As the third year in California’s intense drought drawls on, there’s been some panic over beloved foods and products that take a ton of water to produce.

Agriculture is huge in California, yielding $42.6 billion for state farms and ranches in 2012. But as NBC News pointed out, the industry has a hefty impact in water consumption:

Statewide, agriculture takes an estimated three-quarters of the water California consumes. Farming is by far the state’s largest single water user, dwarfing the amount city-dwellers use to boil their potatoes, brush their teeth, wash their clothes and water their yards.

That especially rings true in San Diego, home to more than 6,000 farms, more than any other county in the United States.

Over the past couple weeks, news outlets have singled out a few products that might be adding to the crisis conditions, including some that have a big San Diego footprint.

Almonds

Known to help with weight loss, prevent diabetes and decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s, almonds have become a consumer darling. They might be good for your heart, but not so much for California’s drought. Mother Jones reports that each almond requires 1.1 gallons of water to produce, and 80 percent of the world’s almonds are grown in California.

One solution would be to stop or slow production, but almonds are a multibillion-dollar industry in California, a state that produces nearly half of the country’s fruits, nuts and vegetables.


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Avocados

Avocados are the fourth most valuable crop in San Diego, according to a 2012 county ag report – more than 93,000 tons of avocados are produced here. And they’re also on the list of crops that take a lot water to grow.

According to San Luis Obispo County’s newspaper, the New Times:

Avocados do require a lot of water and are more temperamental than other crops, like citrus, during a drought … In a normal year, Morro Creek Ranch’s avocados require about 1 1/2 to 2 acre feet of groundwater per acre, and during the current drought they can require 2 to 4 acre feet per acre.

Craft Beer

San Diego is on a mission to become the Napa Valley of craft beer.

The only problem: It too takes a ton of water to produce. In late July, the Los Angeles Times found that breweries use an average of four to seven gallons of water to make one gallon of beer.

“If this drought continues for two, three more years, that could greatly impact the production and growth of our breweries,” said Tom McCormick, the association’s executive director.

Lagunitas, for instance, just opened a major brewhouse in Chicago, where Lake Michigan stands ready to supply its water needs. The company is shifting some production there, Sharyon said, adding: “Our next plant will probably be out of state and next to a stable water supply.”

The drought could have an outsized effect on craft brewers because small operators on average use twice as much water per barrel of beer than do large, traditional breweries.

Local breweries are getting creative to try and save water, we reported in February:

In San Diego, McCormick said Stone Brewing Company is taking the lead on water conservation. The largest of the city’s craft breweries, Stone produced 215,000 barrels of beer last year.  When it comes to water reduction, the company’s already plucked the low-hanging fruit like low-flow toilets, faucets with sensors that automatically shut off, water-smart landscaping and more.

The brewery brings in about 80,000 gallons of water every day, but recycles nearly 50,000 gallons of that, thanks, in part, to some expensive investments like the company’s water treatment facility which includes a membrane bioreactor — designed to process wastewater more quickly; and two reverse osmosis units, which purify the water and removes contaminants.

Bottled Water

Bottled water poses a few problems – more than the obvious one. Producing the containers sucks us dry perhaps more than the water itself.

Mother Jones reported:

About 55 percent of bottled water in the United States is spring water, including Crystal Geyser  and Arrowhead.

The water inside the bottle isn’t the only water that bottling companies require: Coca-Cola bottling plants, which produce Dasani, use 1.63 liters of water for every liter of beverage produced in California, according to Coca-Cola representative Dora Wong.

Wong told Mother Jones, “Our California facilities continue to seek ways to reduce overall water use.”

    This article relates to: California Drought, News, Share, Water

    Written by Michelle Monroy

    Michelle was a reporting intern for Voice of San Diego during the fall of 2014. You can reach her by email.

    6 comments
    Jafa
    Jafa subscriber

    Almonds and avocados are important food products. And we all love our craft beer. We need to give up our excessively thirsty landscaping--but we will need our public spots of turf even more when we can't grow our own lawns. It's time to get rid of plastic water bottles, but we may want that bottled water when we go over to toilet-to-tap! Seriously, isn't it time to accept recycled water and to look at desalinization. I would support tax increases to develop new water sources.

    Mike Weinberg
    Mike Weinberg subscriber

    Let's not forget meat. A single quarter-pound beef patty requires 660 gallons of water (to irrigate the grain, water the cow, process the meat...), enough for two months of daily showers. Save water--go vegan!

    David Lynn
    David Lynn subscribermember

    Ditto.  It would also be great to hear more about different farming practices that are changing the amount of water and resources required to grow the same crops.

    Matty Azure
    Matty Azure subscriber

    Can't drink the water. Can't drink the beer.

    Signed,

    Caught between a rock and a dry dirt clod