We usually think of water as a renewable source, but this isn’t technically true – all water that exists today, is the same water that has always existed, and it is the only water that will ever be available (view this video from EPA to get a better idea about how water moves through the hydrologic cycle on earth. There are no new sources of water, but how we use water can change. As climate changes and population grows, we are increasingly stressing our water sources, especially our groundwater (for more basic information on groundwater visit: What is Groundwater). Groundwater is the largest source of irrigation water in Maryland’s coastal plain, and it is also the slowest water source to recharge, or replenish itself. It can take from weeks to up to 10,000 years for water from the surface to reach the water table below the surface and refill the groundwater that has been used.
One possible solution to relieve pressure on our groundwater sources is to reuse water. Water reuse (also called reclaimed water) most commonly refers to the reuse of treated municipal wastewater. According to the EPA’s 2012 Guidelines for Water Reuse: “The ability to reuse water, regardless of whether the intent is to augment water supplies or manage nutrients in treated effluent, has positive benefits that are also the key motivators for implementing reuse programs. These benefits include improved agricultural production; reduced energy consumption associated with production, treatment, and distribution of water; and significant environmental benefits, such as reduced nutrient loads to receiving waters due to reuse of the treated wastewater.” (EPA, 2012 Reuse Water Guidelines).
CONSERVE (COordinating Nontraditional Sustainable watER Use in Variable climatEs), a Center of Excellence at the Nexus of Sustainable Water Reuse, Food, and Health, is building on the premise that water reuse holds promise for the agricultural community. CONSERVE has 5 projects including research on the quantity and quality of nontraditional irrigation water, social dimensions (such as consumer preference and regulatory needs), next-generation on-farm technologies, and experiential education. The fifth project focuses on Extension opportunities. The CONSERVE Extension team’s mission starts with gauging farmers’ prior knowledge of nontraditional water, including reclaimed water, any concerns about this water source, and the best ways to communicate new applicable information. You can learn more about our survey from this blog post and you can take our survey by visiting here.
Beyond our needs assessment survey, the CONSERVE Extension team envisions adapting the research findings from other components of the project into helpful, applicable, and digestible learning opportunities for the farming community.
Stay tuned for how we are doing our part to conserve groundwater by visiting the CONSERVE web site.