If you've been keeping abreast of news on the California drought, now in it's fourth year, you've probably heard all manner of things, from the fact that almonds are the devil to the fact that residential water usage mandates are imposing Californians to reduce their water usage by up to 35 percent. But what's truly going on in California? And more importantly, what can we all do to stop it?
The answers to all of your questions are here. Find out what's truly behind the California water crisis, and discover the best ways that you can take action to bring it to a halt.
1. The Drought is Exhausting 22,000-Year-Old Resources
Water shortages are problematic all over the world, but the uniqueness of California's climate, agricultural makeup and layout make it a particular hot spot for this sort of issue.
California has long been known for its droughts, and it has always known wetter years and dryer years. What makes this drought so scary is that it comes on the tail end of three dry years, meaning that not only are reservoirs tapped out, but so is groundwater.
For those unfamiliar with this concept, groundwater resources are the water that seeps through the ground when it rains, staying for centuries and even millennia beneath the Earth's crust. These resources have long been used in California as a sort of safety net to get through dryer years. Groundwater resources are particularly difficult to refill, as these underground resources are accumulated over a long period and tapped into quickly using a system of wells.
Because reservoirs are nearly empty, this year, farmers have been forced to dig so deep to find groundwater resources that they're using up water that fell 20,000 years ago, draining resources that will no longer be available in years to come.
Of course, a secondary problem, and one that has been widely talked about, is highlighted in the source of this first problem: while Californians are being asked to cut back on water usage, the real problem is, in fact, agricultural use of water... which brings us to the second thing you need to know about the California drought.
2. Almonds Aren't the Devil... But They're A Big Part of the Problem
You've likely been seeing links all over the web highlighting why we need to stop eating almonds, but the problem is a little bit bigger and more complicated than that. That being said, we do need to set one thing straight: the top users of water are not individual Californians, but rather Big Agriculture in California.
Eighty percent of the state's water is consumed by agriculture, leaving only 20 percent to be used by the population as individuals. Even if individual Californians cut back their water usage by the recommended 25-35 percent, only 5 percent of the State's water would be replenished. The water users that really need to check themselves are agricultural users, thus the finger-pointing at almonds.
While it's definitely a shocker to see such a small protein on the Most Wanted list, it's not all that farfetched. Of the agricultural water usage in California, the vast majority is used producing either meat or nuts -- in fact, the use of water in meat production is one of the many reasons that people have turned to Meatless Monday and other endeavors to eat less meat.
Nuts are a new "bad guy" as far as the media is concerned, however, so let's get to know the facts: first off, 10 percent of all water usage in the state goes to almond production. Growing one almond requires one gallon of water! Not a negligible amount, thus the hubbub.
But of course, even facing these truths, we can't just stop growing the world's food. If we were to reduce food production significantly in California, a host of other problems would follow, including rising food prices, unemployment and more. This is no doubt part of the reason why local government has asked Californians to cut back on water usage as opposed to cracking down on Big Agriculture in any meaningful way. And yet, there is a happy marriage of the two that can help create real change as far as the drought and water conservation are concerned.
Which brings us to our third point.
3. Everyone (Not Just Californians!) Needs to Be Part of the Solution
Right now in California, citizens are being asked to reduce their water consumption by an average of 25 percent and up to 35 percent in some areas. The ways that they are being asked to do this may seem familiar -- cut down on watering lawns, shut off sprinklers at golf courses, flush less often, take shorter showers. And yet perhaps the best way to help reduce water consumption in California is by voting with your dollar and taking the agricultural problem into our own hands. And for this to be successful, we all need to be involved, regardless of where we live. After all, the problem of water scarcity is a worldwide issue, and solving it requires everyone's help.
With that in mind, here are three small ways you can make a big difference in the water scarcity problem:
1. Extend Meatless Mondays to Meatless Wednesdays
One of the big guys targeted with this sort of campaign to consume less water is meat, and for good reason. After all, 0ne ounce of beef requires more than 100 gallons of water to produce; that amount of water can easily go into producing less water-hungry crops and more of them.
Meatless Monday has become a widely popular campaign, found not only in homes but in schools and workplaces. If we can go meatless once a week, we can definitely do it twice! Every little bit counts, so consider cutting back on meat twice a week and choosing less water-hungry foods.
2. Research Water-Hungry Foods and Eradicate Them from Your Diet
We've established that almonds and other nuts are problematic in the pursuit of lowering water consumption in agriculture, but they're not the only ones. So-called "thirsty" foods include chickpeas, lentils, mangoes and asparagus (not to mention alfalfa, which is one of the most water-hungry foods and is principally grown as feed for cattle).
You can see how much your average dinner costs in water with this great simulator and make the appropriate changes by including less water-hungry foods in your diet instead, including cabbage, onions and lettuce and the soon-to-be seasonal strawberries, tomatoes and eggplant.
And if you're at a loss of where to source your daily protein... have you heard about crickets?
(In all honesty, insect proteins. Try insect proteins.)
3. Make Small Changes in Your Daily Life
There's a reason this one's number three: after all, the amount of water you consume in one year of showers amounts to the water consumed to produce about 10 hamburgers. In other words, cutting your showers shorter is negligible in terms of the positive effects it can have on water consumption; only about 14 percent of the state's water consumption is residential... but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be aware of every drop.
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Water image via Shutterstock: Sergey Nivens