Epic California Drought Could Change the Way We Eat

Our thirstiest state is mighty parched.

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California is America’s bread basket—or, more accurately, its fruits and vegetables basket. The Golden State produces 95 percent of the country’s celery, half of its bell peppers, 89 percent of its cauliflower, 96 percent of its tomatoes, 95 percent of its garlic, 90 percent of its avocados—and the list goes on. In fact, the state accounts for nearly one-fifth of the entire agricultural output of the U.S.

Producing all those crops requires a lot of water—something California has had trouble supplying over the last couple years. Thanks to what could be the worst drought in the state’s history, farmers and distributors may have to start looking elsewhere to plant or buy their crops.

To illustrate just how demanding many of California’s crops are, Mother Jones put together an infographic displaying how many gallons of water are needed to produce a single crop item. One head of broccoli, for example, requires an astounding 5.4 gallons of water to grow, while a single walnut requires 4.9. A tomato, which is more than 90 percent water, requires 3.3 gallons, while a grape, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, demands just 0.3.

One head of broccoli requires an astounding 5.4 gallons of water to grow, while a grape requires 0.3.

The average resident of Palm Springs, California, meanwhile, uses a whopping 700 gallons of water per day. That figure falls to about 350 gallons for residents of Tahoe, and 200 gallons in San Diego and Oakland. Compare that to the national residential average of 60 – 70 gallons per person per day. The reasons for this are manifold, but much of it has to do with the climate, and the fact that many arid regions still have large urban developments.

So what does this mean? For one, it lends credence to recent calls to lessen the country’s reliance on California’s agricultural system for its food supply. But it also underscores the importance of water efficiency in just about every facet of life—be it appliance usage, gardening, or showering. And, at the very least, it’s interesting to know that a single head of broccoli consumes about as much water as your dishwasher’s Normal cycle.

March CA drought monitor map.jpg
Credit: USDA
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