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As cities sprawl into rural areas, what is our water future?

By Missy Hodgin
Texas AgriLife Agent

What is our water future and does our water future affect food supply?  These questions are posed because, does anyone know for sure?  Many experts and informed persons are talking about these crucial topics, but many people in Texas, the U.S. and the world don’t seem overly concerned.  This is strange, especially considering the serious water and/or food issues that have already occurred locally here in Texas and the issues that are affecting millions of people in Africa, Asia or India.  Do we think we are bullet-proof or do we just take our natural resources for granted?

TAMAgVCmgAn article by Dr. Alex Dehgan, U.S. Agency for International Development (US AID) science and technology adviser to the administrator, said that “Fundamentally, the planet is changing,” adding that “by 2050 approximately 9 billion people will be living on the planet, putting increasing strains on both water and food security.”  That is only 37 years from now!  Think of the problems here and worldwide that are seen on the evening news or read about, especially in exploding populations like Asia, India, Africa and Latin America.

So what do water resources have to do with food and agriculture?  Rain does not provide for all production.  In 2007, the USDA reported that 40 percent of the value of all agriculture products was from irrigated agriculture.  This not only includes crops or orchards but also irrigated pastures, hay fields and forage crops for livestock and poultry.  The water used by irrigated agriculture is a primary target for most large utilities and cities across America.  It is close, it is cheaper and cities have the votes and dollars to get it.  And many Americans are not really seeing the total picture and the sum of those losses —­ not just now, but in 50 or 100 years.

Many years ago, the USDA began a program to quantify and rate the remaining farmlands, especially important around towns and cities where growth is often rapid and poorly planned.  It was thought that the highest value farmland, Classes I and II, or irrigated lands, would be “zoned out” and preserved for present and future agricultural production.  Looking at the growth from California to Arizona to Texas and to the Southeast, you can see again and again where subdivisions, malls, roads, military installations, public buildings and industry have spread out over these fertile lands.  North to South it is the same result.  Green valuable riparian zones and valleys are now golf courses or recreation areas not used for livestock.  Development affects our present and future agricultural production.  It increases commodity transportation costs and creates heat islands.  It costs agriculture industry jobs and causes loss of wildlife habitat.  Paving flood plains increases the damage costs of floods and raises the likelihood of human injury and death.  Recharge for aquifers is paved or built over and lost, reducing aquifer levels.

Just in Texas, think of the loss of valuable agricultural lands and production around El Paso, Lubbock, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Corpus Christi, Houston and hundreds of smaller cities and towns.  The sum total of all these acres and their potential production would be staggering.  Are we planning and developing in an intelligent manner?  Throw in the present and forecasted climate change effects and then what?

The time has come for all or at least, many more of us to become informed of important issues and facts facing us and then be active and vote in a positive manner in deciding our government’s path and future – from City Hall to Washington, D.C.

This article is based on an editorial from the Ranch and Rural Living Magazine.  The author is Mike Mecke, retired Natural Resources and Water Specialist.  The words and ideas are challenging, but I thought it was good food for thought.   Water continues to be our number one issue. Decisions we make continue to determine the fate of the limited amount of water we get through rainfall.


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The Pioneer Sentinel is an online newspaper designed to deliver the news of Clay County, Texas, in a concise and community-friendly format.

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