On the one hand, I’m pleased when bright people from outside Water take a crack at offering solutions. Maybe they can question the basic assumptions that insiders have grown so used to that they don’t even see their biases any more. On the other hand, this is pretty painful to read. I love the realization that eating California produce is eating embedded sunshine and water. I love the suggestion that other states take on more row crop production; spreading around our food production will add to resiliency in the face of climate change. But Philpott doesn’t mention the extraordinarily large elephant. I’m afraid he didn’t even see it. He somehow managed to look up a bunch of ag statistics and miss the field crops and cattle industry.
Remember? (pg14) Field crops (grains to be fed to cattle for milk and beef) use about 60% of the applied water in the state, on about half the irrigated acreage in the state. Those field crops go through cattle; by the time the meat is food, the water content in that meal is another order of magnitude more wasteful. (slides 10-12) The meat and dairy industry’s demand for more than half the irrigation water in the state makes it sensitive to drought, as you see in articles about thinning herds and insufficient feed. (ht Aquafornia)
Truly, the water demands of California row crops are not the problem for which musing bloggers need to suggest solutions (like an area of origin tax). That’s not where the huge gains can come from or even an inefficient use of water. Reducing in-state meat production is the arena with huge potential for freeing up water1. My first hope would be that people would eat drastically less meat. My second is that they would only eat pasture-finished meat, of which California cannot produce nearly as much as it does grain-finished meat. My third is that the Great Plains would return to grazing large herds, if people must eat lots of meat. My final, futile hope is that people who blog about California water would ask me questions first. I am doomed to tilt.
1 Not because field crops are necessarily inefficiently irrigated or inherently require a lot of water. Because growing field crops for meat and dairy production is the majority of our agland use and feeding them to cattle intensifies embedded water tenfold.