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We Should Be Looking for Drought Solutions, Not Scapegoats

The California drought has returned to the forefront of the news as senior water rights holders begin to contend with sanctions on their water usage. The drought is becoming so severe that several senior water rights holders in the Sacramento-San Joqauin Delta with highly-coveted riparian rights (who are historically exempt from such sanctions) are trying to head off curtailments by offering to reduce their diversions by 25% in a deal with the state.

As the drought continues, more and more media outlets are looking into the food industry in the state. The New York Times recently published an interactive report called Your Contribution to the California Drought that showcases the amount of water necessary to produce the amount the average American consumes in regards to specific crops grown in California. Although some of the “culprits” are already widely known (almonds and avocados, anyone?) one stat did stick out: the average American consumes 300 gallons of California water by consuming foods produced there. Weekly.

Did I read that correctly?

I have to admit, at first, the number did make me rethink my personal shopping choices. However, this isn’t how it should be. Like the various “Dirty Dozen” lists that come out every year, a report like this simply scares consumers away from contributing to the economic success of the biggest breadbasket in the world. With poultry and egg prices set to soar in the wake of the avian flu epidemic and beef prices reaching record highs, what exactly are people supposed to eat? This country already has enough food deserts to contend with.

Time and time again, study after study, report after report, the consensus remains that higher intake of fruits, nuts and vegetables leads to a healthier life. And without doubt, California is the best at offering the rest of the country and the world the highly-valued crops that can keep us healthy. Instead of shaming consumers for their healthy food choices, governments, producers and suppliers should be working on ways to improve access to water for California farmers.

The solutions are not readily apparent. Some have talked of desalination plants, others of GMO crops that can absorb water more efficiently, and others have posited allowing cows to feed on grass, which could lower the amount of water needed significantly to raise them. Classic American ingenuity will find a way to solve the issue. Regardless, the onus of finding a solution to the drought is on farmers, government officials and producers, not consumers.