KIMBERLY • Solving the global imbalance of water distribution may take the help of an Idaho scientist.
Rick Allen works out of Kimberly. But last week, the water resources engineering professor was invited to Rome to meet with world leaders to discuss the growing food scarcity crisis in the third-world countries.
The meeting was hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Allen was sent to represent how the western water right system is able to succeed in the United States.
“It’s in our interest to help these countries out,” he said. “We are kind of like the global older sibling. If we don’t intervene and offer to help, people will begin to resent us or no longer want to live in their own countries.”
The FAO asked Allen to attend partly because of his extensive research with satellite technology that measures water evaporation. Allen is Idaho’s lead researcher on NASA’s Landsat satellites. The instruments are used to measure climate changes and water evaporation from irrigated agriculture.
Using images taken by the satellites, water users can determine how much water is available in a particular area and how much is being distributed.
This is important nationally — particularly in the West where water is limited — but can be used globally in countries that don’t have water right systems in place, Allen said.
“If we have the information to see who has water and who doesn’t,” he said. “We can measure the distribution of water. The use of maps has been really helpful with that.”
However, establishing a water management system in developing countries is a long, uphill battle, Allen said.
Farmers need to be able to trust that their government will enforce water infringement penalties while being unbiased. It’s a guarantee in the U.S. that is normally taken for granted, he said.
The FAO will use Allen’s lecture points and many others to distribute a report with suggestions later this year. Until then, Allen will continue promoting the use of satellite technology on a national and global scale.
“They say the next major battle will be fought over water,” he said. “We need to make sure countries are to sustain themselves and have systems in place for water before it gets to that point.”