By Justin Fredrickson, Environmental Policy Analyst, California Farm Bureau Federation Asked on the Public Policy Institute of California water blog “how...
How much water
do farmers really use?
(Hint: It's not 80%)
Water we save for the environment
is half of our annual supply.
Click to learn more
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2015 Farm Water Drought Impacts
Farmers Have Spent $3 Billion in Irrigation System Upgrades
Since 2003 California farmers invested over $3 billion upgrading irrigation systems to drip and micro-sprinklers on over 2.4 million acres. That’s an investment in conservation that helps stretch our water supplies.
Myths About California Farm Water Use
Myth: Agriculture uses 80% of California’s water supplies.
Fact: This statement is generally made in an attempt to explain the allocation of available water in California. It ignores the amount of water dedicated to the environment, which includes action taken by laws, regulations and court decisions. When used to irrigate farms, CVPIA water as is understood as an agricultural use. When it’s use is transferred to an environmental purpose it must also be counted.
Myth: Farmers receive subsidized water.
Fact: When the federal Central Valley Project was authorized the U.S. Congress made the decision to exempt farm water users from paying the interest charges on the construction costs of the project. All other costs, including construction, maintenance and operation are paid by the water users. Since 1941 new tax revenue from farm operations made possible by the federal Central Valley Project totals an amazing $124.4 billion on an initial investment of just $7.3 billion.
Myth: Alfalfa uses too much water.
Fact: Alfalfa is grown in almost every county in California, from the hot regions of the Southern desert to the chilly mountains in Northern California. Depending on the climate, a field of alfalfa will be harvested from four to 10 times a year. Alfalfa is the primary protein crop for California’s dairy industry. Without California-grown alfalfa, dairy farmers would be required to import its feed supplies from other states, dramatically increasing the carbon footprint and pollution generated by trucking operations.
Myth: Flood irrigation wastes water.
Fact: Flood irrigation is a beneficial tool in recharging groundwater in a practice known as conjunctive use, or using both surface and groundwater at appropriate times. Farmers who apply water through flood irrigation are providing the water resource needed by plants and also helping to recharge groundwater aquifers that we rely on during times of drought .
Myth: Rice is a ‘monsoon’ crop and uses too much water.
Fact: California rice is grown almost exclusively in the Sacramento Valley where soil conditions create a “bathtub” effect that slows the percolation of the water into the ground. Rice uses only about 3.4 acre-feet per year, which is similar to many other crops grown in the same region.
Myth: Almonds dominate California agriculture and water usage.
Fact: Almond acreage represents 10% of the state’s irrigated agricultural land and uses only 8% of of applied irrigated water, demonstrating the crop’s efficiency. In fact, over the last 20 years, almond growers have increased yields while increasing water efficiency by an impressive 33% through the use of advanced micro-irrigation technologies and best practices.
Myth: Cotton is a water-waster.
Fact: Water applied to California cotton fields has decreased in recent years as a result of reduced planted acreage caused by a fluctuating world market price. Sprinklers are typically used to irrigate the cotton seed as it sprouts into a young plant. The average water application for cotton is 2.75-3.5 acre-feet per acre.
Why Environmental Water Needs to Be Counted
It is a persistent myth that 80% of California’s water is used on the farm. This simply isn’t true. California’s Department of Water Resources reports that about 40% of the state’s dedicated water supply is used by farmers, approximately 10% is used in urban areas for domestic purposes and commercial businesses, while 50% goes to the environment…In order to accurately account for statewide water use it is important to also keep track of water that has an environmental priority.
“Many State and federal laws and regulations govern California water use. Some of them mandate that a certain amount of water be used for specific environmental purposes including wild and scenic stream flows, required Bay-Delta outflow, managed wetlands and wildlife refuges. In recent years water that once irrigated farmland or ran from taps in homes is now serving environmental purposes. That water was counted as human use before is being reallocated to the environment.”
~ Department of Water Resources
“In order to accurately account for statewide water use it is important to also keep track of water that has an environmental priority.”
~ Department of Water Resources