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Water—Let’s not take it for granted

It’s natural to take it for granted, but water is something no one—whether residing in a bustling city or a small rural community—can live without.

Americans are the largest water users, per capita, in the world. In terms of groundwater, we use 79.6 billion gallons per day. That’s the equivalent of 2,923 12-oz. cans for every man, woman and child in the nation.

Agricultural irrigation is the largest user of groundwater in America at 53.5 billion gallons a day followed by public use via public water systems or private household wells (combined total of 18.3 billion gallons per day). Greater efficiency in either of these areas can lead to considerable savings. (Missouri Farm Bureau note: California, Nebraska, Texas, Arkansas and Idaho accounted for 52 percent of total irrigated acreage; Missouri was less than three percent. According to the most recent U.S. Geological Survey report, since 1980, national irrigation withdrawals have been in overall decline.)

Research on water-efficient and drought-resistant crops continues to be an important focus at bio-science companies and universities, with the goal of developing plant varieties capable of producing high yields despite reduced water conditions. As crops that can flourish on less water become readily available to farmers, the demand for water for irrigation will decline. Another way of looking at it is that as agriculture becomes increasingly efficient, more food, fuel and fiber can be produced on less land.

At the household level, the greatest amount of water used inside the home occurs in the bathroom. The remainder of indoor water use is divided between clothes washing and kitchen use, including dish washing, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. If you’re wondering how much water your household uses, a free online calculator developed by the National Ground Water Association can help you figure it out.

An emerging concern in recent years is the occurrence of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in water. Much research remains to be done to assess the health risks of trace amounts of these items. Alternative disposal strategies for these substances, other than flushing or washing down sink drains, are increasingly being advocated. Participating in the Drug Enforcement Agency’s National Take-Back Initiative for prescription drugs, on Oct. 26, is one option to consider.

If you depend on a private well for water, keep in mind that the chemistry of groundwater flowing into a well reflects what’s in the environment. Examples of naturally occurring substances that can present health risks are: micro-organisms (i.e., bacteria, viruses and parasites; these tend to be more common in shallow groundwater); radionuclides (i.e., radium, radon and uranium); and heavy metals (i.e., arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and selenium).

It is up to private well owners to make sure their water is safe. If you’re looking for information, is a concise, online one-stop resource on private water well systems and groundwater.

(Cyndie Sirekis is director of news service at the American Farm Bureau Federation.)

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