The California Drought

The Lempert Report
March 11, 2014

Why it's a Problem for Everyone!

The recent rain in California gave at least some relief to what was lining up to be the driest year in the past half millennium. What you may not have realized is that while this is a grim outlook for those in California, it's a problem for everyone. Why?  The states’ drought affects the whole country’s fruits, veggies and nuts.

Take a look at this map, and you’ll see the percentage of US production by county. Not only does this highlight how much is actually grown in California, but also that many of the counties accountable for high production were the ones hit hardest by drought. For example, according to the US Drought Monitor,  Monterey County was enduring an "exceptional drought”, and it’s a County that in 2012 grew nearly half of America's lettuce and broccoli!

And so how much water do our plants actually need? Take a look at this:

One head of broccoli needs 5.4 Gallons of water. One head of lettuce? 3.5 gallons. One walnut? 4.9 gallons!  Just one tomato? 3.3 gallons and one almond needs 1.1 gallon! 

According to Jay Lund, a water expert at the University of California-Davis, the drought may mean that agriculture could soon play a less important role in California's economy, as the business of growing food moves to locations where water is less expensive, such as the South and the Midwest, And for consumers, in the more immediate future this will probably mean that when stocking up on fruits and vegetables, shopping bills will increase over the next year.

Often consumers don’t get the opportunity or time to see the big picture. Supermarkets could help here by offering, as these maps have done, a way to break down how a big picture problem effects their supermarket and their shopping bill.  Perhaps retailers could display informational pointers, such as “one head of broccoli needs 5.4 Gallons of water to grow”  and encourage shoppers to save water in various ways.  As we've suggested before, supermarkets should be a place that serves its community and is a place of information, health and wellness. This is just one way supermarkets can help consumers understand how bigger issues effect them.