Expert panel identifies gaps in water management

A better understanding is needed of how climate change could affect the availability for water in agriculture

An expert panel convened by the Council of Canadian Academies is urging more research into the potential impact of climate change on water available for agriculture.

In a newly released report commissioned by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the panel concludes that water and land resources in Canada can be more sustainably managed by developing forward-thinking policies and effective land and water management strategies, adopting effective governance mechanisms, and harnessing technological advancements.

“Agriculture and water provide us with our most basic needs, and are intimately connected, said Howard Wheater, who chaired the expert panel in a release. “While most farmers are their own water managers, using rain and snow for crop production, irrigation and livestock farming are major water consumers and face increasing competition from other water uses.

“Agriculture has changed much of our land area and can affect the water environment in many ways. It also faces major challenges due to the uncertain impact of climate variability, including floods and droughts, and climate change.”

As the world’s population grows, so does the demand for food. Rising incomes are causing a shift in global patterns of food consumption towards higher-value forms of agricultural production. There is also increased demand for non-food agricultural products such as biofuels and natural fibres.

The report lays out five areas in which it sees a need for additional research and action on the part of governments.

  •  The risks and uncertainties of market conditions, competition for land and water resources, and climate change;
  •  Improved monitoring, modelling and forecasting to facilitate adaptive management;
  •  The interaction between land management and water resources — including assessment of beneficial management practices (BMPs), conservation agriculture, and ecosystem services approaches;
  •  Promising farm-scale technologies that could contribute to efficient water use, reduced environmental impacts, and sound investment decisions;
  •  Governance structures, valuation techniques, economic incentives, and knowledge transfer strategies that would help to facilitate better management decisions and uptake of sustainable practices.

The Council of Canadian Academies is an independent, not-for-profit organization that began operation in 2005. The council supports evidence-based, expert assessments to inform public policy development in Canada. Assessments are conducted by independent, multidisciplinary panels of experts from across Canada and abroad. The council’s blue-ribbon panels serve free of charge and many are Fellows of the Council’s Member Academies: the Royal Society of Canada; the Canadian Academy of Engineering; and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. The council’s vision is to be Canada’s trusted voice for science in the public interest. For more information visit www.scienceadvice.ca.

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