Water is the most critical substance for the sustenance of life, but the prognosis for the quality and supply of water resources in much of the world is somewhere between troubling and dire. This module provides a framework for students to learn about how people interact with water, peer into our water future, and consider ways we might foster more sustainability in water management. After assessing our major water challenges, the module has students learn about the concepts of water sustainability, virtual water trade, and water footprints. The focus then turns to the interplay between agriculture and water resources, as agriculture has the greatest impact on freshwater consumption and quality. The module has students use several types of data to understand the patterns of crop irrigation in the United States and link this to groundwater levels in different parts of the country. The module also has students assess how agriculture impacts the quality of freshwater resources and employ systems thinking as it relates to nutrient runoff and the development of the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zones.
Strengths of the Module
- Students synthesize information derived from many different disciplines to assess the sustainability of water use and management. Accordingly, it works well in introducing non-geoscience students to the methods, data and issues of geoscience, as well as helping geoscience majors appreciate the societal relevance of hydrology and biogeochemistry and the value of incorporating economic and other information in evaluating geoscience problems and solutions.
- Hydrologic data sets, and the methods used to generate them, are highlighted throughout the module. Students are challenged to consider the application of the geoscience data and methods in their analyses of water problem case studies.
- Students are challenged to use geoscience data from sources such as the US Geologic Survey, the US Department of Agriculture.
- Students are repeatedly challenged to consider complex water management problems as part of socio-ecological systems. It is particularly evident in the module when we have students learn what goes into virtual water estimates, calculate their water footprints, consider the interplay between climate, irrigation and groundwater levels, and understand the processes leading to the generation of the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone.
- explain how freshwater availability and management practices pose threats to ecosystem integrity, human well-being, security, and agricultural production.
- explain what goes into the calculation of virtual water amounts and water footprints and the application of these concepts.
- explain what controls geographic variability in irrigation, groundwater mining, and ecosystem impacts of agriculture in the United States.
- apply geoscience information and methods in interdisciplinary assessments of the sustainability of water systems.
A great fit for courses in:
- Environmental Science
- Natural Resources
- Environmental Geology
- Earth Science
Table of Contents
- Instructor Materials: Overview of the Water, Agriculture, and Sustainability Module
Unit 1What is Sustainability in the Context of Water? Unit 2Water Footprints Unit 3Crops and Irrigation Patterns in the United States Unit 4Irrigation and Groundwater Mining Unit 5Agriculture and Freshwater Pollution
- Student Materials
- Instructor Stories
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