The state's largest irrigation district, Westlands Water in the major farming counties of Fresno and Kings, told growers on Wednesday to brace for zero water supply this year.
"We thought it was a critical time to tell them, being that it is time for planting tomatoes and a lot of other crops," Westlands Water spokeswoman Sarah Woolf told Reuters on Thursday. "They need to make decisions right now whether they put seeds in the ground." Already, some farmers have left fields unplanted based on anticipated lack of water.
California is the top producer of agricultural products in the nation. It is the #1 producer of almonds, avocados, broccoli, celery, dairy products, grapes, greenhouse/nursery grown produce, hay, lemons, lettuce, onions, peaches, pistachios, plums, strawberries, tomatoes, walnuts, artichokes, garlic... It's also #2 in livestock (i.e. beef).
So, I guess I would say that this is not a statewide problem. Going into a major economic downturn with inflated prices and potentially even shortages of basic foodstuffs is not a good thing.
Realistically, there should be a centralized way of dealing with this. My advice would be to slaughter as many cattle as possible now, in order to greatly reduce the demand for feed grains. If California is a net exporter of feedgrains to other states -- as it appears that it is -- then other states, such as Texas, should also reduce their livestock.
Use that water for plants humans eat instead, as it's a much more efficient and healthy way of feeding people. Pass along the true cost of meat to the public, so that the free market will encourage people to make wise decisions for their future.
No, I'm not a doctrinaire vegetarian about these things... I do eat meat. But the fact is, we need to start thinking about how we prioritize water usage, especially if there's a chance that things will get worse over the next decade. We need to keep agricultural prices low, not only for Americans, but for the rest of the world too. It does our country little good to have food riots destabilizing foreign countries, because American agricultural prices have spiked and exports have decreased. There will be real pain and real death in the next few years because of what is happening economically, even if our country isn't the one most severely effected by it. As always, it's the poorest people who are the first to feel the pinch. Cows shouldn't come first. People should.
Now would be an *EXCELLENT* time for President Obama to consider government subsidies to farmers who spend money on water-saving irrigation, and potentially for other programs where those who invest in such irrigation are prioritized for water over those who are not. This kind of a program could also be an excellent economic stimulus, in that it increases efficiency, could be rolled out quite rapidly, and would create jobs for producing and installing such equipment that require relatively minimal training, ultimately putting money in the hands of people who need it most and are most likely to spend it, thereby bringing about a multiplicative stimulus effect.
Going into the future, it's vital that we consider water efficiency and raw materials efficiency with the same degree of focus that we currently view energy efficiency, not only because we're dealing with scarce -- and diminishing -- resources, but also because it's ultimately all interrelated. Saving water saves energy. Saving raw materials / recycling saves energy too. And, on a global economic scale, saving energy while producing abundant amounts of food saves lives. And, if you have abundant, low-priced food, energy, and raw materials, you also tend to have a strong economy too.
Conservation is the new compassionate conservatism!