California drought due to food it produces for the US

California almond orchard photo
Almond orchard. Photo by USDAgov

80% of California’s water goes to big agriculture. This food feeds the nation. Eliminate big ag in California and there will be plenty of water for people. This would also mean few winter vegetables and fruits. Food prices would rise. The economy of California would take a hit if agriculture stopped, but it would not crippled. Hundreds of thousands of acres have already been fallowed, so in a way the process has already begun.

California has indeed made numerous mistakes in managing its water. However, if you live in the East Coast and like almonds, then maybe you shouldn’t get too snarky about how California is getting its comeuppance.

If this drought is a sign of climates to come, California has plenty of water to support its lifestyle. It just won’t have enough to support its crops, without significant changes to make those farms more water-efficient. It seems bizarre that a region like the Central Valley with just six million people—barely more than 10% of the state’s population—should use 80% of the water. But then you realize that the vast majority of people benefiting from that water don’t live in California at all. The Central Valley takes up only 1% of the landmass of the United States, but it produces 25% of the food we eat, and almost half of the fruits or nuts we consume.

California is running through its water supply because, for complicated historical and climatological reasons, it has taken on the burden of feeding the rest of the country.

California also has mostly non-existent laws governing groundwater pumping. This needs to change and change quickly. Strict groundwater pumping rules will inevitably mean less agriculture production so East Coasters might want to stock up on almonds now.

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