Unusual partnerships may be necessary to bring some semblance of order to what could turn into contentious battles over water allocations across the country, and particularly in the arid west.

Long-term drought that heads into its fourth year across much of the Southwest has illuminated a problem that has been building for years—decreasing water supplies (including depleting aquifers) and increased demand from industry, municipalities, consumers and agriculture stretch resources as never before.

Conservation will be part of any long-term solution, but determining who cuts back and by how much and deciding just who will be in charge of divvying up the water will certainly be ticklish.

Cooperation and partnerships will help, said a trio of Western water users on hand for the annual Bayer CropSciences Ag Issues Conference, held recently in San Antonio just ahead of the annual Commodity Classic.

Long-term drought could continue.

“We have to reduce water consumption,” said Mitchell Baalman, FDK Partnership, a 12,000-acre family farm in Hoxie, Kansas. That, he said, is indisputable. “We have too many straws pulling water out of the aquifer, which is declining 1.5 feet per year. That’s serious”

He said the aquifer is some 60 feet lower today than it was in 2000. “Too much pumping,” he said.

For more information on water and other issues, please check out Southwest Farm Press Daily and receive the latest news right to your inbox.

Out in Idaho, Gary Beck, farm manager for Hillside Ranch in Blaine County, said he realized ten years ago that the operation needed to do something because the “aquifer was dropping. We were digging wells deeper and costs were going up.”

Much of the farm’s production was geared toward malt barley for Miller Coors. Marco Ugarte, sustainability manager, water and energy stewardship for Miller Coors, said a company goal was to reduce the environmental footprint of the company, especially water use.

“We found that 90 percent of our water use occurred before barley got to the brewery,” he said. “That was an eye-opening finding. A corporate goal is to reduce water use and we saw an opportunity to conserve water on the farm.”