As the world’s population increases and climate change disrupts the hydrologic cycle, water scarcity is becoming more and more of a concern.
Unfortunately, according to Richard Roush, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Pennsylvania State University, many of the methods humans can use to adapt to changes in the climate will require the use of water, whether it is through irrigating crops in areas that don’t get enough rainfall, or by planting trees on city streets to lower city temperatures.
“Virtually everything you can think of that will help us adapt to climate change, these solutions are by and large going to involve the use of water,” he said.
Roush will present his talk “The Weak Link in the Food-Water-Energy Nexus is Water: And What Can Be Done About It” at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, August 20 in the Hall of Philosophy, as part of the Oliver Archives Heritage Lecture Series.
The water-food-energy nexus is an idea created by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which says that water security, energy security and food security — all necessary for human survival — are linked, and that actions that affect one may also affect the other two.
“When you look at data on water, even in the absence of climate change, we’d still be running out of water, but climate change will exacerbate it,” Roush said. “Water is already going under tremendous stress.”
Roush said it is very likely that communities will face increasing water issues in the next 20 to 30 years. Even today, hundreds of thousands of people are facing water scarcity.
Roush’s career has focused on how to slow insect pests and weeds from evolving a resistance to crops that have been genetically modified to be insect-resistant.
Roush has served as the dean of the College of Agricultural Science at Penn State for the past five years. Previously, he served as the dean of the Melbourne School of Land and Environment at the University of Melbourne, in Australia, from 2006 to 2014.
From 2003 to 2006, he worked as the director of the University of California Integrated Pest Management and Sustainable Agriculture Programs, and was director of the Cooperative Research Centre on Australian Weed Management based at the University of Adelaide, from 1998 to 2003.
During his Heritage Lecture, Roush will outline some of the specific water challenges people are facing, and some of the measures that can be taken to use water more efficiently.
For example, in parts of India, the Indian government made electricity free to farmers so they could pump as much water as they needed to grow their crops.
“It’s good to support farmers, but the unfortunate consequence is because electricity is free, farmers pumped more water than they needed to,” Roush said.
In the United States, the Colorado River provides water for 30 million people in seven U.S. states and Mexico, according to Smithsonian Magazine. But the water allotment for each community was set decades ago, during a period of unusually high rainfall, Roush said. Now, the water supply is basically exhausted by the time it reaches Mexico.
“To return to California and watch water running off of people’s lawns into the gutter and away, knowing where it came from, in the Colorado River system or California snow packs, is rather sobering,” Roush said.
Today, Roush will discuss how to address the water crisis going forward.
“We need to be working on this as soon as we can,” he said. “My plan is to outline that challenge and talk about what things are being done.”