Water Conservation Management is Crucial for a Sustainable Agriculture

Water Conservation Management is Crucial for a Sustainable Agriculture

Water conservation management is, of course, not only crucial for sustainable agriculture. Any agriculture needs proper water conservation management. However, for various reasons, with sustainable agriculture, water conservation management requires much more skills and attention. Even our kitchen gardens require water conservation management.

Today it is 37 Celsius. The sun burns all day. There is hardly any wind. When the sun no longer shines in the kitchen gardens, our irrigation system waters the plants for 10 minutes. First, the one where the herbs grow, next, the one where we try to grow tomatoes and zucchini.

The water runs through small plastic tubes from 2 main taps. One up in the garden, the other on the side of the house. Both taps are connected to a clock. The clocks are set for the time and the duration of the desired water flow. When the temperatures stay this high in the coming weeks, the duration has to go up to 15 minutes per day.

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A garden full of cacti

A garden full of cacti

How sustainable is irrigation? It depends on from which perspective we look at irrigation systems. Ours is a small-scale system. The plastic tubes are not our favorite, but for now, we need them. Because we need the clocks. When we want to go on a holiday for a couple of days, or weeks, the clocks are the only system to keep the irrigation going.

Without water, no plants but cacti would grow in our garden. Our kitchen gardens are not big enough to produce all the organic food we need. What we grow is only a marginal amount of what we actually eat. So, why go through all the trouble of maintaining kitchen gardens? A garden full of cacti is beautiful as well. We know gorgeous botanic gardens in Monaco and on Lanzarote where only cacti grow.

We have kitchen gardens because we want to know what effort it takes to grow your own food. Specifically, because we only want to eat organic fruits and vegetables. To grow organic food requires a substantial amount of skills and patience. We also like to experiment and exchange seeds with others.

The ‘natural’ flow of water

Click a Tree, the easiest way to plant trees
Click a Tree, the easiest way to plant trees

The water we use for our garden, all the water we use, comes from a municipal reservoir (we think). The municipal reservoir is filled by a canal that taps its water from the river Segura. This river originates in La Sierra de Segura in the National Nature Park La Sierras de Cazorla, Segura y Las Villas in Andalucia.

Because the water from the Segura is not enough to irrigate the vast tracts of agricultural lands in the regions of Murcia (where we live) and Valencia, a canal was constructed to transport water all the way to the Rio Segura from the Rio Tajo, which runs through the middle of Spain and Portugal to the Atlantic Ocean. A branch of the canal runs some 200 meters behind our garden.

This arrangement, of flowing water entirely from the middle of Spain to dry coastal areas, is not very sustainable. Every year, again and again, a huge political fight starts discussing the amount of water that will flow from the Rio Tajo to the Rio Segura. For the farmers, it’s never enough, or always too much. Depending on where the farmer lives. It’s a political nightmare because agricultural lobbyists keep all political parties, and the environment and environmentalists, hostage. With detrimental consequences.

The illegal flow of water

Irrigation needs a lot of water

Water and water conservation management are of course crucial for commercial agriculture. The irrigation of our two small kitchen gardens is peanuts compared to the water challenges commercial farmers face. This does, however, not mean that these farmers use their water sustainably. Nor do they care much for other concerns than their own.

We know in Spain two nature parks which are under serious threat because of deliberate water mismanagement by farmers. In the middle of Spain lies the smallest Spanish national nature park: Tablas de Daimiel. Tablas de Daimiel is a wetland. Which is extremely rare in the middle of Spain. The park is of exceptional value for marshland birdlife.

Tablas de Daimiel is surrounded by farmland. Up until a couple of years ago, nature and farmers’ concerns were reasonably kept in balance. Until the farmers started to grow crops that needed substantially more water. The farmers illegally dug hundreds of wells to pump up the water. They almost drained the wetlands.

Another example, which received substantial international exposure last month, is the national park Doñana. The park borders the Mediterranean and has been formed as a delta of the river Guadalquivir. On Thursday, June 24, this year, the European Court of Justice condemned the Spanish government for its lack of protection of Doñana. The first complaints reached the EU already in 2009. Let’s hope the conviction will fundamentally change Spain’s attitude. 

The polluted flow of water

Water comes from many sources. Wells has already been mentioned. Springs, rivers, and lakes are also regular water sources. Treated wastewater from industries or cities is used in agriculture. However, 90% of this water is untreated wastewater. A very expensive water source is desalinated water from the sea.

It is striking that rainwater, as runoff from roofs, streets, or unused land, is not considered to be irrigation water. The water in wells, springs, lakes, and rivers usually is generated by rainwater. Many gardeners use rainwater to grow their plants.

The advantage of rainwater is that it is not as polluted as wastewater from cities and industries. However, in many agricultural areas, not enough rainwater can be harvested to grow crops. There, farmers rely heavily on water from wells, springs, rivers, and lakes. That farmers avoid river water makes some sense, because most rivers are severely polluted.

Related: Collect Rainwater Safely and Effectively and Save on your Water Bill

Water conservation management is crucial

Water is a limited and at the same time crucial source to grow our food. Agriculture uses 70% of all the fresh water sources in the world. This is why proper water conservation management is key to sustainable agriculture and sustainable agriculture is key to proper water conservation management.

Correct water conservation management and sustainable agriculture do not only ensure our food. These also contribute to healthy soil and biodiversity. The best contribution we can make as consumers to proper water conservation management is to eat as little meat as possible.

What is also important is that we inform ourselves. The consumption of meat does not only contribute to the destruction of rainforests, it also uses extraordinarily huge amounts of water. To a lesser degree, this is also true for potatoes and avocados. Cereal crops use much less water. We should take this into account when we shop for our daily groceries. Proper water management is also the responsibility of consumers.

How do you handle your water? Let us know in the comment box.

6 thoughts on “Water Conservation Management is Crucial for a Sustainable Agriculture”

  1. Hi, thank you for sharing this article with us. I really love to read anything that’s for the benefit of health. I really love this topic as it talking about and educate people that water conservation management is imperative. You are perfectly right and I agree with this because I have some friends and some far-away family which has land and are involved in agriculture. I know from them that water it is a must and has to be conserved in big containers.Thank you for this great explanation.

    • Hi Angel,

      Thank you for your comment. The past week showed an entirely different perspective on the importance of water conservation management and sustainable agriculture.

      Due to an insufficient water management, last week’s huge inundations ravaged countries like The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Turkey, China, Uganda, Oman, Nigeria, Iran, Colombia, Austria, New Zealand, America, India, and Luxembourg.

      If we keep this up, we will have to move to another planet or even another galaxy.

      Before we go there, stay safe, stay healthy.


  2. Hi Hannie,

    I live on a peninsula in a semi-desert where close to 20 huge designer golf courses were built whch need constant watering every day, for the the precious grass on the golf courses, it’s ridiculous. In the town’s poorest areas the water supply is often cut off for hours, or even days. In the better neighborhoods as well, but not for so long. It’s always the poorer areas that suffer the most, but hey, as long as the golf courses get their water, right? It makes no sense.

    I do not get city water where I live (my property is off the beaten path). There is a natural well nearby and a truck pumps the water and delivers it to my property where I have a 10,000 liter water tank. When my house is built, I will have tubes running from the kitchen sink and bathroom to the plants and trees, to make sure that no water is wasted. I also think that we should use rainwater, store it in buckets or catch it in bigger containers when it rains. Especially here, in rain season it doesn’t just rain, it pours curtains of water. We might as well take advantage of it.

    • Hi Christine,

      Thank you for your comment. Hannie and I once went from Las Vegas to Lake Tahoe and across the mountains to Sacramento.

      Just beyond Las Vegas, we crossed Death Valley, National Park. It was about 45 degrees Celsius. Which is not that hot for Death Valley. One of the first things we saw was a golf course. Never saw one greener than this one. Ridiculous.

      Where we live in Spain, we only very sporadically experience water cuts. Mostly due to maintenance. The interesting thing is that such maintenance is never announced. One day we were, unannounced, without any water for over 4 hours. Crazy.

      As I understand you correctly, you live off-grid. That’s very nice. Here rainwater is also not buffered. With all sorts of unwanted consequences. 2 years ago roads and rail tracks were flushed away by uncontrolled rain floods. In the city of Murcia, some bridges were almost destroyed.

      The water used here comes from a river which flows through the middle of Spain. With canals, this water is distributed to various urban and agricultural areas. The water is buffered in huge ponds to be able to survive the dry season. The ponds are uncovered, so when the sun shines, which it does a lot here, water evaporates.

      However, perhaps a pond could buffer the rain water on your land?

      For now, stay safe, stay healthy.


  3. Water is limited due to the way we treat our natural bodies. We pollute our water bodies day in and day out and we do not think about the future and how we are making things bad gradually.

    Back in some countries in Africa, rainwater is usually conserved and used for irrigation purposes when it gets to the point where water is scarce and it’s a really good thing.
    We are not treating our water bodies well and it’s disheartening. It is affecting the health of some people and affecting agriculture to some level.

    We should learn to manage water properly as well, to avoid scarcity of it. We use water for a lot of things and if it becomes awfully scarce we will not enjoying living.
    I will do well to share this with my family and friends, hopefully, they get to learn a thing or two.

    Great article,

    • Hi Femi,

      Thank you for sharing my article. And thank you for your comment.

      For the last couple of weeks, we’ve experienced how much damage uncontrolled water can cause. Huge inundations flooded Japan, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Turkey, China, Uganda, Oman, Nigeria, Iran, Colombia, Austria, New Zealand, America, India, and Luxembourg. France, Spain, and Italy had their share of inundations in previous years.

      For a large part, these inundations are caused by improper agricultural water management, uninhibited urban planning, and the destruction of large tracts of (rain)forests. You can imagine that a serious overhaul of all these coinciding developments will take generations to come. Lowering CO2 levels will not be enough to accomplish this.

      For now, we have to live with our awareness of all these problems and try to live up to our principles, as little this will contribute. Although every contribution is welcome.

      Stay safe, stay healthy.



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