Western rivers, a changing climate and the role of irrigated agriculture


This session was part of the 2023 Water for Food Global Conference, held May 8-11, 2023 in Lincoln, Nebraska.

“Go West” was the rallying cry of government and business leaders looking to expand the U.S. economy – and population – across the country in the mid to late 1800s. The financial incentives of jobs and cheap land enticed thousands of pioneers, who made their way across the prairies and mountains to find their fortunes. The Western states continue to attract new “settlers” today with high paying service sector employment and an abundance of outdoor recreation. But people need water to live and parched Western states compete for access to a few key rivers to supply intense agricultural irrigation and urban pipelines, as well as support environmental and wildlife needs. Many government agencies, non-profits, businesses and universities are working on solutions to ensure sustainable, and fair, water accessibility in the West. There are many factors and investments that can improve water use policies and practices, which will be explored in this session, such as recycling, reuse and storm-water capture. Especially in agriculture, incentives to invest in efficiency — from micro-irrigation to canal modernization to more precise irrigation scheduling — could help restore depleted rivers. Increasing demands on our region’s limited water supplies are more intense than ever as the region’s population continues to grow and climate change creates a more arid and dry future. Diverting even more water from already-stressed rivers and streams and groundwater — at great cost to taxpayers and the environment — is no longer sustainable.

Felicia Marcus – Attorney and Consultant; DWFI Board Member, Water Policy Group
Dustin Garrick – University Research Chair in Water and Development Policy
University of Waterloo
Tom Iseman – Director of Water Scarcity and Markets, Global Freshwater Program
The Nature Conservancy
Dick Wolfe – Senior Consultant, LRE Water

Learn more at waterforfood.nebaska.edu


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