Where the Water Really Goes in California

Golf courses and Los Angeles are the most frequently cited public enemies when droughts hit California, but it isn’t that simple. Recent articles have debunked myths about water use in the Golden State by providing a more accurate portrait of use.
March 11, 2014, 2pm PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Omar Bárcena

Alex Park and Julia Lurie write of the water used to produce California’s fruits, veggies, and nuts—part of what achieves California it’s “break basket of the world” status. For instance, 92 percent of the nation’s strawberries are grown on the central coast—one of the regions hit hardest by the current drought. According to the article, one head of broccoli requires 5.4 gallons of water.

James McWilliams piggybacks on the coverage by Mother Jones to talk about the crop that uses the most water in the state: alfalfa. “Grown on over a million acres in California, alfalfa sucks up more water than any other crop in the state. And it has one primary destination: cattle,” writes McWilliams. Moreover, “If Californians were eating all the beef they produced, one might write off alfalfa’s water footprint as the cost of nurturing local food systems. But that’s not what’s happening. Californians are sending their alfalfa, and thus their water, to Asia.” In effect, California exports 100 billion gallons of water a year to Asia.

Molly Peterson addresses two of the most commonly cited water wasters: cemeteries and golf courses. Peterson details the water conservation methods used by the Oak Creek Golf Club in Irvine. “Far and away the biggest conservation measure at Oak Creek is one that the Irvine Ranch Water District offers mostly to large-scale businesses: recycled wastewater. The district recycles treated wastewater through a system separate from drinking water; recycled water comes through pipe painted purple to signal it’s not for drinking.”

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Published on Monday, February 24, 2014 in Mother Jones
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