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Usage: The water required for food production and processing is immense. Irrigation accounts for about 30 percent of all of the water withdrawals in the United States. Irrigation competes with other water uses such as power plant cooling, public usage of water for drinking, cooking, washing, etc. The largest demand is in power production; nearly half of all water withdrawals, both freshwater and ocean water in the United States, are used for thermoelectric power plant cooling. Hundreds of large-scale power plants across the country are highly dependent on water resources, withdrawing 58 billion gallons of water from the ocean and 143 billion gallons of freshwater each day, more than any other water use category, including irrigation and public water supplies.
Water quality: Access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation services is vital to human health. Food production can significantly impact the quality of water bodies through agricultural runoff polluted with fertilizers, pesticides and manure from farms, fields and feedlots. Also, many power plants are located near large bodies of water for easy access for cooling the plant; the water that runs through power plants can be warmed to such an excessive degree that it can harm the nearby water body’s ecology. Recently, ocean acidity has become a concern for marine biologists and shell-fisherman in parts of the country.
Accessibility: When parts of the country face drought, water sources can become strained, creating problems for farmers who rely on irrigation for their crops. This is especially troublesome for irrigators when restrictions are placed on water use by local and regional authorities. In addition, power plants can be impacted by drought when surface water levels drop, leaving them without access to cooling water and forcing the plants to reduce their operations, sometimes even shutting them down altogether. During drier, warmer periods, the temperature of the water bodies from which power plants draw can rise too high to effectively cool the plants.
The Reality: There is a large population of humans on this planet, and we have needs as a species in order to survive. We need food, we need energy, and we especially need water. We rely on natural resources to survive and this is not going to change. However, we must be smart about our usage and how we share these limited resources with other species on this planet. In the end, there is a delicate balance to this entire ecosystem, and we are a part of that system.