The world's water supply cannot be taken lightly. Our water quality and availability is at serious risk and people suffer and die because of it. If you need a visual reminder, I highly suggest watching Flow, an excellent documentary about water.
The above said, there is some good news for organic farmers and processors, because organics play a major role in helping to protect and preserve the clean water we all need to survive. While National Organic Program (NOP) policy doesn't require that organic farmers or processors must sustainable practices, such as water conservation with organic practices. On top of that research shows that organics, energy use, global warming and other issues all interconnect and play a role in how our water supplies fare. Luckily, organics help, not hinder these issues.
1. Organic Farming Keeps Water Safe and Healthy
Conventional farming methods can wreak havoc on our environment, including our planets' water supply. The Organic Trade Association notes that various environmental organizations, including the Environmental Working Group, have tested tap water for herbicides (pesticides) in many cities across the United States’ Corn Belt, and in Louisiana and Maryland.
The results of the above tests were't encouraging. Not only did the research reveal widespread contamination of tap water via many pesticides but the levels of pesticides present were high enough to present serious health risks to humans. Many cities had tap water supplies full of enough herbicides to exceed federal lifetime health standards.
Organic farming doesn't eliminate pesticide use entirely, but organic farming does help eliminate some extremely dangerous pesticides that can cause pollution and long-lasting health concerns. Most organic farmers use prevention as a major strategy for controlling disease, weed and insect control vs. harmful pesticides. Every time farmers don't use pesticides, that's less harmful chemicals leeching into our water, directly and indirectly via the soil and evaporation.
2. Organics Conserve Energy
Many people separate water and energy, but they actually go hand-in-hand. For example, excessive energy use is a major cause of climate change and World Water Day notes that there is growing evidence that water resources will be significantly affected by climate change, both in quantity and quality. This may happen due to the impact of floods, droughts, or other extreme global warming events. Climate change will also result in more complex operations, disrupted services and increased cost for water and wastewater services. Lastly, World Water Day points out that climate change could result in excessive migration to urban areas, thus increasing the demands on urban water systems.
The cycle looks like this: Water is affected by climate change and climate change is affected by energy use. However, organics cut down on energy consumption thus also reducing the harmful effects of global warming, thus also protecting water. Those are some key connections.
Some estimate that agriculture is directly responsible for 14% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. It could be worse than first estimates though. For example, if carbon dioxide produced by deforestation solely to expand areas for cultivation or pasture is included in the energy use count, then agriculture may be responsible for up to a full third of greenhouse gasses.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) agrees with the above sentiments, noting that it takes an insane amount of energy to collect, distribute and treat the drinking water and wastewater here in the United States.
NRDC goes on to point out that "116 billion pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year - as much global warming pollution each year as 10 million cars." In dryer areas of the U.S. significant energy reserves are needed to import clean water.
Organics can make a big difference when it comes to the energy-water connection. Some organic operations merge into using energy saving methods such as high-efficiency stationary fuel cells.
Even without extra energy saving practices in place though, organics still reduce energy consumption. There's strong evidence that whole farm energy use and energy efficiency are more conservative when a farm is organic vs. conventional. This is especially true when one considers all the ways in which energy may be used on a farm. Embedded energy due to farm inputs and energy use across the entire food chain, including packaging, processing, distribution, storage, preparation and waste disposal is improved when farms go organic.
Rodale Institute Farming Systems Trial, America’s longest running, side-by-side comparison of conventional and organic agriculture, has shown that a healthy organic agriculture system can significantly reduce carbon dioxide and help slow climate change.
The Rodale research notes:
"If only 10,000 medium sized farms in the U.S. converted to organic production, they would store so much carbon in the soil that it would be equivalent to taking 1,174,400 cars off the road, or reducing car miles driven by 14.62 billion miles."
Cornell University research gleamed from the Rodale study notes that overall, Organic farming approaches for major crops, such as corn and soybeans use an average of 30% less fossil energy and at the same time conserve more water in the soil.
3. How Organic Cotton Makes a Difference
There are some debates surrounding organic cotton and whether it actually saves more water or perhaps uses more of it. Older research has noted that organic cotton saves tons of water, while newer research says that organic cotton may use slightly more water.
Still, organic cotton growing does use less energy (which as noted above saves water). Plus, keep in mind that conventional cotton is a hugely chemically dependent crop, accounting for as much as 10% of all agricultural chemicals and 25% of worldwide pesticides used, all of which affect our water supply.
4. Proper Soil Management Protects Water
Organic farming not only protects water from harmful chemicals, but organic farmers spend quite a bit of time amending soil correctly and using sound, less evasive farming practices such as buffer strips, cover crops all of which help indirectly conserve water resources.
5. Organics Preserve Larger Bodies of Water
American Rivers has said that a major water pollution threat to U.S rivers is runoff from non-organic farms including harmful pesticides, toxic fertilizers and animal waste. So, if clean thriving river systems is something you'd like to see stick around, organic farming is clearly the way to go.
Algal blooms (HABs) are also a huge water based problem, occurring in freshwater and marine environments and are often caused by runoff from the petroleum-based fertilizers used in conventional farming. Algal blooms can result in adverse affects on the health of people and marine animals and organisms. Organic farming, without all the harmful chemicals, helps protect freshwater, marine waters and everything connected to these water spaces, such as towns relying on water areas for tourism and the animals who frequent these areas.