A world at war over water? It could happen…

By Mike Barnett

Earth is facing a looming water crisis and the consequences could spell war in an ever thirstier world.

That’s the consensus of the InterAction Council (IC), a group of 40 former heads of state and former government, academic and foundation leaders.

Look what’s happening here in Texas and you can easily see the causes for concern.

Last year’s drought (ongoing in many parts of the state) brought home to most everyone that water is a limited resource in parts of Texas. Many municipalities continue to scramble to supply their residents while irrigation supplies have been shut off for rice farmers along the Gulf Coast. The “blame game” finger has already started pointing at agriculture, the biggest user of water.

The problems will intensify as municipalities, industry and agriculture must share a finite amount of water as the population in Texas is expected to soar over the next three decades.

Take what’s happening in Texas and multiply it on a worldwide scale and you see the potential for conflict.

The IC says there will be an additional 1 billion mouths to feed by 2050. This means the world must find the equivalent of 20 Nile Rivers or 100 Colorado Rivers to provide the water to grow the necessary food. That’s a lot of water.

The greatest demand will be for agriculture and industry in the United States and in the two most populous nations on earth, China and India.

Maybe world agriculture will follow Texas’ lead in more efficient water use in agriculture. Irrigated farm acres  in Texas declined 18 percent from 1974 to 2008 while the total amount of water used for irrigation dropped 32 percent. At the same time, irrigated corn yields increased 46 percent (from 1981) and cotton yields tripled from 1974 to 2010.

Texas agriculture continues to do more with less and farmers continually strive to be more efficient. The world will have to do the same. But even that isn’t enough.

New technologies must be developed: breeding more drought-resistant plants, developing new irrigation techniques, finding new sources of water such as desalination and conserving better what we do have.

The alternative is ugly. No water means no food. Does that means hungry nations will fight to survive in wars over water? Let me know what you think.

Photo © Torian Dixon | Dreamstime.com

Mike Barnett

Director of Publications
Texas Farm Bureau
I’m a firm believer that farmers and ranchers will continue to meet the needs of a growing world population by employing equal measures of common sense, conservation and technology.
Follow Mike on Twitter and Facebook.

8 Responses to “A world at war over water? It could happen…”

  1. Billy B. Brown says:

    I was listening this morning to a well known, national radio talk show host who was talking about what drives individuals. He said Freud first thought sex was the driver. However the host said he has found over the years, approval by one’s peers drives a person.

    I realized the basic needs of food and water were being overlooked. A shortage of food or water and the search and possession of either become the driver in one’s survival. Nothing else matters.
    Let’s hope approval stays the driver and not thirst and hunger.

  2. Kristen Avery says:

    Howdy Mike,
    I graduated from Texas A&M in ’07 with a degree in Agribusiness and after college, returned to my native California. I work within the agricutlural industry in the Central Valley of CA, which is known as the “Food Basket of the World”.

    Water in this region of CA is necessary to produce the food to feed the world. Receiving water for agricultural production in this part of the state is a constant battle. A common sign near fallowed fields is “Food grows where water flows.”

    I enjoy your articles and keeping up on the agricultural industry in Texas. We are all in this together.

    Thanks & Gig ‘Em,

  3. Mike Barnett says:

    Howdy, Kristen. I’m class of ’77. Love the sign: “Food grows where water flows.” So true. We are all in this together–farmers and their customers–and thank you for your comment!

  4. Billy B. Brown says:

    Kristen, I had an opportunity to tour agriculture in the San Joaquin Valley a couple of years ago. “Food grows where water flows” is most appropriate. The struggle for water between agriculture, urban and environmentalist is a constant thing.
    I was informed environmental issues control approximately 80% of the water that flows through the area. The flow of water is stopped if an endangered species is threatened by either mix of brackish water or they are too close to the lift pumps. Any other uses move to second place.
    Let’s hope Texas is better able to handle its water needs as we move to the future. It will take the diligence of all us to make that happen.

  5. Kristen Avery says:

    Glad to hear you were able to tour the San Joaquin Valley–the abundance and diversity of agricutlure in this region is something that you have to see to believe!

    You are informed and correct about the water situation in CA. Some days it feels like an act of futility in trying to work with Environmentalists to make sure our agricultural producers receive the water they desperately need!

    I, too, hope that Texas can learn from the mistakes we have made in CA.

  6. Howdy!
    Just talking Texas … land owners, ag producers, environmentalists, municipal water providers & rural water providers are just getting started when it comes to warring over water.
    There are more attorneys than members at our local groundwater district meetings. Municipalities continue to gain rights over ag users to reserve water for future use based on pseudo-conservation efforts that are only feel good/look good measures. Surface water junior rights are a muddled mess that will likely spawn long-term litigation. The state continues to lose rural representation in the legislature. And on and on … The only upside I’m seeing is that it’s a good time to consider a career in water law.

  7. Randy W. Sitton, P.E. says:

    Until I can get registered on Facebook (not necessarily looking forward to it), can you answer a question I have by email? My question is: where can I find a good informational resource on the State of Texas groundwater rights and privileges. My two (2) basic questions are: 1). Shouldn’t individuals have permits for drilling deep wells on their property for individual watering such as for hay fields; and 2). Don’t individuals have to have permits to dam up streams and creeks, even if the headwaters of those waters are on the individuals’ property. My case is that I have a neighbor who I believe has a deep well and pumps water into a holding pond, created by an earthened dam, located on a stream also being fed by groundwater from headwaters (on his property). I think I have lost a number of trees and certainly water in the creek which runs through my adjacent property due to this action. It would also be more expensive for me to raise cattle on my property or for me to raise and cut hay on my property due to his actions. What are the rules and regulations in Texas? Thank you.

    Randy W. Sitton, P.E.

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