Solving the Food-Water-Energy Nexus One Step at a Time: Modernizing Irrigated Agriculture in Hood River, Oregon

  •  Patricia Fernandez-Guajardo    
  •  Edward P. Weber    
  •  Lisa Seales    


Food, water, and energy resources are critical to human survival. They are also interdependent. In the world of traditional irrigated agriculture in the US West, especially in arid or semi-arid areas, the Food-Water-Energy Nexus is undergoing severe challenges, including population growth, significant water scarcity, growing demands for environmental and species protection, downward pressure on commodity pricing from globalization, increasing demand and higher costs for energy, and the challenge of climate change. This wicked problem of food, water, water rights, energy, farmers, fish/ecology, and climate change is threatening not only the ability to restore and preserve the stream flows necessary to meet ecological needs, but also the legally mandated flows to senior water users and the economic viability of working rural agricultural landscapes. A case study of the Farmer’s Irrigation District in Oregon illustrates how a growing number of Western US irrigation district are modernizing their irrigation systems, labeled here as the Integrated Hydro-Irrigation-Restoration Model, by tapping the power of rivers to fuel new low carbon “small” hydropower facilities and pressurize water deliveries, while simultaneously taking measures to save water, promote less fertilizer usage, increase instream flows, and improve environmental outcomes. The new model is necessarily more responsive to the policy demands emanating from policymakers and environmentalists seeking redress for all parts of the Food-Water-Energy wicked problem, from carbon emissions to more environmentally and economically sustainable farming systems/communities.

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