policies on irrigation and agricultural water use. For instance, watershed conservation policies at the regional and local levels should endeavor to optimize the use of water for irrigation so that only enough water that optimizes productivity per unit of water is drawn from the watersheds. This means that more water are left in the watersheds, in serene state, to facilitate environmental health and functions. GPS-based irrigation is precise as well as crop location strategies which will enable precise irrigation points to be mapped out by the system thus reducing the amount of water required.



Bizier, P. & DeBarry, P. (2004). World Water Congress 2003. Reston, VA: American Society of Civil Engineers.

Wu, X., Zheng, Y., Wu, B., Tian, Y., Han, F., & Zheng, C. (2016). Optimizing conjunctive use of surface water and groundwater for irrigation to address human-nature water conflicts: A surrogate modeling approach. Agricultural Water Management, 163, 380-392.

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