Chronic water shortage affects agriculturalists, consumers

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Jay Famiglietti, professor and hydrologist at the University of California-Irvine, discusses challenges with sustainable water, food and energy resource management. (Hallie Lucas | The Collegian)

“Listen with an open mind,” John Floros, dean of the College of Agriculture, said to the hundreds of students, faculty and guests who filled McCain Auditorium to hear from Jay Famiglietti, hydrologist and professor of earth system science and of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California in Irvine.

Famiglietti gave the third lecture of the Henry C. Gardiner Global Food Systems Lecture Series, titled “Interwoven challenges to sustainable resource management.”

Floros said the lecture series addresses issues in agriculture, food and the global food system, and is aimed at telling the story of agriculture and global food issues, even if controversial. This lecture series, being so controversial and stimulating, was not easy to start, and it has been even more difficult to maintain, Floros said.

“Today, only 1 percent of the population is involved in production agriculture,” Floros said. “It used to be 20, 30, 40 percent. We now have less farmers and ranchers than there are people in prison.”

As a result, Floros said, the future of global food should be important to everyone who was in attendance.

“Dean Floros talked about this being a controversy, no, this is a discussion,” Mark Gardiner, son of Henry C. Gardiner, said. “If we don’t talk about these things, we will die.”

In extreme conditions, Gardiner said there is a “rule of three.” People can survive three minutes without air, three days without water and three weeks without food, Gardiner said.

“It is important we come up with solutions,” Gardiner said. “It is a discussion on how we can make things better. How more K-State can we be than if we listen, figure it out and make things happen?”

Defining water security

One of the biggest issues agriculturalists and consumers have to worry about is food security, Famiglietti said.

“To secure food, we need water,” Famiglietti said. “This should not be a news flash that water security is food security.”

According to one of Famiglietti’s slides, “water security is defined by its ability to provide a reliable supply of potable water to meet various needs of its population, both now and in the future.”

And securing water is not an easy problem to solve, Famiglietti said.

“It is up to the younger people to carry us through,” Famiglietti said. “And I hope my enthusiasm for this is contagious.”

Famiglietti said it does not matter how you say it, because at the end of the day the world is losing water, and a solution has to be found.

Chronic water security across the U.S.

According to the charts shown by Famiglietti, the upper half of the U.S. is getting wetter, and the lower half is getting dryer.

“There is a trend in total water storage starting to emerge,” Famiglietti said.

Starting in California and continuing through the southern high plains, ground water depletion is starting to emerge, Famiglietti said, and that it is a problem that affects everyone.

“California grows produce, the high plains grow grains and both have animal agriculture,” Famiglietti said.

Famiglietti said that what is happening in California is not just a water security issue, but a chronic water security issue.

“We use too much water, and most of it is because of agriculture,” Famiglietti said. “We’re trying to do too much with too little, and now we’re running out of water.”

The take-home message of the lecture, Famiglietti said, is water is at a long-term decline.

“(Water security) is like a tennis ball going down the stairs,” Famiglietti said while showing the audience a chart of water storage in the U.S. “It is headed to the bottom.”

As water declines, there is a domino effect. Famiglietti said that as streams and wells run dry, the ground is depleting.

Famiglietti said because ground water is not being managed, the central valley of California is at the most risk, where about a meter of land is sinking each year.

“We kid ourselves when we only manage surface water and ignore the ground water,” Famiglietti said. “When we don’t pay attention to ground water it disappears. It is happening in California, here and the rest of the world.”

Water security issues around the globe

Outside of the U.S., Famiglietti said water is just as insecure.

“Syria and Iraq are getting less water because of the drought, so now they’re depleting the ground water,” Famiglietti said.

He said ISIS is now even using water security as a recruitment tool.

“We have issues,” Famiglietti said. “And it is not just California and it is not just the Ogallala; (water shortage) is happening all over the world.”

Famiglietti said even if the drought were to end right now, the globe would still not have enough water.

“The water we are using is not replenishable,” Famiglietti said.

A water shortage affects us all

“Rumor has it that Jay (Famiglietti) was recommended for this lecture from someone at KU,” April Mason, provost and senior vice president, said.

Mason said that water is so important it transcends even beyond Wildcat and Jayhawk lines.

“I did not know that there were people that did not think that water depletion was an issue,” Mary Khadivi, senior in animal sciences and industry, said. “But obviously after watching this lecture, it is.”

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Kaitlyn Alanis
Hi, I'm Kaitlyn Alanis, former news editor for the Collegian and a May 2017 graduate in agricultural communications and journalism. I have never tried a hamburger and I hate the taste of coffee, but I love writing stories and sharing what I learn with our readers. By writing for the Collegian, I can now not only sing along when the K-State Band plays "The Band is Hot," but I also know that most agriculture students did not grow up on a farm, how to use an AED to save someone's life and why there is a bust of MLK Jr. outside of Ahearn Field House. Thanks for reading!