Here in in the Mercer and Bucks County area, we have been experiencing a particularly dry summer with exceedingly hot temperatures, resulting in the leaves of my poplar trees dropping as if it were October. One small side benefit has been that I have not had to mow my lawn quite as much as I usually do at this time of year. The downside, I know, is that farmers are certainly feeling the strain on their crops which need the water far more than my grass.
The Northeast of the United States rarely experiences this kind of dry spell, much less real droughts. No doubt we are likely to see more of this extreme weather as climate change accelerates. Other parts of the world are already feeling the pressure from major drought-like conditions. In the American Southwest, the seven states served by the Colorado River, must soon negotiate a cut in their consumption or face a federally imposed solution.
While reducing personal water use is helpful, it is a drop in the bucket compared to agriculture. In places where rainfall is minimal, farmers still use flood irrigation techniques that would be recognizable to characters in the Bible. Israel has been a leader in the field of water reduction. Many may be familiar with drip irrigation, invented in the Jewish state when someone noticed that a tree watered by broken irrigation pipe did better than its neighbors.
What many do not know is that drip irrigation is expensive. In a typical system, water must be filtered and pumped through an extensive system to reach it destination in the field. Only with expensive crops is conventional drip irrigation feasible, but in the case of animal feed and other commodities, it just doesn’t make sense.
Now a new Israeli innovation is trying to make microdrip irrigation possible for all types of agriculture with a system that does not require filtration and uses only the power of gravity to move water through its tubes, dramatically reducing costs. The technology is potentially a game changer if it can reduce the amount of agricultural water usage by 50% or more while increasing crop yields. The system is being tested along the Colorado River by Native American tribes worried that soon they will need to drastically reduce water consumption.
Soon we will commemorate Tisha B’Av, the saddest day on the Jewish calendar when we remember the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. This fast day occurs during the heat of the summer when water is scarce and refraining from drinking can be dangerous. The day reminds us that life without the sustaining power of water is precarious. In addition, our tradition teaches that the tragic events we remember were not just random occurrences. Instead, they are the consequences of our own actions and inactions. If we want to avoid a world without water, we must find a way to change our ways with the help of new technology and innovative thinking.