Grab yourself a cool glass of water and take a seat.
You’re gonna need it. And not just the seat. I’m talking about the water.
Last week, Jay Famiglietti, senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/Caltech and a professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine, wrote an Op Ed in the LA Times stating that we have only 1 year of water left in our California reservoirs.
I say “we have” and “our California reservoirs” because this problem reaches beyond California. Far beyond.
According to the California Water Science Center USGS (data from 2010), California uses 38 billion gallons of water each day – equivalent to draining the Shasta Lake Reservoir (California’s largest) once every 40 days.
The majority of that water, a whopping 74%, is used for agriculture.
Agriculture that is grown and shipped all over the United States, as well as overseas.
California grows over 400 commodities, a 46.4 billion dollar business. Around 50% of what is grown in California is exported according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
California leads the nation in growing and supplying over 75 crops to the rest of the country. Meaning, if you purchase, for example, US grown: kale, tomatoes, lettuce or strawberries, to name a few, there’s a pretty good chance that it was grown in California.
However, if you purchase US grown: almonds, figs, kiwi, raisins, grapes, clover seed, dates, artichokes, peaches, pomegranates, dried plums, sweet rice, walnuts, or pistachios, there’s a 99% chance that it was grown in California. (Now that I’ve mentioned almonds, I can’t exclude the fact that 70% of the worlds almonds come from California!)
So, now we’re talking a big problem. A 50 – 99% of the rest of the United States kind of drought problem. And we’re not just talking about your local grocery store, we are talking restaurants, hospitals, schools, businesses… the list goes on.
As of now, there’s no real plan in California for when the water runs out and no real rationing or accountability for reduction of water.
Practically speaking, once the reservoirs are empty, we will be using groundwater. (Using underwater aquifers, wells, etc.) The problem with this is that 1. We have no idea how much water we really have and 2. Our groundwater is depleting… and fast. In some areas of California’s central valley, it has completely dried up.
As of the end of 2014, 5% of the 27 million acres used for crop farming had gone fallow due to the drought, including ¼ of rice fields. (And don’t forget that 99% of US sweet rice and majority of wild rice is grown in California.)
So, where does that leave me and you?
I’d like to introduce you to the phrase (or remind you of the phrase): Water Footprint.
Water Footprint is the “amount of fresh water used in the production or supply of the goods and services used by a particular person or group.” (Oxford Dictionary)
According to the Nature Conservancy you, my fellow American, have a water footprint of 32,911 gallons of water a day.
Let’s take a closer look at this. Did you use a piece of paper today? Perhaps print something or scribble a note? That one sheet of paper took 3.4 gallons of water to produce.
In the market for a new pair of jeans? That’ll be 1,800 gallons of water for the cotton to grow for those jeans.
Need a new car? That’ll be around 40,000 gallons of water.
But the truth is, regardless of a big purchase here and there, a large part of the water you are consuming each day is through the food you eat.
Here’s a sample of the water footprint of some common foods. Foods that are primarily grown in California and are exported to feed the rest of the country.
Lettuce: 28 gallons per pound
Carrots: 33 gallons per pound
Onions: 46 gallons per pound
Lemons: 77 gallons per pound
Peaches: 109 gallons per pound
Wild Rice: 299 gallons per pound
Milk 640 gallons per pound
Walnuts: 1,112 gallons per pound
Beef: 1,847 gallons per pound
Almonds: 1,929 gallons per pound
(Note: There is a range in variability. Each business or company or farm differs in how much water they are using. That said, these numbers represent a global average published by the Water Footprint Network, an NGO founded in 2008 with a mission to “promote the transition towards sustainable, fair and efficient use of fresh water resources worldwide.”)
I also want to bring your attention to the water wasted through food waste. 40% of all food that is grown in the US is wasted. This happens on all levels of the food chain. From the farms to transportation to grocery stores to restaurants to our own homes. Inherent in that 40% is approximately 11 trillion gallons of lost water. That’s the amount of water we need to get out of the drought in California! (Granted not all of the 11 trillion gallons originated from California, but we could guess that it would be around 50% of that, or 5.5 trillion of wasted water from California. Water we desperately need.)
So, as people who eat food from California we have two responsibilities:
- Reduce our water footprint through our food choices
- Eliminate our food waste
That’s why we (Super Sous and I) have started working on creating Drought Friendly Recipes. Recipes that have a low water footprint and are delicious and doable for the home cook. (Look for #droughtfriendlyrecipes on social media as well as this blog.) We’ll also be sharing water conservation tips in the kitchen. Coming soon.
If 74% of California’s water is caught up in agriculture then all of us who are chef’s and all of us who cook and all of us who go out to eat and all of us who eat food can make a difference in this drought.
It’s our drought. We are all in trouble. We are all California. Facing the unknown. Facing possible food shortages. Facing rising costs of food.
We have to do something.
We’ll be posting more about this topic on the blog as well as the list we have compiled of crops and their water footprint – once we complete some more research.
Right now, we are in drowning (pun) in research and articles.
It’s a sobering issue and things are not looking pretty. But we need to talk about it. We need to share with one another. Discuss our concerns and our ideas. We are beyond just crossing our fingers and hoping for rain. Until a plan is put into place to bring water into California, we all need to take action. We can’t make it rain, but we can use every drop we have wisely.
Now, about that cool glass of water by your side. Thirsty?