A just-released Nature Conservancy study [PDF] suggests that the best way to improve water conditions in both urban and rural areas is to form partnerships between their inhabitants. After all, the two spaces are intimately connected, in terms of water use: farming consumes the majority of a region's water supply, while urban residents consume most of the food produced in rural areas.
Farmer-city partnerships seem more promising than current stopgaps, Eric Jaffe writes, including importing water from other regions and recycling or desalination. A sustainable partnership program would involve center-city funding of water conservation techniques on the periphery, including changing the crops planted on agricultural land. Both sides of the equation would save money, on irrigation and fresh food, respectively.
Of course, both farmers and urban governments may be hesitant to start a water-saving partnership. But existing experiments in southern California and elsewhere have proven that overcoming obstacles to cooperation is worth it. In San Diego, for instance, agricultural water conservation already accounts for over one-quarter of the city’s water supply; by 2020, the proportion is expected to reach 36 percent.