The Water We Don’t See

In the United States, we’re lucky to have easy access to some of the safest water in the world by turning on the tap. But sometimes it’s easy to forget we also use water in ways we don’t see every day.

One example is irrigation. Irrigation is how farmers make sure their crops get enough water to produce the food we eat. Irrigation water is essential for keeping fruits, vegetables and grains growing to feed the world’s population and this has been a constant for thousands of years. The majority of water used in Kansas is for irrigation.

About 70% of all the world’s freshwater withdrawals go toward irrigation uses. Large-scale farming could not provide food for the world’s large populations without the irrigation of crop fields by water from rivers, lakes, reservoirs and wells.  Think of what your dinner table would look like if water wasn’t used to irrigate crops. Do you think you could survive very long without heaping servings of healthy grains, fruits and vegetables?

Irrigation has been around for as long as humans have been cultivating plants. Ancient people must have had strong backs from hauling buckets of water to pour on the first crops. Pouring water is still a common irrigation method used in less developed areas of the world today but other, more efficient and mechanized methods are also more commonly used particularly in Kansas. Since there is always a need to find more efficient ways to use water for irrigation, farmers use many different techniques to conserve water.

When we use water at home, or when an industry uses water in the course of business, about 90 percent is eventually returned to the environment where it replenishes water sources (water goes back into a stream or down into the ground) and can be used again. But of the water used for irrigation, only about 50% is reusable. The rest is lost by evaporation into the air, evapotranspiration from plants or lost in transit, by a leaking pipe, for example.

It’s impossible to have a water footprint (the amount of water it takes to produce all goods and services we use) of zero because it takes water to make just about everything we choose to buy, eat, use and throw away. Your individual daily decisions might seem small, but cumulatively they have an immense impact.

You won’t believe how much water you use!
Calculate your water usage here with the Water Calculator.

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