Water is perhaps the most essential part of any agricultural setup – whether it’s rearing cattle or producing crops, it’s what makes the wheels go round and keeps both individual businesses as well as the agricultural industry as a whole going.
It comes as no surprise, then, to learn that agriculture accounts for 70% of fresh water resources used each year, worldwide. It’s a necessary part of the industry, but it’s fraught with problems – surely this level of usage isn’t sustainable, so what can the industry do to both insure resources aren’t over-used, and the quality of water in them is maintained?
How Can Water Quality Be Improved?
A lot of water quality depends on what is put into the supply, and how it is treated – and stormwater plays a huge part in the quality of fresh water sources. Large amounts of excessive flood water can quickly become contaminated with dirt, sludge and silt and, when this flows into fresh water supplies in large amounts, it can have a drastic impact on water quality.
As well as tackling the issue with pumping stations and filtration equipment (UV filters are particularly effective when filtering water for consumption or crop use), what water runs off a farm site and into water supplies is also an area that needs addressing. Stormwater attenuation is becoming a big factor in water strategies for urban areas (SuDS), but given the site of agricultural sites, can play a part here too.
Attenuation systems allow collected flood waters to be released at a steady rate, stopping the swamping of fresh water supplies with contaminated flood water – they can also filter the water to remove many of the impurities that make it potentially harmful to the environment, thereby reducing the impact on the water quality.
Agriculture Needs To Curb Fresh Water Use – But How?
As mentioned earlier in this post, agriculture accounts for almost three quarters of fresh water use each year – with agricultural demands and water supply needs sharply rising in line with an ever-increasing world population, this is obviously unsustainable. Curbing the amount of water used is never going to be achievable if productive agriculture is also to be achieved, so the solution is looking at where this water comes from – note that the statistics state that agriculture accounts for 70% of all fresh water consumption.
It’s not about reducing water usage – it’s about shifting the usage away from this fresh water figure and onto somewhere else. Rainwater harvesting is one of the most effective weapons in the agricultural industry’s arsenal in the fight against water shortages, and it also allows much more effective control of the quality of water used; rainwater will generally be softer than mains water and, in areas of particularly hard water, this can make a huge impact on the quality of the water used for crops – as well as ensuring expensive mains/fresh water isn’t unnecessarily used for things like cattle washdown where purity is less important.
The UK’s environment agency has already urged farmers to make use of rainwater harvesting technology, stating the important benefits it has in reducing both running costs and environmental impact. The EA’s head of water, Ian Barker, said: “It’s worth thinking about – it can save you money, and reduce the likelihood of contaminated run-off from yards entering streams and rivers.
“It can help reduce costs and reduce your environmental impact.”
It seems that some of the issues the agricultural industry faces regarding water resources and quality/purity can be tackled – the eco-friendly technology just needs to be adopted. Of course, the more widely it is adopted, the more it can evolve and develop to be more efficient and more effective – we’ll just have to wait and see as to when this will be.
This guest post was written by Tom McShane – green blogger and writer for UK-based Liquivault, who supply stormwater attenuation and rainwater harvesting systems to the agricultural industry and other industrial sectors.