The Price of Water

As restrictions and water availability continue to be a concern, growers have to research other options for conserving their most precious resource.

Water has always been a vital resource, considering much of life on Earth — humans, animals and plants — require it to exist. However, water has become an even larger topic of concern as areas in the U.S. begin to experience extreme drought conditions and parts of the world see water resources drying up.

Examples in the U.S. include Southern California, where the U.S. Drought Monitor map shows extreme and exceptional drought situations. As summer wanes, we are beginning to see drought situations crop up in Georgia and Massachusetts, as well as abnormally dry weather in other regions of the U.S.


Related to drought, a 2014 report from the American Meteorologist Society Journal of Climate projected the Southwest would have an 80% risk of a decade-scale mega-drought in the next century. Also to that end, a government survey of water managers found that 40 to 50 states expected water shortages in some portion of their state under average conditions in the next 10 years.

From Greenhouses to Worldwide

“The nursery industry has been evolving all along, especially in Southern California, where there is a high consciousness of water use,” notes Ben Faber, a farm advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension. He says greenhouse operations there have explored several ways to prevent runoff and reuse existing water. “I think it’s going to be more and more intensification of water use. I’m sure there’s going to be more justification for reverse osmosis water. It’s going to be lower quality waters for high quality plants.”

Even consumers are beginning to be impacted by restrictions and lack of water resources. The American Society of Landscape Architects has identified the top three landscape design trends for 2016, and they were all water-related: rainwater/graywater harvesting, native plants and native/drought-tolerant plants.

On a global scale, access to groundwater continues to be a concern for many countries, and has even been pointed to in a handful of instances as causing riots and even civil war. A recent National Geographic report showed the ground in Beijing is sinking, in some places at a rate of 4 inches per year, as water from the aquifer underneath the ground is pumped out. In fact, parts of Shanghai, Mexico City and other cities are sinking, too, according to the story, which can be read in its entirety here.

Looking to the Future

What is a grower who relies heavily on water to do in a time when water comes at such a premium (and will continue to stay a topic of concern)? Faber says there are a couple of ways to look at water conservation. One option is to look at the crops you grow to see if there are other options for more water-conscious crops.

Advanced hydrogels like STOCKOSORB® absorb water and reduce the need for hand irrigation -- saving on water and labor costs. Image:
Advanced hydrogels like STOCKOSORB® absorb water and reduce the need for hand irrigation — saving on water and labor costs. Image:

Another is to look into a reverse osmosis system to recycle water. “That’s becoming quite common,” he notes. “So you’re not just using water once, you’re using it multiple times.”

Using hardscapes and rainwater harvesting systems to capture and recycle rainwater is another way growers can make the most of the rain they experience throughout the growing cycle. It also has an added benefit of reducing the amount of runoff from rainwater that flows into natural bodies of water. Also, drip irrigation systems can make the most of the water you have available, providing the plants only what they need with less waste. To make that water go even further, growers can amend their soil with advanced hydrogels, which soak up water and then release it when the plants need it to reduce water usage.

Faber recommends working with local extension offices and universities, which are often researching the newest and best means for conserving water in agricultural operations. On the political side, he says growers have to stay out in front of the water issue.

“You’ve got to show you’re a wise conservator of this resource,” he says. “The nursery industry has to be aware of the impression they’re giving to the general public. Stay ahead of the latest advances. It keeps changing, and staying the same is going to leave you a stick in the mud. You’re going to get washed out.”

Make your water go farther while improving the health of your plants. To find out more about how STOCKOSORB® advanced hydrogel can help your growing operation, contact Lynn Royal at 336-335-3781, email [email protected] or visit