North Carolina farmers use but a fraction of the water consumed in the state each day, according to the first-ever statewide survey of agricultural water use.
Among water users withdrawing at least 10,000 gallons a day, farmers accounted for about 1 percent of all withdrawals, the survey showed.
“Up until now, basic water use information for agriculture was limited in most areas of the state,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “Our survey found that farmers withdrew an extremely small portion of the water used in North Carolina on a daily basis. While farmers might be watering hogs — or cattle or crops — they aren’t hogging the water.”
The General Assembly last year passed a bill requiring the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to do an annual survey of agricultural water use. The department’s Agricultural Statistics Division contacted 9,000 farms and received responses from 86 percent. From those responses, statisticians found 1,500 farms that used 10,000 gallons or more of water on at least one day during the year.
The department recently submitted the report to legislators.
The report focused on water from surface sources, such as on-farm irrigation ponds, and ground sources, such as wells. The data collected by the NCDA&CS represent a variety of water uses on farms, including water for livestock, crop irrigation and aquaculture operations.
The survey showed that average daily withdrawals by farmers totaled 108 million gallons from surface waters and 41 million gallons from ground water. Combined, they accounted for about 1 percent of the more than 15 billion gallons of water used daily in North Carolina.
Heaviest usage occurred between May and September, which is peak growing season and the hottest time of year. July saw the highest water usage, with farmers collectively withdrawing an average of 365 million gallons per day. Water usage was lowest in January, when farmers collectively withdrew 34 million gallons per day on average.
The percentage of water used by farmers may be even smaller, Troxler said. That’s because the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, which tracks non-agricultural water use, primarily records withdrawals of 100,000 or more gallons per day, whereas the NCDA&CS surveyed farmers using 10,000 gallons or more per day.