Commentary: Blue is the new black
As water rights, supplies and availability become even larger priorities for industry, the provision of the resource itself is endangered by local funding constraints — but that’s about to change.
A looming challenge facing all of agriculture is expressed neatly by the line, “Blue (as in H2O) is the new black (as in black gold, Texas tea).”
In fact, some analysts feel that by mid-century, wars will be fought over water, not oil.
The meat and poultry production sector is a huge consumer of water of both water resources and wastewater services. Indeed, one of (many) reasons that meatpacking deserted its traditional urban locations in the early postwar era was the escalating costs associated with water consumption and wastewater disposal.
Globally, everyone from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to the World Bank to the Rand Corporation is also predicting a coming crisis with water resources. Not only will the resource itself be in danger of falling seriously behind worldwide demand, but the necessary infrastructure needed to collect, treat and deliver water needed for food and industrial production is also failing to keep pace with the requirements of even the world’s most prosperous, developed countries.
The meat and poultry industries are squarely at the intersection of both agricultural and industrial water demand. The live side of the industry needs significant access to water for its food animal herds and flocks, while the production of feed crops also requires massive amounts of irrigation.
And on the processing side, the anti-animal agriculture forces are having a field day disseminating data — though much of it is wildly exaggerated — purporting to show that each pound of beef, pork or poultry represents hundreds of gallons of water to bring to market.
An intriguing solution
Domestically, the crisis in this country is twofold: Depletion of vital aquifers, for which there are no easy answers, and deterioration of water-related infrastructure, for which at least one promising solution has surfaced.
The challenge with maintaining, expanding and eventually rebuilding the reservoirs, pipelines, treatment facilities and industrial distribution architecture is straightforward: Money — specifically, the lack thereof.
Most water systems are municipally or regionally owned, and those jurisdictions almost universally are facing severe funding shortfalls, with no dramatic turnaround in sight.
In the past several years, the emergence of what is collectively known by its P3s shorthand — public-private partnerships — has been recognized as having the potential to effectively deal with the massive funding needed to upgrade and expand the nation’s rapidly aging water systems.
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