As of April, nearly one-third of the continental United States was in drought, triple the amount from one year previous.
A recent survey indicates that water usage behavior still has a long way to go. Actions regarding lawn sprinkling, lengthy showers and toilet flushing practices (68% of respondents flush after every use) suggests that even with the best of intentions, the general public is unaware or unwilling to change their water habits.
While water conservation requires a comprehensive range of responses including policies, strategies and technologies to sustainably manage freshwater resources, here are some of the latest water conservation efforts in use today:
Water conservation from above via satellite
Descartes Labs has combined satellite imagery with machine learning and artificial intelligence tools to help better understand water availability worldwide. It analyzed satellite data spanning from 1984 to the present, overcoming challenges such as identifying the various colors of water, terrain shadows and cloud cover.
“The information we glean from our analyses can help us understand, for example, whether a water shortage is related to local weather and use variability, or indicative of a larger, continental-wide trend,” Descartes writes. “The answers to questions like these are not only of scientific interest, but also critical for governments, nongovernmental organizations, and businesses who are committed to building a more sustainable future.”
Water conservation from below via soil
Research from the Carbon Cycle Institute in California has found a direct link between soil carbon content and its ability to retain water. “Using methods like planting shrubs, fertilizing with compost, and moving cover crops, the Institute has been able to keep carbon out of the atmosphere and in the soil, where it can better conserve water,” one article reports. According to Torri Estrada, the Institute’s executive director, its outreach started in just one county, and has now spread to 30. Interest from producers has been high, but the cost of implementation is a challenge.
The role of soil is receiving increased attention as an important opportunity to sequester carbon and positively impact climate change, as outlined this April in the New York Times (Can Dirt Save the Earth?)
Water conservation via… beer!
Jokes about drinking beer and saving water aside, brewers have become increasingly conscious of reducing their water usage. They are cutting back on water consumption in the beer making process and also in the extended supply chain (Could Craft Breweries Help Lead the Way in Water Conservation.)
For example, MillerCoors has formed a partnership with barley farmers in Idaho and the Nature Conservancy. Improved irrigation has cut back water use by 550 million gallons annually, helping to protect Silver Creek, a famous trout stream near Ketchum, Idaho.
In another project involving the Nature Conservancy and river protection, an Arizona farmer was encouraged to grow malt barley to supply Arizona brewers, who to this point have been looking out of state for supply. Barley requires irrigation in the spring when the Verde River is flush with snowmelt, rather than in July or August when normal agricultural pressure exists. As a result, pressure on the Verde River will be reduced.
The role you can play in water conservation
Water conservation involves a comprehensive approach and a plethora of decisions large and small all along the perishable supply chain. They range from the expansion of drip irrigation, sensors and other new technologies at the farm, to more water-efficient cooling systems at the warehouse, to household practices more attuned to saving H2O. Every effort counts.
Here is a quick way to make a difference: consider that RPCs consume 80% less water per use than corrugated containers. Water conservation is just one of many compelling reasons to use RPCs. You can read more about this here.