Article courtesy of Beth Hoffman | February 12, 2014 | Forbes | Shared as educational material
Today, both business and government are constantly thinking about how to feed more people, power more homes and cars, and provide clean drinking water. But it is increasingly apparent that the use of our precious resources to meet one need is inherently linked to the the others in the food, water and energy “nexus.”
Take the example of Kern County, California for instance.
Such large scale agriculture takes an enormous amount of water, a resource which today is in short supply in Kern. Groundwater sources in Kern County are running low – extraction from wells in Kern accounts for almost 40 percent of California’s entire groundwater use. A recent decree by Governor Brown also cut Kern off from receiving additional water supplies from the State Water Project this year, a project in which typically provides up to half of Kern’s agricultural water.
And in the last few years, a new player is also fighting for water in the county. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, is now a top industry in Kern County. While the region has been home to some of the country’s top producing oil fields for years, now an additional 1388 fracture wells also dot the county’s landscape – the largest concentration of fracking wells in California, using an estimated 164,000 gallons of water per well.
A new report by Ceres found that Kern is just one of many locations facing this quandary. Nearly half of all fracking in the nation – a process which uses large amounts of water to extract previously inaccessible oil – takes place on high or extremely water stressed areas of the U.S. 55 percent of wells are in regions currently experiencing drought.
And yet according to the Western States Petroleum Association, more than 15 billion barrels of oil currently sit under Kern County, enough oil to replace “all of California’s foreign imports for 43 years at current consumption rates.”
So how do we weigh the needs of agriculture, energy production and water use?
Kern and countless others are having to make tough decisions about water, food and energy in the face of climate change, population growth, and economic pressures. The World Economic Forum (WEF) in Switzerland this year highlighted the need to shift current “silo thinking” about food, water OR energy individually to a “nexus approach” which takes into account all three issues at once.
“By adopting a comprehensive ecosystem view of sustainable growth and development…,” stated the WEF report, “a step change from the current norm can be achieved….A transformational, multi-sector and multi-scale approach will have to be adopted.”
The choices Kern County, and counties and towns around the world, make, will have lasting effects on the environment, local and regional economies, and on the food we eat. How they plan for not only the present, but for the future, will impact our ability to manage resources for generations to come.