Apr 072011
Authors: Robyn Scherer

As the year progresses, more and more water will be used for the purpose of maintaining a green lawn and healthy plants.

What people don’t think about, however, is how urban water use affects water used for agricultural purposes.
Freshwater comes from two sources: either from surface water or from an aquifer (underground). In the United States, most people get their water from underground.

In Colorado, water is a big issue. This state has what’s called a “first in time, first in right” setup, which means those who have senior water rights have seniority over those with junior water rights.

This is causing a problem as most senior water rights are related to surface water and are held by agricultural operations. This water is used to irrigate fields. However, as more and more water is being pulled from the ground, the surface water is going down to recharge the aquifers instead of staying above ground. This is diminishing the surface water rights.

Although water is the most important nutrient, we use water for many uses that are not necessary. One of the most consuming water uses is for lawns.

According to Brad Fresenburg of the Department of Horticulture at the University of Missouri, “Eighty percent of the water used around a home during the summer is for outside uses. Watering the lawn is the main outside water use.”

Many cities have water restrictions, with a twice-a-week, 15-to-20-minute water period as the norm. Even though this can sufficiently keep a yard green, many people do not follow these regulations, especially if they live in an area where there are no restrictions.

My neighbor is a perfect example. He waters his lawn every morning in the summer. According to the Environmental Protection Agency,
“Nationwide, landscape irrigation is estimated to account for almost one-third of all residential water use, totaling more than 7 billion gallons per day.”

Much of this water is wasted.

“Some experts estimate that up to 50 percent of commercial and residential irrigation water use goes to waste due to evaporation, wind, improper system design, or overwatering,” the EPA said.

While this water does eventually end up back in the ground, the waste can affect the ability for crops to grow today. While there is waste in agricultural use, new technologies such as center pivots have decreased water use.

“Approximately 40 percent of the water withdrawn from U.S. surface and groundwater sources is used for agricultural irrigation. The water withdrawn from U.S. surface and groundwater sources for agriculture is used to irrigate more than 63 million acres of cropland,” according to the Center for Applied Special Technology.

The fight for water in Colorado is such a problem because we send so much water downstream.

“As a water producing and exporting state, Colorado water leaving the
state on an annual basis exceeds 10 million acre feet,” according to
The Water Information Program. This water is sent to Arizona and Nevada, among others, via the Colorado River.

So where should this water be used –– for agriculture or for things such as lawn irrigation? I think both are acceptable uses. However, everyone needs to make more of an effort to use less water.

Don’t overwater your lawn. Take a shorter shower. Only run the dishwasher when it’s actually full. Reuse towels both at home and at a hotel. Do your part. Those in agriculture are doing what they can to reduce water usage –– it’s expensive for them –– so you should too.

Robyn Scherer is a graduate student studying integrated resource management. Her column appears Fridays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 4:18 pm

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