Concerns in Agricultural Water Use

Environmental Training Resource
May 9, 2013 — 1,103 views  
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Agricultural water use is a major cause of concern. Depleting fresh water supply, increasing pollution of water bodies, and consequent health implications are some of the major causes for concern. Since the agriculture industry requires a lot of water, the issue is sensitive and has many environment, socio-economic, and health implications.  

Water Quality – A Global Issue

The global implications with respect to farming water cannot be ignored or dismissed. Public health and environmental implications of water quality also cannot be under-estimated. Water borne diseases kill over 5 million people annually. Other consequences include a dysfunctional ecosystem, biodiversity depletion, ground water and marine contamination, as well as organic contamination.

Non-point Source Pollution

Fixing problems related to point source pollution is possible to an extent, but it is difficult to fix problems related to non-point source pollution. Other than farming water polluted by pesticides, chemicals, and fertilizers, non-point source pollution is caused due to various reasons.

Some of them include agricultural activities, forestry, liquid waste disposal, mineral extraction, commercial or industrial activities, transportation, solid waste disposal, atmospheric deposition, and several other human activities. These activities release harmful and poisonous chemicals, both organic and inorganic, in fresh water sources including ground water.

Impact of Irrigation on Surface Water

It is estimated that a lot of irrigated area lies in developing nations which is expected to rise to 90 percent eventually within few years. So, the adverse impact of farming water for irrigation will most likely be felt in developing regions. Irrigated areas are prone to erosion, desertification, salinization, and water logging.

In addition, water quality also gets affected due to downstream degradation from agrochemicals, toxic substances, and salts. Agricultural experts think that salinization of water is a bigger threat than salinization of soil, and it poses a serious challenge to irrigational sustainability. 

Agricultural Water Use and Impact on Public Health

Agricultural water use has devastating effects on public health. According to the WHO, more than 10 percent of people in many European countries, and a few in developing nations are exposed to dangerous levels of nitrates in drinking water. Increasing number of malaria cases in several Latin American countries is linked to reservoir construction.

Excessive levels of pesticides are also known to be harmful to human health. Farming water is known to be responsible for diseases like typhoid, cholera, EIEC, amoebiasis, and several others. Ground crops that are generally eaten raw are known to be the cause for many diseases. Toxic chemicals in food also cause a large number of diseases.

Possible Solutions

While there is no magic solution to water quality improvement in agricultural water use, the root cause is certainly the mismanagement of agriculture. Increase in organic farming and its popularization can be a long-term solution. But in the short run, there should be an immediate ban on pesticides. Livestock and domestic waste in rural and semi-urban areas need to be managed properly. Agriculturists need to take proper decisions on land usage techniques and crop types. It is also important for knowledge to be mobilized and disseminated to the farmers.

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