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Notes on the Valley

By Monith Ilavarasan

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About this blog: My parents, brother, and I moved to Pleasanton when I was in the seventh grade. I then graduated from Amador Valley High School, went to college at UC Davis and started out a career in tech. After several years working in large co...  (More)

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Where our water goes

Uploaded: Apr 13, 2022
Another year, another drought. Last Tuesday the Pleasanton City Council voted to enact Stage 2 drought water rates for the city. This will result in an extra charge of 62-65 cents per unit (1 unit = 748 gallons) of water for families living in Pleasanton.

I’ve been wondering if there is anything we can do to address this statewide issue of water shortages. As climate change continues unabated, is this the new normal?

Water in California is shared across three main areas. Statewide, average water use is roughly 50% environmental, 40% agricultural, and 10% residential. Environmental water use refers to water integral to preserving our rivers and natural habitats.

These protected waterways allow fish and wildlife to flourish in regions such as the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta. They also allow for the long term preservation of national parks throughout the entire state.

As for agricultural use, more than nine million acres of farmland in California are irrigated. California is one of the biggest food producers and exporters in all of the United States. Every year we produce billions of dollars of food and many of these foods are heavily water intensive such as dairy, cattle, berries and nuts.

To put things in perspective, California is home to nearly 1.7 million dairy cows, which are largely part of mega-dairy operations. In addition to all the water polluted through runoff and waste, mega-dairies use 142 million gallons of water a day. This amount is more than the daily water usage for San Jose and San Diego combined.

While we spend large amounts of our water on agriculture, the profits are being concentrated in the hands of a small minority of large agricultural business owners. During droughts, the state water board starts to restrict water to farmers and residential areas with more junior water rights.

Senior water rights, established over a century ago, have largely been bought up by large agribusiness and private equity firms. This helps enable the industry to thrive even when smaller farms and residential areas are forced to cut back.

Furthermore, profits from these companies are used to lobby state legislatures to repeal environmental protections and keep these arcane water usage laws in place. Examples include Stewart & Lynda Resnick, billionaire pistachio farmers who spend millions of dollars financing both Democrats and Republicans to ensure their ability to use water is unchecked.

While a small few at the top of agribusiness reap the rewards, the workers themselves are being left out of any economic growth. Out of the ~240,000 total agricultural workers in California over a third (~40%) are undocumented. In the U.S. there are few protections for farmworkers in general.

Unlike employees in other industries, farm workers do not have minimum wage or guaranteed hours. Poverty, long hours, pesticide exposure, and lack of health care ultimately lead to farm workers having some of the worst health outcomes in the nation.

While producing food in our own state is incredibly important, we should be cognizant of what we are producing and how we are producing it. We should support small scale family farms who treat their workers well, grow organically, and respect the land.

I’ve been asking myself how best I can change my behavior so that I can do my part (albeit small) in helping conserve water. Learning about where our water goes has pushed me to be more intentional with my grocery purchases.

I shop at the Pleasanton or Livermore farmers markets so that I can develop a relationship with who I’m getting my produce from. Being a (mostly) vegetarian, avoiding meat heavy grocery items has been easy. However, I’ve also started to be more mindful of the amount of water intensive produce I purchase on a weekly basis, like nuts and avocados.

My individual consumer choices aren’t going to be enough to stem the tide of drought policies in the future. However, being intentional with what, where, and how I get produce has pushed me to appreciate those who take care in cultivating our sustenance.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by D, a resident of Danville,
on Apr 13, 2022 at 9:57 am

D is a registered user.

I had high hopes for this new young blogger that he would not be the typical political activist using this forum to flout his political views. Sadly, I was wrong. So, you are essentially anti-dairy cow, and like most city bloggers who have never spent time in a rural community, you are anti-farmer and a vegan. Dairy milk is an essential item in any healthy diet, and calcium is especially important for the elderly who face bone density problems. You are free to be a vegan, but according to a 2000 study only .5% of Americans are truly vegan. When you go to Safeway, do you have any idea how the food ends up there? Do you honestly believe food and milk is not essential and not worthy of our water resources? Leave your city, and drive south, or north, and you will find endless rural communities in CA where agriculture is one of the main industries and source of jobs. Your water views are typical of young, liberal, city dwellers, and based on selfish, political views that are anti-rural. True diversity would include empathy for rural communities and the essential services they provide in stocking our stores with food and produce and milk. Our rural communities also help us be self sufficient and not dependent on Russia or China for grain and other items, which we are learning is critical for the national security of our nation.

I hope your next blog is not another political rant.

Posted by D, a resident of Danville,
on Apr 13, 2022 at 10:00 am

D is a registered user.

Sorry meant 2020 study.

Posted by Monith, a resident of another community,
on Apr 13, 2022 at 10:31 am

Monith is a registered user.

Hi Anonymous D,

Few comments:
- I'm not a vegan, never said I was in the article.
- I specifically said the following line in the post - "While producing food in our own state is incredibly important, we should be cognizant of what we are producing and how we are producing it. We should support small scale family farms who treat their workers well, grow organically, and respect the land."
- As stated, I support family farms that work hard to treat their workers well and respect the environment. There are thousands of these farms throughout California and are the true bedrock of rural communities.
- I suggest you drive to large agribusiness farms and slaughterhouses to view the living conditions of the migrant workers who are not paid a living wage.

I also suggest that you read to the end of the blog post next time before writing a comment.
I hope you have a great week.

- Monith from Pleasanton

Posted by D, a resident of Danville,
on Apr 13, 2022 at 10:44 am

D is a registered user.


The reason California has increasing lower percentage "small scale family farms" than the midwestern states is because California politicians, similar to you, are anti-rural and have passed so many restrictive and burdensome laws and regulations that make it economically impossible for the "small scale family farm" to stay in business. It is AG-Econ 101-a class that should be required for all California politicians, and young bloggers. Only the giant mega- farmers can absorb and stay on top of all the restrictive regulations and rules passed by the liberal politicians, thus decreasing the amount of "small scale family farms" that you allegedly desire.

I hope you have a great Holy Week.

Posted by Mr. Julius, a resident of Downtown,
on Apr 14, 2022 at 10:29 am

Mr. Julius is a registered user.

Smaller farms would be great - could they form some sort of a Legal Coop to help with regulations, legal matters, and undo burdens? Here are other items to consider.

1. California hasn't built a new major reservoir in over four decades.
2. The planned Sites Reservoir northwest of Sacramento is approved, and could be the state's 7th largest reservoir, but now it is underfunded and the plan is to build half the capacity.
3. Our State has a surplus. Build the full Sites Reservoir! And have the Governor prioritize its construction, which is lagging.
4. Build an additional reservoir.
5. Explore whether we can inexpensively connect Folsom or other major reservoirs with neighboring reservoirs.
6. Revisit the importance of the Delta smelt feeder fish.
7. Install a pilot project with the new Whoosh fish transportation system, which conveys fish over dams and can segregate out invasive species. Exciting!
8. Study the feasibility of a large nuclear power and desalination plant combination to supply large amounts of fresh water 24 / 7 / 365 days a year. What is the largest desalination plant in existence?

Posted by Joe V, a resident of Birdland,
on Apr 14, 2022 at 10:51 am

Joe V is a registered user.

@D.. you are the one who is trying to turn this blog into a political agenda.
The Blogger even points out that contributions for the status quo are both to Republicans and Democrats.
Most people are not informed on what is going on in rural California, blogger makes a case for his views on how unfair the current water distribution is. If you have personal experience, or studied the water distribution to rural areas of California, please, provide them. Let's have a logical conversation, so we can all learn. No need to disparage Monith as an anti farmer vegan who believes that dairy products shouldn't be sold at Safeway.

Posted by DM, a resident of Birdland,
on Apr 14, 2022 at 12:49 pm

DM is a registered user.

California had a huge budget surplus - Do we know how much of that went for water projects to secure California's future.

Posted by K, a resident of West of Foothill,
on Apr 14, 2022 at 3:25 pm

K is a registered user.

One area that the author did not address is the variability of rain/snow fall in California. If we don't get this precipitation, we have a problem. Additional reservoirs only capture what comes down so if we don't get rain/snow for several years, no amount of additional dams are going to make a difference... they'll all be dry.

So, it seems to me that we have to decide if we would rather reduce consumption (cut back on environmental usage or farming or residential) sufficient to make up any shortfalls, or we should be looking into getting more water. Desalination is expensive, but so is bankruptcy for farmers or lots of dead rivers/lakes or huge challenges for residents. Water imports are also not discussed. One friend wants to build a pipeline to "British Columbia" (I think he really means "anyplace that is likely to have sellable water when we need it"). But, I've never seen a study for imports be they pipelines or icebergs.

Anyhow, good start, but there's far more to this water issue than just the 50/40/10 split. You might want to look into other screwy decisions we Californians have made over the years (like exactly who gets to decide how the 50% for "environment" is allocated & in terms of when the flows happen... it's not at all clear to me that rationality is occurring here).

Oh, and before I sign off, one other unmentioned issue is the ground water overdraft & required recharge. Again, if we don't get precipitation (or water from other sources), overdrafts will continue and recharge can't happen. As it stands, we're currently vastly overdrawing most of the aquifers in CA to partially make up for lack of precipitation.

Posted by BobB, a resident of Vintage Hills,
on Apr 15, 2022 at 10:09 am

BobB is a registered user.

Thank you for bringing attention to how water gets used. I wanted to clarify some points.

-- If you could, please cite your sources.

-- You say "50% environmental, 40% agricultural, and 10% residential"

But residential is much less than even that. The 10% you call "residential" is actually a combination of residential, commercial, and industrial (non-agricultural). That includes things like factories and golf courses. Actual residential use is a small fraction of that, essentially a rounding error.

Web Link

-- You talk about large scale dairy farms in California

But milk is a very water efficient food source (1020 liters per kilogram) compared to other sources like nuts (9063 liters per kilogram). It is good that you point out that producing nuts is water intensive, but I don't know why you target dairy.

Web Link

-- You say "We should support small scale family farms, ... and grow organically"

But large scale farms are more efficient than small scale farms.

Web Link

Also, there is no clear evidence that organic farming is any less water intensive than non-organic.

Posted by DublinMike, a resident of Dublin,
on Apr 18, 2022 at 10:08 am

DublinMike is a registered user.

Monith, well written.

Word of advice, you can respond as you see fit. But, those like "D" et al, never, or with extreme rarity at the very least, change their viewpoints. You can respond or discuss with them until you are blue in the face but it will be to avail.

Posted by DublinMike, a resident of Dublin,
on Apr 18, 2022 at 10:10 am

DublinMike is a registered user.

p.s., BobB, your comments were also well written.


Posted by Erlinda , a resident of Danbury Park,
on Apr 20, 2022 at 9:33 am

Erlinda is a registered user.

Thanks for bringing up the issue about water and drought. And comments are fun to read and learn.
I would love the rain to keep on dropping or coming. I would minimize using those things that blows heat like driving vehicles, they create and blows heat out, especially when you're stocked in traffic. Industrial and residential air conditioners, airplanes those things blows heat tremendously specially during high heat times. The heat from those things is drying the moisture from the ground to evaporate and make clouds for the rain to come.
We all know that rain or water is life.
I don't think that minimizing in everything that we use needs mandate.
And having desalination water will not solve the drought problems because it cannot water our forests or surroundings specifically our big farms.
But I'm thankful for the desalination companies who's making fresh water.
But if the public will minimize I'm sure rain will keep on coming for our fresh water for the farms, for dairies companies, and for everything that needs fresh water.
I'm not sure who's job is it from the government to tell the public to minimize.
Thanks everyone and enjoy reading.

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