Agriculture is currently the sector that generates the greatest demand for water for the development of its productive activities. According to the United Nations - UN and the World Bank, 70% of fresh water extracted in the planet is used for irrigation of crops and livestock activities. In Colombia, these activities demand 43% of the total available water and 48% of the water used for crop irrigation is wasted as a result of factors such as inefficient use of water resources, poor maintenance of supply infrastructures, among others.
Therefore, this translates into a challenge, but at the same time into an opportunity, so that within the framework of activities with high water consumption, such as agricultural activities, instruments, actions and practices aimed at reducing the problems of water shortages and scarcity threats in the country, as well as the negative impacts generated on the environment and natural resources as a result of water extractions and polluting discharges to water sources, among others, can be implemented more effectively.
One of these tools or instruments is the Program for the Efficient Use and Saving of Water by the users of water resources, created by Law 373/1997, which opens the possibility for individuals and actors in different economic sectors (including the agricultural sector) to create and implement projects and actions associated with management and administration measures for efficient water use, such as, for example, action plans to control waste in agricultural processes, correction of leaks in storage tanks, use of rainwater, measuring systems in supply infrastructures, implementation of low consumption technologies and equipment, reuse of treated wastewater, recirculation of water for the same purposes of use, among others. This means that given the obligation of the users of water resources to implement this type of solutions, businessmen have alternatives to create instruments that are in accordance with their activities, which allow them to carry out an efficient management of water resources, thus reducing both their production costs and the aggregate demand on water.
Now, with the adoption of the National Policy for the Comprehensive Management of Water Resources in 2010, the Government established as one of the principles and purposes of such policy, the saving and efficient use of water, ratifying the urgency of including within the productive activities, especially agricultural or agro-industrial activities, the implementation of efficient and sustainable use of water through different alternatives and handling and management measures that are environmentally friendly.
Among these alternatives or measures, in addition to the creation of the Programs for the Efficient Use and Saving of Water provided for in Law 373/1993, the reuse of treated wastewater has been shown to be one of the most effective and efficient
environmental solutions for the agricultural or agro-industrial sector, since it allows the safe use of wastewater for new purposes, thus maximizing agricultural or agro-industrial productivity and, at the same time, minimizing water consumption and waste.
However, despite the fact that in practice, Resolution No. 1207/2014 (standard that regulates reuse in Colombia) has some difficulties to implement the reuse of wastewater, it is expected that with the readjustment of such standard to be issued in the coming months, the implementation of this alternative as an environmental solution in different aspects will be further promoted and encouraged, such as enabling the possibility to carry out this type of initiatives when there is no previous water concession, or when the user is supplied by the public water utility or rainwater (among other limitations that exist today) in order to expand the scenarios for implementing reuse, only with the conditions and/or restrictions that are necessary to ensure the safe reuse of water without putting at risk the care of the environment and human health.
Accordingly, proper water resource management in agricultural activities through the creation and implementation of environmental solutions offered by Colombian legislation, such as the creation and implementation of Programs for Efficient Use and Saving of Water, development of reuse practices, etc., allows, among other things, guaranteeing the continuous and sufficient availability of water resources in areas of difficult access or with greater water stress, a situation that may also be worsened by climate variability and droughts that will inevitably become a constant due to climate change.
In conclusion, although these tools represent an opportunity to reduce the pressure on water resources and negative impacts on the environment, reduce production costs and guarantee the continuous availability of water for irrigation, food production and other agricultural and agro-industrial activities, their implementation is also a necessity in order to prepare the industry to face the challenges that will arise as a result of world population growth and the economic needs that this entails, as well as the consequent increase in competition for water availability and the challenges posed by climate change.
Therefore, the sustainability of economic growth in the agro-industrial sector, and to a great extent the availability of water and the maintenance of water sources, as well as food security in the country, among other positive impacts on human health, the environment and natural resources, especially water, will depend on a timely business culture and the implementation of environmentally friendly alternatives that are in accordance with environmental law.