Creating either/or scenarios leads us to discuss water as a zero-sum, winner-take-all game, when in fact, it is just the opposite. Think about it:
- Roughly 70 percent of the water used globally is used for agriculture and irrigation. Of that, 30 percent is completely wasted, meaning it doesn’t go toward the ultimate goal of growing food. Imagine if we conserved just 15 percent of that water—we could, for instance, serve the city of Austin 10 times over.
- Municipalities are the second largest water sector of water use behind agriculture and irrigation, and as our cities grow, the demand from our cities will increase. But cities can lose as much as 15 percent of their water through fixable issues like leaky pipes—it makes sense to prioritize programs that upgrade city infrastructure and support creative conservation solutions.
- The most important aspect of energy production is the availability of fresh water: the oil and natural gas industry use it in every aspect of exploration and production, from enhanced recovery techniques to engine and compressor coolant. While we may disagree on the types of energy to ultimate rely on, what isn’t in question is the fact that we need reliable sources of energy to support our economies and supply our growing cities.
The necessary conversation should not choose winners and losers; the end result should not be protecting only farmers or only cities or only energy and industry. Instead, let’s talk about how to serve the needs of each of those constituencies adequately and with fairness. To achieve that, we need to invest in large-scale, across-the-board conservation—it isn’t only about using less, but using what we have more efficiently. If we lose sight of that, we risk losing sight of our ultimate goal: ensuring a healthy environment for ourselves and for future generations.
Laura Huffman is the director of The Nature Conservancy of Texas. A native of Austin, Huffman has a long and distinguished record of public service. She earned a master’s of public affairs from the University of Texas at Austin and a bachelor’s in political science with a minor in history from Texas A&M University. She makes her home in Austin, with husband Kent and their four children.
[Photo credit: Flickr user fox_kiyo via Creative Commons]