The Critical Connection Between Farm Water and Our Food Supply

The California Farm Water Coalition has released two new fact sheets that provide valuable insights into the amount of water required to produce the food Californians consume on a daily basis. ​The fact sheets, titled “Where Does Farm Water Go?” ​ and “Sample Daily Menu,” highlight the significant role water plays on the farms that grow the food that people bring home to their families.

“In an increasingly globalized world, it is crucial to prioritize local production to ensure food security and to reduce supply chain vulnerabilities,” said Mike Wade, executive director of the Coalition. “Domestic food production on local farms helps guarantee a consistent supply of farm products that meet public expectation for affordability, quality, and safety,” he said.

The fact sheet “Where Does Farm Water Go?” reveals that California’s population requires 11.3 trillion gallons of water to grow enough food and fiber to meet the needs of California’s 39 million people. That is 38 percent more water and associated food production than what farmers in California are able to grow with the State’s current water supplies. ​And the gap is expected to grow.

California farms use about 8.2 trillion gallons of water to grow food and fiber products, a decline of about 14 percent over a 35-year time period, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Over the next 20 years, California’s growing population will require an additional 1-million-acre feet of water, or almost 326 billion gallons every year over today’s amount, to grow enough food to meet the estimated needs of California’s growing population.

The United States’ dependence on foreign-produced food has steadily increased over the past 50 years and reached an all-time high in 2023, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Over 60 percent of the nation’s fresh fruit and 38 percent of fresh vegetables consumed in the U.S. now come from other countries, many of which don’t meet the same food safety or environmental protections that are common in California.

A second fact sheet, “Sample Daily Menu,” quantifies the amount of water needed to produce a selection of menu items for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two snacks for one person for one day. The menu items are based on the United States Department of Agriculture MyPlate recipe guide. The total water daily requirement to produce these menu items is 810.3 gallons per person.

In a time of climate uncertainty, managing California’s water supplies by capturing more water during wet years to save for dry years is in the best interest of American consumers.

“California is still the No. 1 producer of fresh fruits, nuts, and vegetables in the U.S., said Wade. “Ensuring that local farmers have the resources needed to grow our food helps protect consumers from supply chain disruptions and global competition.”

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