How I read this revenue and water use chart.


From PPIC, California’s Water, October 2016, Section: Water for Farms, page 47

This chart neatly illustrates my continuing gripe about one of the media clichés about California agriculture.  You can justify California ag’s water use, but you cannot justify it based on the ubiquitous quote: ‘California grows half the nation’s fruits and vegetables‘.  California does do that, but in this chart, that’s only 4% of agriculture’s water use.  (I can’t tell from this chart whether “Orchards” includes table fruit, in which case, it would claim some of the 34% in the bar above.) I’ve been especially disappointed to read the Brown administration’s representatives using that cliché to lump all of agriculture’s water use into the most sympathetic sliver of ag water use.

From the top down:

I view a large portion of this bar as resource extraction and privatization in classic colonial style.  The proceeds from sales of tree nuts abroad go to already wealthy people who don’t live in the regions they farm.  Ironically, the worst of them won’t be in this chart, since they’ve planted their nuts and vines since 2010, the data-year for this chart.  This is the segment of agricultural water use that outrages people, since almonds are not more important than a snack and the profits go to billionnaires.  Wine is also in this bar.  I’m personally no more fond of wine than almonds, but I generally don’t rail against it because I recognize that wine has deep cultural importance.  The only argument for this category of water use is basically ‘the market really likes it’.  Mr. Wenger  expands on that to say that it would be ‘un-American’ to deny resource extractors’ desire to follow the market.

The next line, Truck and specialty, is the part of ag that is easy to support.  It is your salad in winter and provides farmworker jobs like picking and handling.  I too support this segment, possibly with more policy fervor than you might suspect.  If I thought we were ever going to be so water short that this ag sector were in danger, I would be advocating for strong food security measures.  But IT IS NOT VERY MUCH WATER.  Even with climate change, instream flows and SGMA, I believe we will have enough water to provide for this type of agriculture for the foreseeable future.

Four of the next five lines are animal fodder.  (Please, lets skip over rice until next paragraph.  Also, that corn is not table corn.  It is corn grown for animal feed.)  There’s a lot of water in those lines; it adds up to half.  Not much revenue either.  I understand that this category provokes scorn; it looks like a poor use of water.  But this category of water use is the underpinning for cheap meat. The scornful soul is in danger of hypocrisy.  However you feel about eating meat more than once a month is how you feel about this category of water use.

Next is rice.  I see that rice is weighted to the right, a relatively high water user for the revenue.  However, like wine, rice is an important food for humans with deep cultural importance.  Further, rice growing worldwide is endangered.  I’m not opposed to using water for this.

Last is cotton.  Cotton is a pretty useful product.  There isn’t that much of it, a couple hundred thousand acres.  I can’t get riled up about cotton.

My takeaway:

The way I look at ag water use is twofold: does it produce an important food for humans, and do the proceeds from that use do good work in the ag valleys?  I don’t believe tree nuts meet either criteria (because they don’t generate many jobs; the proceeds go to very rich people; they’re just fucking snacks), so I complain about them a lot.

I resent that all of California’s agricultural water use gets defended on the basis of table crops, because THAT ISN’T VERY MUCH WATER (or acreage).  I definitely agree that they’re great; table crops meet my criteria of being important food for humans and supporting farm communities.

I would object to wine/vine plantings and cheap meat, but I’ve been convinced that they’re really important to other people, so I save my strength for taking cheap shots at ACWA.


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10 responses to “How I read this revenue and water use chart.

  1. caroleekrieger

    Dear On the Record,

    Wanted you to be aware of our testimony in the SWRCB evidentiary hearings…especially Appendix B by Arve Sjovold and the scatter chart he created about water year types.

    Thanks so much for all you are doing.


    Carolee Krieger

    The California Water Impact Network (C-WIN)

    805 969-0824

  2. Diane Livia

    I like the idea of inverse condemnation, as per your May 5, 2015 blog post. Cities/counties should jump on this.

  3. Saul Travers

    And when California can no longer grow fruits and vegetables for America because too much water got shipped overseas in the form of nuts, perhaps we will understand why that was an imprudent use of the water resource.

  4. Jan

    Great post, as usual. I’m pretty sure the orchards/vines include Resnick’s Pomegranate orchards, also not that necessary. But a comment about dairy. Do we need to have meats IN California? I know the dairy cows are happier in sunny California than wintering in Wisconsin (remember the dairy council ads?) but they really should be raised where water is more plentiful. I’d rather take my meat packaged and trucked in from Utah or Oregon than lose fresh vegetables.

    • onthepublicrecord

      The nice thing about disaggregating the different ag sectors is that we could have that specific discussion rather than: but the WHOLE COUNTRY will NEVER HAVE SALADS AGAIN if ag doesn’t get water.

    • Elena

      Should the drought take precedence over preventing climate change? The water crisis is more immediate, and the marginal benefits of shorter shipping distances to reduce emissions are small. But what about buying local from relatively sustainable (debatable term, I know) producers? Then the question becomes about how to achieve a more transparent food chain.

    • Jan

      I LOVE buying local produce. The problem though is the state’s position on water is to kill the farming in Northern California (by letting salt water intrude up the Delta affecting the Delta island farms and surrounding farms that rely on the Delta for water) so they can ship the fresh water many miles south to the Central Valley desert to make their orchards bloom. Goodbye local produce. Also, the CV is converting acreage from line crops, the produce I want on my table, to almonds to ship to Asia. Delta farmers use the river to irrigate the islands and the runoff goes right back into the river. No impact on migrating fish. Most fertile land around. Takes MUCH less watering than the desert farms.Makes absolutely no sense at all.

  5. hayslprs

    I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “table fruit”, but orchards and vines include everything that grows on a tree or vine. Peaches, oranges, avocados, olives, raisins, kiwis, cherries, pears, table grapes, apples….Other field includes things like dry beans, safflower and sugar beets as well as animal feed. And not to defend almonds too much, but the shells and hulls are also used, so there’s more to the harvest than what’s “shipped to Asia.”

  6. Gordon

    Thanks for that, hayslprs. I also question why peppers, tomatoes and berries aren’t mentioned.