Eyes are focused on agriculture when it comes to finding water to reduce growing pressure on water resources in the Colorado River Basin. That's because agriculture diverts the majority of available water. And although agriculture reuses the same water multiple times, and the water they use is largely for the benefit of those of us who eat the food they produce, policy-makers believe even small changes in agricultural water management can reap benefits for other users, like growing cities and the environment, with positive benefits for agriculture as well.
The incentives and disincentives to agricultural water conservation form a challenging puzzle. Agricultural water users must be actively engaged in this challenge.
The Colorado Water Institute at CSU conducted a three-year initiative funded by the USDA in which engineers and social scientists learned from agricultural producers what conservation methods are likely to work in their area and what changes to the many surrounding factors may be needed for agricultural water conservation to be fully effective in practice.
- We worked with agricultural producers and irrigation companies already implementing water conservation to demonstrate the technologies and practices that result in changes in water use, because agricultural producers know what water management changes and improvements work best on their farms and ranches.
- We worked with irrigators, their water providers, water attorneys, policy-makers and other experts to catalogue the existing legal, economic, and social obstacles to agricultural water conservation. We drilled down into each obstacle to understand what actions would be required to overcome it. Out of this, we developed a farmer-driven matrix and process that can support decisions for focused actions needed for the very diverse contexts in which agricultural water is managed.
- We supported agricultural leaders throughout the Colorado River Basin to promote the changes required to better manage agricultural water without reducing productivity that maintains a secure food supply and strong communities. Other users and society as a whole will need to join agriculture in stepping up to the water conservation challenge.