Letter to the Editor: Think Big to Conserve water

The recent drought in our state opened public debate about what we can do to save water. It seems as if everybody has an opinion on a plan. Naive community activists are trying to get citizens_ to commit to conserving water in their homes. However, in the long run, decreased residential use of water will have no real effect on water supplies because the big users of water are the farms and industries that produce the goods we use. The only real way to conserve enough water to make a difference is to change the way industries produce goods.

One of the biggest uses of water in our country is for irrigation of crops for human consumption and for livestock feed. When you fly over farmlands in the central part of the United States, you can see huge circles on the ground. These are enormous areas that have been irrigated by “sprinklers” that move in circles and spray water on the crops. Because they have been watered, land in the circles stands out from the surrounding dry land. The amount of water consumed in this way alone is staggering. Also, sprinkling is wasteful because much of the water evaporates before it hits the ground. Instead of just watering, scientists and farmers should be developing plants that can grow in these environments without needing extra water. Or farming should be limited to areas that have sufficient rain to grow crops without irrigation.

Another huge consumer of water is the mining industry. In the Old West, miners used water under high pressure to blast rocks apart. Then, they looked for gold or other valuable minerals in the broken rocks. Today’s mining companies use water for mining other products too, including coal, petroleum, iron, and natural gas. People and manufacturers rely on these, but the mining of them uses huge amounts of water. The industry needs to find ways to mine them without wasting water on a technique the gold rush miners used during the 1800s! If there are no alternatives, then we should find ways to avoid using these minerals altogether.

Some people say that researching new mining methods and changing industry production practices are too time consuming and would cost too much. They say changes would damage the agriculture and mining industries. However, if we do not find alternate methods that consume less water, our water supply will suffer and life on Earth as we know it will end.