California’s Drought: Water For Profit

For months we’ve been hearing about how severe California’s drought is. Governor Jerry Brown has made several warnings that drastic measures might have to be taken if the drought continues. And usually the overall message is clear: individuals need to cut back on their water consumption, and if necessary, extreme water rationing will be imposed on cities and households.

This blames excessive water use on individuals while it lets corporations off the hook. In reality, corporations don’t see water as a vital natural resource to be preserved. They see it as just another ingredient in their drive to make a profit at any cost.

The messages coming from politicians tell a familiar story. They tell us Californians are wasting too much water on their extra long showers, on their gigantic lawns, on watering down their driveways and washing their cars. It’s true that water is being wasted in these ways – but this is not the main source of the problem. Over the last two decades, personal water consumption in California has decreased by over twenty percent, even while the population has been increasing. And in total, individual water use only makes up about eight percent of total water use in California.

So even if there is plenty of ways individuals could reduce their water use, it is not the major source of the problem. Even if you included most corporations in most major cities in California, their total combined water use is only about twelve percent. In total, the water use from individuals and most corporations and cities only makes up about twenty percent of water use in the state.

So the real question is where is all the water going? About eighty percent of all water use in California comes from the farming industry. California is the largest agricultural producing area in the country, supplying over thirty percent of the country’s vegetables, and over sixty percent of the country’s fruits and nuts. California is also the largest dairy producing state, and among the top five in other livestock. All together the total profits from these industries is estimated at over $15 billion per year, making up about 26 percent of all the money made in California each year.

But in order for California’s massive agribusiness industry to make its money, it must be guaranteed enormous amounts of water. California supplies 99% of all almonds in the U.S., 99% of all walnuts, 98% of pistachios, 95% of broccoli, 92% of strawberries, 91% of grapes, 90% of tomatoes, 74% of lettuce. And each of these crops require a massive amount of water to be produced:

  • one head of broccoli: 5.4 gallons
  • one walnut: 4.9 gallons
  • one head of lettuce: 3.5 gallons
  • one tomato: 3.3 gallons
  • one almond: 1.1 gallons
  • one pistachio: 0.75 gallons
  • one strawberry: 0.4 gallons
  • one grape: 0.3 gallons

California’s water sources of aquifers, wells, lakes, rivers and streams are running dry not because of this current drought. Even with the little snow and rainfall causing the drought, there should still be plenty of water in California. California’s water supply has been depleted only because so much water has been pumped just to distribute it to these massive farming companies so they can continue to make billions of dollars every year.

There is certainly a drought in California. And we could all do a little bit to cut back on our water waste. But the only reason this drought is causing disastrous effects is because the water in California has been sucked dry just to supply massive profits to these farm companies.

With this water shortage, the logic of this system is clear: it is willing to destroy a resource necessary for life in order to continue to make a profit.