The latest ridiculous Twitter trend is #DroughtShaming: posting images of people wasting water, particularly in Southern California. While the hashtag is intended to shine a light on individual water conversation —of lack thereof—California tweeters have a serious case of missing the point. When it comes to the state’s extremely serious drought, the problem isn’t the neighbor watering her lawn, but the agricultural industry, which sucks up 80 percent of the state’s water.
Shaming your neighbors on social media won’t solve California’s water crisis
Here's the real reason behind California's deadly drought.
— Susan Hurtado (@TulsaCW) June 1, 2015
— A.J. Sharma (@sensorglitch) June 2, 2015
— Caroline Pardilla (@Carolineoncrack) June 2, 2015
Of the remaining 20 percent, six percent goes to industry, government, and commercial uses. Individual households account for just 14 percent—a drop, so to speak, in the bucket. Those concerned about the state’s zero percent snowpack, rapidly shrinking reservoirs, and desiccated landscape should be casting their eyes at California’s Central Valley, beating heart of the state’s agriculture and thirsty guzzler of natural resources.
The problem with California’s agricultural sector isn’t just that it consumes water extremely inefficiently, with little regard to the rest of the state and the potential tragedy of the commons unfolding. It lies in a sense of entitlement embedded within the state’s water policy, one that encourages farmers to believe that they have a right to waste water—because the state, like others in the West, views the resource as a use it or lose it proposition.
As Abrahm Lustgarten at ProPublica reports:
[Ranch manager Bill Ketterhagen] knows his fields could thrive with much smaller amounts of water—he’s seen them do so in dry years—but the property owners he works for have the legal right to take a large supply, and he applies the water generously. … Under the provisions of these measures, people who use less water than they are legally entitled to risk seeing their allotment slashed.
In April, Governor Jerry Brown ordered historic water restrictions across the state, mandating that the state reduce water usage by 25 percent and implementing high fines for waste. Individual counties and cities also instituted their own restrictions to toughen up, primarily on residents.
But one thing hasn’t happened yet: a conversation about agriculture. The state’s farming industry freely wastes water, applying it at times of day subject to evaporative loss, using far more than needed by individual crops, and watering so much that topsoil is carried away into local watersheds. The issue of farm-based waste is huge in California, but it remains the elephant in the room.
— Harriet Ells (@HarrietElls) June 5, 2015
— Audra Everett Gold (@audragold) June 11, 2015
Farming doesn’t have to be so wasteful, and the drought doesn’t need to bring the state’s agricultural industry to its knees. Dry farming, an ancient practice used across the Mediterranean and still in use in some regions today, relies on extremely limited water use to grow commercial crops. Farmers see lower yields, but in a tradeoff, fruits and vegetables are actually more flavorful, because they’re not loaded with water. Think of a farmers’ market tomato bursting with rich, dense flavor versus a watery, mealy grocery store version.