“California’s very existence is premised on epic liberties taken with water…virtually every drop of water in the state is put to some economic use before being allowed to return to the sea. Very little of this water is used by people…Most of it is used for irrigation – 80 percent of it, to be exact.” – Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert
California has 81,000 farms on 25 million acres of land that have generated over $40 billion in revenues. To meet the rising food demands of both domestic and foreign populations, billions of gallons of fresh water is needed to sustain large-scale industrialized processes for growing crops. This is possible in the northern parts of the California’s agricultural valley where winter storms from the Pacific Northwest provide adequate rainfall. However the Southern parts of the valley are semi-arid and experience periodic droughts during which crops are watered year round.
There are about 400 varieties of crops that are dependent on water for their growth, that range from fruits, vegetables, cotton and wool. This includes the crops that are provided as part of the dietary requirements for livestock. Vineyard, floral and forest products also require fresh water to grow. Freshwater usage varies from crop to crop. For example to irrigate 1 acre of tomato crop, it takes 680,000 gallons of fresh water a year. To irrigate 1 acre of alfalfa crop, it takes 1.5 million gallons of fresh water a year. Additional water is used to process the crop yield’s by-products, for example tomatoes are further processed into diced or stewed tomatoes, or turned into juices, ketchup or tomato sauce. Alfalfa is turned into hay for livestock who in turn ingest and produce milk, cheese, and is also used as a bio-fuel.
The California Valley Project provides water for over 8 million acres. Farmers who receive water from the federal CVP are paying the costs of constructing, operating and maintaining of the CVP facilities that include dams and conveyance systems associated with delivering that water. Consumers in the United States and all over the world, benefit from this water each time they spend their disposable income on food and non-alcoholic beverages.
The dependency of consumers on food and oil is unparalleled today due to the advancements in technology. These advancements have helped prolong the lifespan of a consumer through medicine, fighting disease, quality of food, water, shelter and clothing. However consumer demand for food, fresh water and oil continues to rise and only serves as a catalyst for Agricultural companies to look for faster and cheaper ways to meet demand, and profit by it. This may increase the use of pesticides, fertilizers and cattle breeds that affect the quality of the air and groundwater resulting in illnesses and diseases.
Further encroachment by the Agricultural industry on the earth’s landscapes and natural water systems may some day reverse the benefits it provides to human beings.