As the drought situation worsens in California, legislators and residents alike are scrambling to adjust various aspects of their daily, weekly and monthly routines in hopes of having some sort of positive impact.
The objective of late has been to cut use here and there: no more 15-minute showers, no more washing your car at the end of each week, no more tap water delivered automatically to restaurant tables. According to Governor Jerry Brown, "The idea of your nice little green lawn getting watered every day—those days are past."
But here's the thing: While requiring residents to be more aware of the amount of water they spend unnecessarily each day is a noble venture for creating a more eco-conscious society and plugging the crack, minor changes like these add up to address practically none of the real problem. In fact, these water-saving methods only affect 20 percent of the state's total water consumption.
So, where does the rest of the state's water go? Look no further than California's powerhouse agriculture industry, which generates an astonishing majority of the United States' food, from fruits and vegetables to nuts, dairy and produce. To grow the billions of tons of crops and foster the cows that create millions of gallons of that famous California milk each year, an equally astonishing amount of H2O is required – the remaining 80 percent of the state's water, in fact.
Take for instance the esteemed almond. We, as a nation, have a passion for eating almonds, the generation of which alone accounts for 10 percent of the total water consumed in the state of California. A single almond needs, on average, one gallon of water to grow. A single serving of almonds is 23 almonds. Simple math tells us that nearly 25 gallons of water are expended to create one handful of almonds.
The onset of dire drought conditions in 2013 in California caused the cost of water to go up, which naturally resulted in higher almond prices. Meanwhile, the demand for almonds continued to increase exponentially, and so California farmers continued to ramp up production to meet that demand, using more and more water by the day until consumption got out of hand.
To paint a picture: The high-speed train was careening over an unfinished bridge long before anyone thought to pull the emergency brake.
All this to say: Slashing almond consumption worldwide will not solve California's water problem; nearly every crop generated in the state requires a similarly surprising amount of water. However, the case of the thirsty almond is a prime example of what happens when we rely on a single region for the majority production of a food. When drought strikes said region, big-name producers and especially small farms do not have the means to dial back production while keeping their heads above water. Thus, a grim situation can only become more grim.
How can you make a difference?
It's time to relearn the concept of local. The idea of hardly ripe fruits traveling 2,000 miles to make their way to your morning cereal—those days are past.
Now is the part where we band together to help our fellow man. What must happen now to affect California's water shortage in a constructive way is to go local. We need fewer cross-country shipments and more backyard gardens. In a society where every new household appliance arrives pre-installed with an eco-friendly setting, we need to apply the same thinking to how we produce and consume our food.
When perusing the aisles of your grocery store, consider overlooking those strawberries grown by companies such as California-based Driscoll's, the world's leading producer of berries, which has been in the news recently for the harsh labor conditions endured by its field workers.
Instead, consider growing your own fruits and vegetables. If you don't have the means to start your own garden, find a farmers market near you or opt for foods in the locally-grown section of your grocery store. Wean yourself off of cheap, year-round produce from California.
Lastly, learn how to eat with the seasons. Certain products can be found in stores every month, but just because something is capable of being produced throughout the year doesn't mean it should be.
True, a lack of rainfall is partly responsible for California's water shortage, but it is not due to just natural causes. Humans are to blame as well. We've become so used to having food driven and flown to our doorsteps that most of us are unaware how to make it for ourselves. With each passing day, as old habits amass, the ground beneath our feet continues to wither. Reversing the damage requires only a bit of conscious effort from us all.