This week marks the 19th year of World Water Day. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development designated this day as an annual international event focusing on the importance of sustaining and managing fresh water resources.  This year’s theme is water and food security.  This is such a critical issue to not only to our international friends, but also for U.S. farmers, ranchers, growers, consumers, and conservationists.

The United Nations also convened its Sixth World Water Forum in France last week.  Held every three years, it’s the largest ministerial and scientific meeting addressing water issues that impact our world.  Mark Walbridge, ARS National Program Leader for Water Quality & Water Management, and Ibrahim Shaqir, Director of the ARS Office of International Research Programs, had the distinguished honor to participate in the Forum’s U.S. Pavilion on behalf of USDA.

They highlighted recent research advances developed by ARS scientists that are changing the way we use water.  The conference was an opportunity to also establish and build international collaborations needed to address critical water issues—particularly those related to food and agriculture.

Two key projects were emphasized.  The first featured ARS-developed technology using deficit irrigation management to help farmers determine how much water is needed to produce a particular crop.  This system takes into account various things like plant temperature, land characteristics, drainage, climate and temperature variables, etc., to determine the most efficient water amounts needed to produce the highest crop yields.

The other is a collaborative project with the National Drought Mitigation Center, USAID and scientists in Africa, China and other countries to test a drought prediction system.   ARS developed a series of remote sensing tools that can be used to assess water in soil over large geographic regions—like Ethiopia, for example, where large-scale droughts can result in famine.  Such a system will improve agricultural drought detection, increasing our ability to reduce and prevent drought’s impact on global food markets.

USDA agencies with a water mission are working closely together to develop practical solutions for securing food and water resources in the future—not just for Americans, but also globally.