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“All of life and all ecological processes are conditioned on the circulation of water on the planet,” said University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken, quoting from Jeffrey D. Sachs’ book Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet. “Since civilization began,” Milliken continued, “water has been central to life. We’ve established cities around it, fought wars over it, created myths about it and depended on it for food, power and transportation.” Maintaining an adequate supply of usable water has always been a challenge, but today a tangle of interrelated issues — rapid population growth, climate change, the introduction of pollutants, new water-dependent sources of energy — has created a far greater sense of urgency,” he said. “Today’s speakers, some of the best minds on the subject of water in the world, will add to our understanding of these issues and perhaps, given the scope and the severity of the challenge that faces our world, frighten us a bit.”
Nebraska is a fitting place to host the Water for Food conference, Milliken said. Nebraska is one of the world’s leading agricultural centers and sits atop the High Plains aquifer, one of the largest in the world with more than 2 billion acre-feet of water in groundwater reserves; a state where the center pivot irrigation system was invented and changed the face of agriculture; a state that leads the nation in the number of irrigated acres and ranks fourth in food production. “We are a place that has been providing food for the world for a long time, and we’re acutely aware of our need to continue to improve how well we do this and that the world depends on our ability to do it,” Milliken said.