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California is thirsty and on fire. The worst drought in recorded history is now responsible for an early severe wildfire season which Gov. Brown has declared a national emergency.
Watch this stunning gif created by Mother Jones from the National Drought Monitor:
With California producing almost half of the vegetables and fruits grown in the US, the drought is creating a water crisis with farmers looking to maintain their production status quo by using a dangerous short-term strategy of draining aquifers, lakes and rivers without regard for future sustainability.
Some attention is now focusing on the water intensity of the crops grown and although fruits, vegetables and nuts do utilize vast amounts of water for production, there is no California agriculture product that comes near the water intensity used by the livestock sector.
The factory farm map below produced by Food and Water Watch shows California to be the state with the highest concentration of livestock factory farms.
Darker areas have higher concentration of factory farms
James McWilliams writing at The New York Times further dissects Californias precarious situation.
Vegetables use about 11,300 gallons per ton of blue water; starchy roots, about 4,200 gallons per ton; and fruit, about 38,800 gallons per ton. By comparison, pork consumes 121,000 gallons of blue water per ton of meat produced; beef, about 145,000 gallons per ton; and butter, some 122,800 gallons per ton. There’s a reason other than the drought that Folsom Lake has dropped as precipitously as it has. Don’t look at kale as the culprit. (Although some nuts, namely almonds, consume considerable blue water, even more than beef.) That said, a single plant is leading California’s water consumption.
Unfortunately, it’s a plant that’s not generally cultivated for humans: 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. Increasingly popular grass-fed beef operations typically rely on alfalfa as a supplement to pasture grass. Alfalfa hay is also an integral feed source for factory-farmed cows, especially those involved in dairy production.
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. The reason is simple. It’s more profitable to ship alfalfa hay from California to China than from the Imperial Valley to the Central Valley. Alfalfa growers are now exporting some 100 billion gallons of water a year from this drought-ridden region to the other side of the world in the form of alfalfa. All as more Asians are embracing the American-style, meat-hungry diet.
The BBC reports on the global trade scenario which produces this stunning lunacy.
It's now cheaper to send alfalfa from LA to Beijing than it is to send it from the Imperial Valley to the Central Valley.
"A hundred billion gallons of water per year is being exported in the form of alfalfa from California," argues Professor Robert Glennon from Arizona College of Law.
"It's a huge amount. It's enough for a year's supply for a million families - it's a lot of water, particularly when you're looking at the dreadful drought throughout the south-west.
Originally posted to Climate Hawks on Mon Aug 04, 2014 at 08:45 AM PDT.