California agriculture is worth the water

Jun 2, 2015

As California struggles through the four-year drought, a common complaint asserts that agriculture generates only 2 percent of the gross domestic product, but consumes 80 percent of the state's water. Both figures are deceptive, says an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times written by a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) agricultural economist, and the California secretary of agriculture.

The authors, Dan Sumner, director of the UC ANR Agricultural Issues Center, and Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, say the 80 percent figure doesn't account for water diverted for environmental purposes to rivers, lakes, streams, deltas, bays and, ultimately the ocean. The 2 percent figure doesn't account for ripple effects and multipliers placed in other categories, such as "transportation and warehousing" and "finance and insurance," which are connected to "every one of our 78,000 farms."

Besides, Sumner and Ross wrote, the state's unique capacity to produce healthful and desirable food is not found anywhere else in the United States.

"Food is central to California in more than just the nutritional sense," the authors said. "It contributes to nearly every aspect of our economy and our lives, an important point to keep in mind as we weigh what our water is worth during this drought, and the next one."

By Jeannette E. Warnert
Author - Communications Specialist