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The average American consumes more than 300 gallons of California water each week by eating food that was produced there.
Your Contribution to the California Drought
By LARRY BUCHANAN, JOSH KELLER, and HAEYOUN PARK
Photos and video by TONY CENICOLA and DAVE FRANK
California farmers produce more than a third of the nation’s vegetables and two-thirds of its fruits and nuts. To do that, they use nearly 80 percent of all the water consumed in the state. It is the most stubborn part of the crisis: To fundamentally alter how much water the state uses, all Americans may have to give something up.
The portions of foods shown here are grown in California and represent what average Americans, including non-Californians, eat in a week. We made an estimate of the amount of water it takes to grow each portion to give you a sense of your contribution to the California drought.
The estimates include the amount of water used to make derivative products. For example, grape consumption includes not just fresh grapes, but also wine, jam and juice.
Go to this link to see the eye-opening facts about how much water it takes to produce the foods we consume. For example, one sliver of avocado requires 4.1 gallon of water to produce; 16 almonds – 15.3 gallons; two ounces of rice – 15.1; and 3 mandarins- 42.5.
Americans consume the most water by eating meat and dairy products, primarily because a lot of water is needed to grow the crops to feed the animals. Not all of this water comes from California; about half is imported in the form of crops, like corn, from the Midwest.
4 glasses of milk require 143 gallons of water, and only 1.75 ounces of beef require 86 gallons.
A rise in prices may be inevitable if a persistent drought forces California farmers to slash production. “Consumers would have a choice of either substituting the higher-priced product for something else, look for products where imports increased to alleviate some of the shortage, go without, or look for those products that can be grown easily in other states,” said Craig A. Chase, a program manager at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.
Foods requiring less water to produce include asparagus, apples, peppers, cabbage, beans, grapefruit, onions, potatoes and blueberries.
The amount of California food available to Americans was estimated using export data from the Agricultural Issues Center at the University of California, Davis. The figures were adjusted with U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates of how much food is lost or spoiled before it is sold to customers.
The amount of water consumed to produce fruits, vegetables and nuts was calculated by the Pacific Institute. Their estimates are drawn from local climate data and plant physiology data reported by the California Department of Water Resources and crop yields reported by the U.S.D.A. Estimates for milk, beef, turkey and eggs are from the Water Footprint Network.
All estimates here include surface and groundwater consumed during production, called blue water, and rainwater consumed, called green water. They do not include gray water, or water necessary to dilute the effluent from a farm or factory to levels acceptable by local governing standards.
The above is not meant to imply that farmers in California are not concerned. A small group in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley has agreed to give up one fourth of their normal water use this season, either by leaving land fallow or by other reduction methods. It is hoped that others will follow suit throughout the state. Go to this link to read a recent article in the New York Times giving more details.