In recent articles about California’s dire water situation, Governor Jerry Brown defended his order requiring Californians to cut back on their water use, and sparing those who consume the most water – farmers.
California is in its 4th year of severe drought. Brown’s orders this week requires towns and cities statewide to draw down water use by 25%, compared with 2013 levels. While past reductions were voluntary, Brown said he is using his emergency powers to make these cuts mandatory.
Some environmental groups, news outlets and users of social media expressed astonishment last week that Brown’s drought-related water cutbacks mostly spared farmers. When the host of ABC’s “This Week” public affairs program asked Brown why the order doesn’t extend to California farmers, who consume 80% of the state’s water supply, but make up less than 2% of the state’s economy, Brown responded that farmers aren’t using water frivolously on their lawns or taking long showers.
“They’re providing most of the fruits and vegetables for America and for a significant part of the world,” he said.
We must remember that many of the crops grown in California are grown nowhere else in our country. Examples are the “salad bowl” vegetables, strawberries, nuts and rice, among many other crops. California agriculture makes sure that we see a good variety of reasonably priced fruits and vegetables when we go to the grocery store.
Besides, Brown responded that California’s farmers have already made drastic cutbacks in water, having already been denied irrigation water from federal surface supplies, forcing them to leave over 400,000 acres of irrigable land unplanted last summer and summers previously.
Of the state’s 25 million acres of farmland, 9 million are irrigated. This includes all of the 1.1 million acres of vegetables, 98% of the 3.1 million acres of orchards and vineyards, and 90% of the 1.7 million acres of forage crops (hay for livestock). The state’s 77,900 farms generate crops worth $46 billion each year and employ 207,430 people.*
Without water, those numbers would shrink dramatically.
Additionally, California’s farmers are already voluntarily saving water. All over the state, they have converted their irrigation systems, by changing to drip or sub-soil drip systems, which puts the water directly onto the plant, or installing refined sprinklers which places the water exactly, and using computers to increase or decrease the amount of water needed in specific areas of their fields.
We appreciate California’s Governor Brown in his stance for California’s farmers, and for stabilizing the food supply for all Americans.
*USDA Economic Research Service
Idaho Press Tribune, April 6, 2015
Capital Press, April 10, 2015