Water is a big deal.
Water always has been a big deal in the West. The battles over the allocation of water from the Colorado River have been the subject of movies for generations. Whole wings of law libraries could be devoted to water law and litigation.
Georgia is no stranger to water litigation, either. The Tri-State Water Wars still are being fought, with the latest engagement being over whether Georgia’s use of Flint River water is the cause of the oyster-population collapse in Apalachicola Bay.
Nobody needs to tell South Bryan residents about how important water is. In 2008, water-conservation rules from the state put the brakes on issuing new water-withdrawal permits. This brought new construction in South Bryan to a screeching halt.
We have this history in common. The new factoid from California that is getting attention is that it takes one gallon of water to grow 1 almond. Of course, all that water does not go through the almond. It is the water needed to grow the tree that produces the almond. Two thousand gallons of water gets a tree that produces 2,000 almonds. That water makes new leaves, roots and bark; cools the plant; cleans the air; makes oxygen for us to breathe; and supports making food, flowers and, yes, almonds.
This is meant to shock us into thinking that agricultural use of water is just an outrageous waste of water. Why, those wasteful, ignorant sod-busters! Yep, they are wasting that water growing food that we eat. So if that one gallon of water for one almond is a shock to you, let’s look at some others.
How about that beef roast, steak or hamburger? The most common estimate seems to be 1,799 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef. If you talk to vegetarian activists, the number gets larger; if you talk to the beef council, the number gets smaller. I am going with 1,799 because it came from Johns Hopkins.
That is not how much water a beef cow drinks per pound of cow. It is the total of all the water used to grow the grain the cow is fed, the rain that grew the grass the cow eats as well as the water the cow consumes directly. About one-third of a beef cow is meat, one-third is bone and one-third is internal organs.
Bigger animals have to invest more in bone and internal organs, so the cost to produce a pound of meat protein increases as the size of the animal increases. According to agriculture.com, the conversion efficiency is the pounds of feed needed to produce a pound of meat. The conversion efficiency of beef is 7:1. A cow has to eat 7 pounds of feed to produce 1 pound of meat. Hogs have a 3.5:1 conversion efficiency ratio. They are smaller animals and are more efficient converting feed into meat. Poultry has a conversion ratio of 2:1. Poultry are almost twice as efficient as hogs and nearly three times as efficient as beef in converting feed into meat. What do you suppose the conversion efficiency of earthworms is?
That same 1,799 gallons of water would produce 1,799 almonds. The average almond weighs 1.2 grams. With 453.6 grams to a pound, 1 pound of almonds takes 378 gallons of water. So 1,799 gallons of water can generate 1 pound of beef or 4.75 pounds of almonds. We can grow a pound of almonds on a lot less water than a pound of beef.
If the anti-agriculture, anti-farmer people succeed in making you think a gallon of water for an almond is a travesty, it will be that much easier for them to pass legislation to force you to go vegetarian or go hungry. That is why context is important.
The Public Policy Institute of California says that agriculture uses 80 percent of California’s water but produces only 2 percent of California’s gross domestic product. Yes, California could stop producing food altogether. Who needs California wines, citrus, fruit, dairy, tomatoes and other fresh vegetables? We don’t need no stinking jobs! We can put hundreds of thousands of farm workers on the welfare rolls without consequence.
If you believe that, I have an orange bridge in San Francisco for sale.
California is the fifth-largest supplier of food in the world, according to theatlantic.com. If California stops producing food, it will cost each of us working here in Georgia increased food prices and federal welfare costs. That is good for our farmers but not so good for everybody else. California is allegedly down to a one-year supply of water, according to NASA. The state’s Department of Water Resources says that the snowpack water content in the Sierra Nevada — a measurement of what will trickle into reservoirs during spring melting— is at 6 percent of the average for late March.
And the U.S. Drought Monitor reports that 98 percent of California is in some level of drought.
When California gets pinched, we will feel the pain, too. Pray for California to get the rain and snow it needs.