California Farmers Volunteer To Use Less Water

Update: Some farmers will drastically cut their water use to help conserve dwindling supplies in California, according to the New York Times. On Friday, officials approved a plan for farmers in one region of the state to give up a quarter of the water they would use during this year's growing season. The farmers, whose land is located in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta between Sacramento and San Francisco, volunteered to cut their water use.

While this plan won't have a major impact on water and food supplies, it's heartening to see members of industries that use huge amounts of water stepping up and volunteering to change their short-term plans to help everyone deal with the crisis. It's an example more people — like the CEO of Nestle — could learn from.

This story was originally published on April 3, 2015 at 3:40 pm.

California's drought is so serious that the Governor announced big mandatory cuts to water usage this week — a first in the state's history. But, critics were quick to point out that Gov. Jerry Brown's measures focus on urban uses (like your morning shower and watering your lawn) not agriculture, which accounts for 80% of the state's water consumption.

It seemed worth asking: Where's all that water going?

First, farming is huge in California. Supplying more than 250 different crops — from tomatoes to dates to olives to almonds — the Golden State grows more than any other. And, we're hugely reliant on California's food. It's the only state that grows a dozen specific fruits, nuts, and vegetables (think artichokes, pistachios, kiwis).
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Photo: FREDERIC J. BROWN/Getty Images.
According to a California agriculture report, the state grows 94% of American broccoli, 97% of our plums, 71% of our spinach, 69% of our carrots... and on and on and on. An industry trade report says California produces 90% of the country's wine.

The scary part is that according to NASA, the state only has about a year of water left in its reservoirs. (More on what that means here.) And, scientists found that California had only 5% of its normal snowpack this year, which is usually a heavily relied-upon water source.

In preparation for the snowfall-induced water shortage, farmers in Central California have been tapping into groundwater, which doesn't replenish itself anywhere near as quickly as surface water. A Washington Post article compared this to the difference between taking money from checking or a savings account, the latter being much harder to replenish. Tapping these underground sources might save some businesses in the short term, but it could make things much worse for everyone.

We'd better hope California figures out a way to keep cutting back, and soon. Our broccoli (and so much more) depends on it.
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