Eco-Opportunity: Water Management Technology to Reduce Virtual Water

Water-droughtDepending on where you live, the increasing pressure on water supplies may not be immediately obvious, and the effects of water scarcity may not be evident, but in many places around the world, it’s already affecting residents, communities, and businesses.

And while it’s certainly wise to conserve water at home, the bulk of our water use globally is for agriculture (70%) and industry (20%), and because we don’t see how much water it takes to grow that apple (70 liters) or that steak (2025 liters), it can be staggering to see how much water each one of us is really responsible for consuming every day – it’s far higher than the 2-4 liters we drink as liquid.

The average person consumes anywhere from 2000 to 5000 liters of virtual water everyday (virtual water is the amount of water embedded in their food and drink), and in a world with a population of 7 billion and growing, our freshwater supplies are being stretched to the limit already.

With a projected population of 9 billion people on the planet by 2050, clean water will become an increasingly valuable resource in the years to come.

Any companies that have a large water footprint are going to need to become a lot more efficient in how they use, reclaim, and reuse water, and businesses that can supply water management technology or consultations, water conservation and recycling techniques and processes, or work to improve the water efficiency of both homes and businesses, will be in demand. Consumer appliances which are highly water-efficient, either as a new product or as an aftermarket solution, as well as smart home technologies that can optimize water use both inside and outside the home, will be increasingly more important to customers.

Agricultural methods and technology that can help to maintain production while reducing water loss and overall water use, not only in the fields, but in the processing and packaging as well, can help to reduce virtual water in crop production. Plant varieties that can produce in low-water or drought conditions, or can produce higher yields with the same amount of water, or those that can be intercropped with cash crops for water conservation and soil building purposes, can make a difference to growers in the years to come.

Because of the growing population, it’s estimated that global food production will have to increase by 60% by 2050, which will require yet another 20% increase in water consumption, so reducing the virtual water footprint of food will be a major concern, as well as a prime opportunity for innovation, in the near future.

According to a recent policy report from the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), our current methods are unsustainable, and among the most important recommendations is the need to set a global target of 20% reduction in water use in food production.

“It is clear that current production methods are unsustainable and there are genuine risks of food shortages, rising food prices, droughts and social unrest for future generations unless we make more efficient use of water.” – Andy Furlong, IChemE director of policy

Right now, only about seven percent of the world’s population lives in a “water scarce” region, but by 2050, around two-thirds of us could be living with water scarcity on a daily basis, unless our ability to innovate and adapt can drastically reduce not just water consumption but water loss as well.

Water management technologies that can extract, clean, reclaim, and reuse water, as well as optimize the use of, or extraction of, water that is otherwise non-potable, can help ease the pressure on freshwater supplies. Desalination and filtration technologies that are water- and energy-efficient can bring relief to water-stressed communities, and atmospheric water generators can supply water in otherwise dry areas.

To read the full analysis of virtual water – the hidden water footprint – in food, as well as some recommendations for the future, the report is available at IChemE: Water Management in the Food and Drink Industry (PDF).

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About the Author

lives in southwestern New Mexico and digs bicycles, simple living, organic gardening, sustainable lifestyle design, slacklining, bouldering, and permaculture. He loves good food, with fresh roasted chiles at the top of his list of favorites. Catch up with Derek on Twitter, RebelMouse, Google+, or at his natural parenting site, Natural Papa!