How to survive a mega-drought


We depend on farmers to grow crops, but that doesn’t mean we can’t encourage them to use water more responsibly. Nobody’s going to starve if we cut back on some of the highest-water-demand crops like almonds.

EDIT: I see the author addressed this question, but I still think we should make it pricier to grow almonds and pass that on to the consumers. If people love the things so damn much they should pay a price that reflects the environmental impact they cause.


The very expensive water infrastructure was paid for by all California taxpayers; it’s part of the commons of the state. Most of the solutions proposed so far seem to inflict the pain solely on the residential water customers, through rate increases, on who can’t really afford it after 35 years of flat wages and relentlessly increasing costs of living.

Agribusiness, of course, bears little to no cost. Agribusiness, of course, has been getting the benefit of cheap water for decades. Higher water would increase food prices at least marginally. Marginal increases in food costs would be borne by the customers of said food.

So let’s not pretend that this is a choice between us selfish Californians and our gigantic lawns and pools versus starvation. This is a deliberate choice to inflict the painful consequences of global warming first, and primarily, on poor Californians.


Maybe it is time for Californians to migrate back to other states. Turn them weird.

Seriously. They could use it.


That wouldn’t help much since most of the water is being used to grow crops to feed people in those other 49 states.

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At least people eat almonds. We should probably instead stop growing alfalfa which dwarfs almonds in California for water usage. If other states want to raise cattle but don’t have the climate to do it in pastures, they can buy feed from elsewhere.


Or as Alissa Walker says in Gizmodo:

Seriously, Stop Demonizing Almonds

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There’s this whole “Food Outrage” subculture of people that just have orgasms of hatred over anything involving food, I guess because Monsanto is in there somewhere, maybe one degree closer than Kevin Bacon. And rarely do these people seem to have anything to do with agriculture, but it seems more like the Twitter shame brigades that deliver random tsunamis of pure enmity.

Almonds? It’s a tree crop, and I bet most of these folks conveniently forget how much they like permaculture. Also, almonds grow in dry climates and they can’t stand too much moisture. Plus, almonds are very nutritious. Almonds are practically the model crop for California.


A lot of California’s crops aren’t feeding people in the other 49 states - they’re exported, such as almonds exported to China. Also a lot of them are feeding cows.

Right-wingers whine about California’s wacko environmentalists trying to prevent the destruction of our ecosystem by diverting water away from farms and fracking, but they don’t seem to mind the socialism-built water infrastructure that provides cheap water from northern Cal to the farms in the desert.


Speak for yourself! I could go without almonds, but it would take a lot of adjustment.

Darn that socialist aqueduct, feeding the population and all! And darn those roads, too! Everyone ought to just stay home and starve.

Trying to address the water crisis without discussing ways to cut back water consumption in the food industry is like trying to balance the Federal Budget without discussing ways to cut back spending for the military, social security or medicare. If 80 percent of consumption is completely out of bounds for negotiation you’re just never going to make the numbers work.


Southern California’s new Unofficial motto:
Bone Dry Death Trap

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I feel the same way about beef. I just think the prices we pay for beef and almonds and anything else grown with Californian water should reflect their impact on that limited resource.

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How to survive a mega drought: Move.

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Maybe some of those other 49 states could grow something other than corn to compensate for California’s lost output. I’m sure the world could cope with cutting into the ~720 billion ears of corn this country grows every year so we could actually have some variety in our local produce.

Just think, this drought could be the crisis America needs!


no thanks. Have you seen Austin? It’s full of LA douche bags.

It’s more important than ever to stay hydrated.

Exactly. That chart that everyone passed around of circles showing how much water is needer per ounce of food — with almonds and chickpeas nearly as big as beef — was complete hogwash.

By not accounting for the huge amount of water used to grow alfalfa and other feedcrops, they are artificially making the beef and other meats circles much smaller than it actually are. In actuality, every gallon of water spent on alfalfa should be added to the beef calculation. That’s Californian water going straight into Texan cows.

I’m not sure if there’s any way to say “stop growing X,” though. I don’t think they’d be able to pass a law that doubles the price of water for alfalfa farmers and not for garbanzo farmers. So they’d have to double the price for everyone, and food prices across the board would go up in response.

What percent of a chickpea’s price accounts for the water than was spent growing it? What percent of a cow’s price accounts for the water than was spent growing it? That will tell you the relative change in price if water prices double. And if a chickpea owes more of its cost to water than a cow does, wouldn’t increasing the price of water hurt the vegetable market more than the destructive beef market?


I also have to object to the article’s assertion that…

Droughts used to be manageable — before the 20th century, before California’s population exploded from a few hundred thousand to 40 million.

That’s just historically ignorant.

The four-year-long statewide drought of the 1860s - the previous “recorded history” champ (often overlooked because of the lack of precise rainfall records) devastated the Southern California economy, completely destroying the cattle-raising rancho culture that had dominated since the coming of the Spanish.

The current drought is presently about as bad as the 1860s drought - and we’ve gotten through it with only the most minor inconveniences, despite the fact that LA County now has about 10 million residents - a considerable increase over the ~12,000 residents it had in the 1860s.

Our water infrastructure is designed to help survive droughts, and so far, it’s done a pretty decent job, even with the Worst Drought In Recorded History.

If this continues, then we’re in real trouble. But historically, it never has. If the university-based crystal-ball-gazers are right, then even our best engineering may not be capable of sustaining us — but those crystal balls are still using some vastly oversimplified and highly speculative models.

But we still have some slack. Agriculture can do a LOT to reduce water use - water has been so cheap for farmers that they’ve never had the motivation to become more water-efficient. Agricultural use could easily be reduced by 40-50% just by implementing well-established Best Management Practices instead of wasteful flood and overhead-spray irrigation.

(And while people need food, do we really need to be exporting alfalfa hay to China to feed Chinese cattle?)