In its fourth year of drought, California is scrambling to create solutions to the crisis. This Wednesday, April 1, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered a 25 percent reduction of water as one way to fight it. The reductions, however, are aimed at the urban sector, sparing California’s large agriculture sector—which uses 80% of the state’s water supply.
In an interview on the independent news channel, Democracy Now!, journalist Mark Hertsgaard expands on his article in the Daily Beast, “How Growers Gamed California’s Drought,” providing perspective on Wednesday’s announcement.
According to Hertsgaardt, who spoke to governor aides, instead of an order for agricultural businesses to reduce their use of water by a quarter, they have been asked to create plans to reduce their use of underground aquifer water in the future. In California, when not enough rain water falls, farmers—big and small—resort to drilling into the earth to access underground water. In normal years, 40% of the water that agribusiness uses comes from underground. During a drought, like the current one, 60% of agribusiness’s water is sourced from underground. However, there is a danger to this practice.
“[T]he more that you go down and use that groundwater and suck it up like a straw, the greater the danger is that you collapse those aquifers underground, that they compress, and you essentially have a situation where they are rendered barren in perpetuity…” stated Hertsgaardt
Two highly problematic crops currently being grown by Big Agriculture are almonds and pistachios, and to a lesser extent, alfalfa. These crops are highly “thirsty” plants, meaning that they require significantly more water than others. In California, the vast majority—if not all of it—of almond and pistachio crops are not consumed in California. Instead, they are exported out-of-state and to China.
One of these growers is the company Paramount Farms, owned by Stewart Reznick. Reznick is a big bi-partisan contributor of campaign money.
According to Hertsgaard, experts assert that the water in California is underpriced. Hertsgaard believes that raising the price of water could solve the California water crisis. Big farming operations are profiting from cheap water prices by planting more trees and developing more acreage, allowing them to grow higher volumes of produce, thus selling larger quantities.
“If we did price [water] properly, which means a little bit higher, there are enormous strides that California could be taking with water efficiency. We literally could, essentially, wipe out the effects of the drought in California — 22 percent decrease in water consumption in the agricultural areas, which would be roughly the equivalent of the amount of surface water that the farmers did not have last year because of the drought. So, there is a lot that can be technologically, but until you get the pricing right, and the political economy of this straight, we are not going to see those thing,” stated the reporter.
As more severe consequences of California’s drought become evident, the state takes more and more unprecedented measures. Apparently, it’s avoiding taking the one measure that can solve the crisis once and for all—raising the price of water—in order to avoid Big Agriculture from feeling the pain coming to all common Californians.
"The point here is not to demonize agriculture, or almonds for that matter. The point is, let’s get the pricing right, and let’s treat everyone fairly. We can have a prosperous agricultural sector in California, and we need to. Agriculture is major — California is an agricultural superpower; it produces half of the fruits and vegetables and nuts that are consumed in the United States, but we can’t keep doing that at the expense of our long-term water future," stated Hertsgaard
Related Story: California's Online Shopping Woes