In my last letter, I wrote about the water conservation measures I have taken at home as the mega-drought here in California rages on with no end in sight. Although I am happy to have incorporated these practices into my daily life—I find them easy enough to do—ordinary citizens like myself do not consume the majority of water in this state. To put some of the numbers below into perspective, the average American family consumes about 110,000 gallons of water per year.
The current state of affairs in California
- Agriculture consumes 80 percent of our water supply. We grow nearly half the country’s fruit, vegetables and nuts. Our top agricultural exports are almonds, dairy and dairy products and wine, all water hogs. Unlike a field that grows crops of broccoli, corn or potatoes and can go fallow, almond trees and grape vines require watering even during drought years. The alfalfa we grow to feed cows by far consumes the most water of any crop.
- Water table levels have dropped 50 feet in a few years. Farmers continue to drill groundwater wells like mad in order to water their thirsty crops that feed us and people living in far-flung places, pumping out billions of gallons of water from already depleted reserves beneath the ground. According to the New York Times, “land surface is sinking as much as a foot a year in spots, causing roads to buckle and bridges to crack. Shallow wells have run dry, depriving several poor communities of water [emphasis mine].” This one keeps me awake at night.
- Fracking continues. Big Oil used 70 million gallons of water in 2014 to frack California. Water and nasty chemicals are injected under high-pressure deep into the ground to break up rock and release trapped fossil fuels, which upon burning contribute to climate change and exacerbate drought. The process results in wastewater contaminated with a “toxic stew of chemicals known to cause cancer, reproductive harm and nervous system damage.” In other words, that water cannot be reused.
- Nestlé bottles our water during the worst drought on record. Coke and Pepsi do it too. How can this be? In its feeble defense, Nestlé claimed that it bottles the mere amount of water consumed by two golf courses in a year. A) Why are golf courses still consuming water? B) A typical golf course here drinks 45 million gallons of water per year. So Nestlé takes about 90 million gallons of our water each year and ships it elsewhere. During a severe drought.
- We have one year of water left in reserves. What happens when that runs out? We have no plan. As this LA Times Op-ed piece declares, “We’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek too.”
5 steps you can take to help California
1. Do not waste food. According to the NRDC, we waste 40 percent of our food in this country. With 80 percent of water going toward growing that food, that works out to 32 percent of our water wasted. (NRDC says it’s 25 percent but if you do the math…either way, you get the picture).
2. Go easy on the beef, dairy and almonds. I know you all love your almond milk and vegetarians and vegans leave behind a much smaller footprint than meat-eaters. However, we all could take this opportunity to examine our diets and how much water various products consume in their production. I was shocked by this graphic which depicts just how much water chickpeas (and other foods) require. This interactive chart from National Geographic reveals how much water goes into producing one pound of various foods, such as:
- Beef: 1,799 gallons of water
- Goat: 127 gallons of water (not a typo)
- Milk: 880 gallons of water
- Wine: 1,008 gallons of water
- Coffee: 880 gallons of water
- Tea: 128 gallons of water
- Chocolate: 3,170 gallons of water (please don’t shoot the messenger)
3. If you live in California, tear up your lawn and replace it with drought-tolerant plants. If you live elsewhere, consider doing this anyway and grow food. You’ll grow delicious fruits and vegetables, save money, get gentle exercise, cut your waste, reduce your dependency on corporations to feed you and learn a useful skill to pass down to generations who will need it.
4. Please I beg of you, do not buy bottled water. If you read my blog, you probably don’t buy bottled water. But you may not have signed this petition demanding that Nestlé stop taking our water. If nothing else, an online petition helps build awareness. If you do buy bottled water originating from outside of California, your money nonetheless supports unethical companies.
5. If you live in New Jersey, or England or China, do not buy our food, buy local. I will probably get kicked out of the state for this suggestion, but why do we grow so much food in California, only to transport it elsewhere? And why do we raise cattle in a desert? When we export water-intensive products, we export water. We have none.