The National Alliance for Water Innovation, co-founded by the Colorado State University, is focusing on treatment and reuse technologies for municipal wastewater, seawater, brackish water, and water produced as a byproduct of oil and gas drilling, meat and dairy processing wastewater, and agricultural drainage water. Utilizing these sources could solve many water scarcity challenges.
However, there are currently no large-scale, economically viable ways to do so. The alliance envisions a “circular water economy” in which recaptured water would be used for everything from farm fields to fracking sites at a cost and energy intensity comparable to or better than current conventional freshwater sources.
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More on sustainable water management in agriculture:
Why sustainable water management needs more than technologies
A fast-growing population, expansion of irrigated agriculture, and rapid economic growth have dramatically affected freshwater use in Asia. Urban areas are now competing with irrigated agriculture by demanding an increasing share of the available water for domestic, industrial, and recreational uses. As a result, governments across the continent are diverting freshwater away from irrigation schemes in the countryside to water systems in their cities.
The sustainable use of fresh water in agriculture is a growing concern worldwide. More than 2.7 billion people must cope with less water than they need for at least one month every year. Globally, agriculture uses approximately 70% of available freshwater—and 40% of this is used for rice cultivation alone. With rice being a staple food for half of humanity, more than 3 billion people rely on this grain for their main source of livelihood. Therefore, enhancing rice production—and looking for ways to grow it with less water—will be essential to ensure food security in Asia, if not the world.
The food-water-energy nexus: Using gravity drainage to intensify production systems in the coastal zone of Bangladesh
Sustained economic growth, the quality of life, and the social stability of a rapidly growing Bangladesh depend largely on food security. Chronic or even sporadic food shortages could derail Bangladesh’s impressive economic growth of the last few decades. Although Bangladesh as a whole is currently self-sufficient in rice production, the country faces immense challenges to sustaining its self-sufficiency status.
To maintain food self-sufficiency for its growing population, little scope exists to further increase cropping system intensity, except in the underused coastal zone lands. The coastal zone of Bangladesh comprises low-lying lands within a dense network of large rivers and their tributaries. The rivers are tidal and this effect extends about 150 km inland, with diurnal water level fluctuations of 2 to 3 meters. These river water resources are vital for crop production, ecosystem sustenance, and livelihoods of the coastal zone.
Research to improve water-use efficiency in rice
From its establishment, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has made tremendous efforts to ensure that national institutes across many countries have access to the improved technologies developed at its Zeigler Experiment Station. IRRI was established before climate change and competition for water resources became widely accepted as significant risks to agricultural production. Therefore, the initial focus of water-use efficiency research at IRRI was on rainfed rice production systems.
However, today, one of the most widely recognized water-saving technologies developed and disseminated by IRRI, in collaboration with many partner organizations, is alternate wetting and drying (AWD). This is a simple but effective irrigation scheduling technique that reduces both the water inputs in rice production and greenhouse gas emissions coming from rice fields.