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  • Writer's pictureMacy Myers

Ag-Tech, Water Scarcity and Equity

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

By Macy Myers: We know what you’re thinking. The terms water and scarcity are not great words to pair together in any sentence, anytime. To top it off, equity surrounding water can also make us feel worried, hopeful, angry, or just plain uncomfortable at times. This month, we wanted to jump right into the pond of ag-tech, water scarcity, and equity. How will they all work together symbiotically, and un-symbiotically?

Florence Lake Calif. / Photo by Macy Myers, WET Center

It’s time to jump in.

To begin, water scarcity can refer to physical shortages or scarcities in access caused by institutions that fail to ensure a regular supply. When water covers around 70 percent of the Earth, why is water scarcity such an urgent topic to discuss? We have plenty of water, right? While there is an overall abundance of water, it isn’t freshwater used for drinking, agriculture, and everyday life. The amount of freshwater on earth is less than one percent of the total found across the globe.

So, how do we access, distribute and utilize that one percent?

The UN General Assembly says that everyone has the right to water and sanitation. Naturally, the world tends to focus on safe drinking water in this instance, as that is the most important and precious resource for survival, as we have mentioned before in previous blogs. In recent years, we have witnessed firsthand the public outrage over water, and how there are visible discrepancies in accessing safe drinking water. The lead-contaminated drinking water crisis in Flint Michigan is one example of this outrage that sparked nationwide discussions. Recently, Orosi, California completely ran out of water, due in part to contaminated wells, sparking greater discussions and outrage surrounding access to water in California specifically.

Historically, what has California done about water equity and safety?

California was the first state in the US to declare a human right to water. In 2012 AB 685 was signed by Governor Jerry Brown which stated that “every human being has the right to safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water adequate for human consumption, cooking, and sanitary purposes.” Each year prior there were attempts to mitigate the severe water quality issues. The small agricultural community of Seville, nestled at the scenic base of the Sierra Nevada, has been ground zero for Tulare County's water crisis for more than a decade. The 2012 law assisted in directing funding to cleaner, safer, and more available water. In the Flint Michigan, Orosi, and Seville cases, lack of clean water endangered animal and human lives at the very least. So, that begs the question...

Are there still major concerns in California a decade later?

The short answer is yes. As we’ve mentioned before, the drought in California has continued to negatively progress as temperatures continue to rise, among other things. In turn, so does the concern for water. Water over the years has felt fiercely political, divisive, and just downright unpleasant. Research shows that there isn’t enough water where we need it, and lack of water affects everyone negatively no matter where or how they use it. In both human and agricultural consumption, important conversations and solutions need to be held, as water scarcity is a statewide problem that beckons a statewide response. But, how do we get there?

To start, we have innovators in the market who are already working to combat issues.

Membrion, an alumnus of our Valley Ventures accelerator, is a University of Washington spinout company in the advanced materials space. Its mission is to manufacture and sell high-performance, low-cost ion-exchange membranes at industry-leading margins to promote the adoption of cost-effective and energy-efficient clean water and energy technologies. OffGridBox, another Valley Ventures alumni, focuses on offering affordable clean water and renewable energy with the ability to provide water purification even in remote areas. Their all-in-one box has an integrated certified 3-Stage water purification system with UV and Backwash that anyone can maintain. When it comes to making sure everyone has access to clean water, OffGridBox is ahead of the game.

While these amazing companies continue to do great work, there is still more that needs to be done to meet the demand for clean water for all. After all, it is everyone’s right.

Some programs hope to help alleviate the stressors of water scarcity, like the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, which offers incentive funding for on-farm groundwater recharge projects in the valley which align with the goals of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA). These range in size, and ability determined by engineers and working alongside regional water districts. There are also innovative solutions that combat more than water scarcity like placing solar panels over canals. Notably, some positive legislation is still playing a role in today’s water game too. Just in, EPA announces $18 Million WIFIA Loan to Helix Water District. The loan is aimed to “increase water reuse and help secure reliable safe drinking water for generations to come.”Learn more about updated water legislation here.

Connecting with local water entities is part of the solution, too.

The reality is, like much of the country, California's infrastructure is outdated. Regulations only help so much, and literacy is necessary, especially when reading some of the statistics out there. “Thousands of wells may go dry and tens of thousands of residents may lose their primary access to water by 2040. Up to one million acres in the Valley will be fallowed, causing losses of over $7 billion dollars in yearly crop revenues.” It’s important to learn more about your local water districts, what they are doing to mitigate these harsh numbers, and the next steps to protect accessibility. It’s also important to have a shared water vision for regions, such as the San Joaquin Valley, that include water projects that take into consideration all water interests. Once the San Joaquin Valley water interests agree upon a shared water vision, the next steps will include the development of a capital plan as well as the formation of a governing body. Enter the California Water Institute (CWI) which focuses on all aspects of sustainable water resource management solutions through outreach, entrepreneurship, education, testing, and interdisciplinary research. CWI is instrumental in the San Joaquin Valley effort, and continuously shares resources for public use.

Going Forward

Arguably, water is our most precious resource and we must work to keep it safe, affordable, and accessible for agriculture, and human consumption. While there are ongoing water supply issues, such as infrastructure and distribution, organizations and ag-tech solutions are working to create better systems to meet demand.


Funding & Other Opportunities

Deadline: October 12

Deadline: October 24

Deadline: October 27

Deadline: December 23

Check out the California State Grants Portal for more funding opportunities!


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