Climate variability is placing severe stress on high-quality agricultural irrigation sources such as groundwater. As a result, water reuse and exploring nontraditional irrigation water sources (e.g., reclaimed water) have become national priorities for agricultural water security and the sustainable production of our food supply. At the same time, the recent Food Safety Modernization Act is shifting the focus of food safety from responding to foodborne contamination to preventing it. This places great responsibility on agricultural producers, who must meet stricter guidelines for the quality of irrigation water used on food crops. This presents a significant new gap: new sustainable on-farm solutions are needed so that agricultural producers can conserve groundwater through the safe use of nontraditional irrigation water sources.
We are addressing this need through CONSERVE (COordinating Nontraditional Sustainable watER Use in Variable climatEs): A Center of Excellence at the Nexus of Sustainable Water Reuse, Food, and Health. CONSERVE research, extension and education activities are developed by a leading team of bioscientists, engineers, economists, social-behavioral scientists, law and policy experts, extension specialists, educational media developers and computer scientists. We extend our findings to stakeholders, including farmers, communities, educators, students, and federal, state, and local governments through outreach and engagement.
CONSERVE is focusing on two key regions, the Mid-Atlantic and Southwest, thereby highlighting two diverse climates that are in different stages of need for nontraditional irrigation. Specifically, the Mid-Atlantic is currently not experiencing serious water shortages, and the integration of new on-farm water treatment technologies at this time represents a proactive approach to climate change. In contrast, the Southwest region is experiencing severe water shortage crises, and thereby represents a need for reactive solutions to climate change. Through our innovative efforts, we will facilitate the adoption of transformative on‐farm solutions that enable the safe use of nontraditional irrigation water on food crops and effectively reduce the nation’s agricultural water challenges that are exacerbated by climate change.