Posts Tagged: Drought
Can you help fight the California drought by consuming only foods and beverages that require minimal water to produce?
To begin with, not all water drops are equal because not all water uses impact California's drought, the researchers explain.
So just what water does qualify as California drought-relevant water? You can definitely count surface water and groundwater used for agricultural irrigation as well as water used for urban purposes, including industrial, commercial and household uses.
And here are a few examples of what water is not relevant to California's drought:
-- Water used in another state to produce young livestock that are later shipped to California for food production; and
-- Rain that falls on un-irrigated California pastureland. (Studies show that non-irrigated, grazed pastures actually release more water into streams and rivers than do un-grazed pastures, the researchers say.)
In short, California's drought-relevant water includes all irrigation water, but excludes rainfall on non-irrigated California pastures as well as any water that actually came from out-of-state sources and wound up in livestock feeds or young livestock eventually imported by California farmers and ranchers.
Also, the amount of water that soaks back into the ground following crop irrigation doesn't count – and that amount can be quantified for each crop.
Comparing water use for various foods
I think you're getting the picture; this water-for-food analysis is complicated. For this paper, the researchers examined five plant-based and two animal-based food products: almonds, wine, tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, milk and beef steak.
In teasing out the accurate amount of water that can be attributed to each food, the researchers first calculated how much water must be applied to grow a serving of each crop or animal product. Then they backed off the amount of water that is not California drought-relevant water, arriving at a second figure for the amount of drought-relevant water used for each food.
They provide a terrific graph (Fig. 3) that makes this all quite clear, comparing total applied water with California drought-relevant water used for the seven food products.
Milk and steak top the chart in total water use, with 1 cup of milk requiring 68 total gallons of water and a 3-ounce steak requiring 883.5 total gallons of water.
But when only California drought-relevant water is considered, one cup of milk is shown to be using 22 gallons of water and that 3-oz steak is using just 10.5 gallons of water. (Remember, to accurately assess California drought-water usage, we had to back off rainwater on non-irrigated pastures and water applied out of state to raise young livestock or feed that eventually would be imported by California producers.)
“Remarkably, a serving of steak uses much less water than a serving of almonds, or a glass of milk or wine, and about the same as a serving of broccoli or stewed tomatoes,” write Sumner and Anderson.
Still skeptical? Check out their paper in the January-February issue of the “Update” newsletter of the Giannini Foundation of Agricultural Economics at http://bit.ly/1XKZxxC.
Recently, the UC Food Observer caught up with one of California's foremost experts on water: Doug Parker of the University of California. Parker is the director of the University of California's Institute for Water Resources. The mission of the institute is to integrate California's research, extension and education programs to develop research-based solutions to water resource challenges. The institute has recently launched a blog, The Confluence.
Prior to joining UC, Parker worked on water quality issues related to the Chesapeake Bay as an associate professor and extension specialist in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Maryland. An economist by training, he earned his Ph.D. in agricultural and resource economics at UC Berkeley, and was on faculty there as an extension specialist. He holds bachelor's degrees in economics and environmental studies from UC Santa Barbara.
Q: Governor Brown recently issued an executive order that will restrict urban water usage by 25 percent. How do you see this being enforced across the state? What might enforcement mechanisms look like?
A: The State Water Resources Control Board will set restrictions for each of the over 400 water districts that serve residential consumers in the next month. The 25 percent reduction is meant to be a statewide average for urban users, and the actual reductions will be based on per capita water consumption in 2013. So, areas that are already conserving water will not be asked to reduce as much as the largest water users, who will have to make bigger reductions.
To meet the reductions, individual water districts will each have to draft a plan of how they will bring consumers in their district into compliance. This may include restrictions on outdoor water use and pricing structures that greatly increase costs to large water users and monetary fines. In essence, the reductions are not solely aimed at individual users, but will be made by a combination of reductions by homeowners and industrial and commercial users.
In terms of enforcement, the State Board can fine water districts that are out of compliance up to $10,000 per day. Before fines are enforced, the board will engage the water district to try to help figure out how they can meet the goals.
Q: How much is this going to hurt the average person? What kinds of changes will individuals have to make?
A: The average person will most likely need to reduce outdoor water use, such as landscape watering, and increase conservation measures indoors as well. The easiest way to meet the water reductions is to reduce or eliminate outdoor watering. The governor's order calls for a voluntary, incentive-based program to remove 50 million square feet of turf. Many homeowners may want to consider replacing turf with drought tolerant landscaping. There will also be programs for water efficient appliances like dishwashers and clothes washing machines, and low-flow shower heads. In general, I don't see major changes for the average person, particularly if they've already been conserving and cut outdoor watering, but they will need to take action and be more mindful of their water use.
A: I find it rather disturbing that some people see this as an urban vs. agriculture issue. The California Constitution states that water belongs to the people of the state. It is our water to use for the benefit of all Californians. I myself am happy to be able to cut back on my water use so that it can be used to grow food. What greater use of water do we have? It is inconvenient and perhaps aesthetically unpleasing to have a brown lawn, but compared to food production and food insecurity, the impact on my own life seems pretty minor.
In addition to growing food, the agricultural sector supports jobs in many of our most needy communities. The agricultural water restrictions in 2014 were estimated to have cost the agricultural sector over 17,000 jobs and a loss of over $2 billion. We expect those numbers to increase in 2015.
In the urban sector the drought has had very little impact on jobs or income. In the landscaping industry it remains unclear what impact the drought is having or will have. Reductions in turf irrigation may reduce the need for mowing and other uses of labor. But an increase in turf removal and replacement with drought-tolerant landscaping will lead to an increase in landscaping expenditures and labor.
The thing that I try to keep in mind is that it's all of our water, and we're all in it together.
Q: What happens to California agriculture in the next few years? What might the industry look like 20 years from now? What kind of cropping patterns might we see?
A: I think agriculture will reassess their perception of how secure their water supply is. For those that are seeing large cuts in water allocations, future planting decisions may be more conservative. We may see a decrease in permanent crops to increase flexibility in response to water shortages, though this may be balanced by the fact that things like almonds continue to yield a high value and if you are already reducing crops, keeping the most valuable ones is a rational decision. We will continue to see increases in efficiency, whether through irrigation technology or management of irrigation. We will also see increased investment in surface and groundwater storage to increase resiliency.
Q: Historically, is this drought a bump in the road or a harbinger of things to come?
A: All droughts are a bumps in the road and all droughts eventually end. But, I think we are more used to the speed bump type of drought that slows us to 25 mph. This one is a bit more severe and we probably need to take it down to 5 mph and do some serious long-term planning. Climate models predict that we will see an increase in the frequency and severity of drought. We need to start preparing for this drought to last a few more years and for future droughts as well.
Q: What resources would you recommend people seek out for information on a practical level? What about resources for those who might want to dig deeper?
A: The University of California has many resources to help homeowners, businesses, landscapers and farmers adapt to the drought. Many of those resources can be found on our webpages.
Q: What policies do we need in California to make sure we are able to more effectively respond to these types of crises in the future? What kind of infrastructure would help us more effectively meet our water needs?
A: I think this drought has brought to light the critical importance of groundwater as a resource to lessen the impacts of drought. California passed historic groundwater legislation in 2014 that will ensure this resource is available to us in future droughts. We need to work now to implement this law as quickly as possible. The law's timeline is very generous but I believe that communities that work to accelerate the timeline will greatly benefit from such efforts.
Rose Hayden-Smith is a UC ANR advisor who writes as the UC Food Observer. The UC Food Observer is your daily serving of must-read news from the world of food, curated by the University of California. Visit our blog, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
The drought is now so severe that in April Governor Jerry Brown called upon “all Californians, municipal water agencies, and anyone who uses water to do everything possible to conserve.” Just days earlier, University of California President Janet Napolitano paid a special visit to California's heartland to explore how universities could assist.
How might this drought affect food prices? Milton McGiffen, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the department of Botany and Plant Sciences at UC Riverside, says the greatest impact would indeed be on produce coming from the Central Valley — tomatoes and melons, for example.
"Citrus prices have increased due to the big freeze last December,” he said.“With scarcity of water comes higher water cost, which could result in farmers opting to grow higher value crops, such as fruits and nuts. It's no accident that the cost of a bag of walnuts recently went up about 36 percent at Costco. Research is just beginning now on how some farmers are selling off their farms because of the adverse water situation.”
“There is a conflict between land and water use for growing food or growing cities,” he says. “It comes down to how much we want to see agriculture continuing in the state. It depends, too, on how much we want to charge farmers for water. In Riverside County, farmers got a break in water charges until the late 1980s. After that, they were charged the same amount for water as were homeowners. It became unsustainable for them, and many farmers simply left the region.”
Americans spend about 6.6 percent of their household income on food — by far one of the lowest in the world. McGiffen calculates that if food prices were to increase by 20 percent, Americans would end up spending an extra 1 percent of their household income on food.
“In real terms, will this change how we behave? I'd say probably not. Like lobsters in a slowly heated pot, we will adapt," McGiffen said. "But we cannot afford to forget that we need to produce significant amounts of food. Failing at this would put us at a major disadvantage. Currently, about half of our food comes from other countries — Latin American countries, in particular. We certainly don't want to increase that.”
Now UC Riverside experiments demonstrate that such rice is already here. Genetics professor Julia Bailey-Serres’ research group reports in a recent issue of The Plant Cell that flood-tolerant rice is also better able to recover from drought.
“Flood tolerance does not reduce drought tolerance in these rice plants, and appears to even benefit them when they encounter drought,” Bailey-Serres says.
She and her team – Takeshi Fukao, a senior researcher, and Elaine Yeung, an undergraduate student – focused on Sub1A, a gene responsible for flood or “submergence” tolerance in rice. Sub1A works by making the plant dormant during submergence, allowing it to conserve energy until the floodwaters recede. Indeed, rice with the Sub1A gene can survive more than two weeks of complete submergence.
Plant breeders have already profited farmers worldwide – especially in South Asia – by having transferred Sub1A into high-yielding rice varieties without compromising these varieties’ desirable traits — such as high yield, good grain quality, and pest and disease resistance.
Bailey-Serres’s lab found that in addition to providing robust submergence tolerance, Sub1A aids survival of drought. The researchers report that at the molecular level Sub1A serves as a convergence point between submergence and drought response pathways, allowing rice plants to survive and re-grow after both weather extremes.
“Sub1A properly coordinates physiological and molecular responses to cellular water deficit when this deficit occurs independently, as in a time of drought, or following ‘desubmergence,’ which takes place when flood waters recede,” says Bailey-Serres who was the lead recipient of the 2008 USDA National Research Initiative Discovery Award.
Next, her colleagues at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines will test the Sub1A rice for drought tolerance in the field. What are some other implications of this research? One that comes to mind is that the “Got Rice?” slogan might have to drop the question mark, and put in its place a solid period!
At 925 million, the number of hungry people in the world is unacceptably high.
To combat world hunger, many scientists are working on developing crops that can resist disease and withstand the elements, from drought to floods. One such scientist is Sean Cutler at UC Riverside, whose breakthrough discovery last year of pyrabactin has brought drought-tolerant crops closer to becoming reality and spawned new research in several labs around the world.
Pyrabactin is a synthetic chemical that mimics abscisic acid (ABA), a naturally produced stress hormone in plants that helps them cope with drought conditions by inhibiting growth. ABA has already been commercialized for agricultural use. But it has at least two disadvantages: it is light-sensitive and it is costly to make.
Enter pyrabactin. This chemical is relatively inexpensive, easy to make, and not sensitive to light. But is it free from drawbacks? Unfortunately, no. Unlike ABA, pyrabactin does not turn on all the “receptors” in the plant that need to be activated for drought-tolerance to fully take hold.
What does that mean? A brief lesson on receptors may be in order.
A receptor is a protein molecule in a cell to which mobile signaling molecules – such as ABA or pyrabactin, each of which turns on stress-signaling pathways in plants – may attach. Usually at the top of a signaling pathway, the receptor functions like a boss relaying orders to the team below that then proceeds to execute particular decisions in the cell.
It turns out that each receptor is equipped with a pocket, akin to a padlock, in which a chemical, like pyrabactin, can dock into, operating like a key. Even though the receptor pockets appear to be fairly similar in structure, subtle differences distinguish a pocket from its peers. The result is that while ABA, a product of evolution, can fit neatly in any of these pockets, pyrabactin is less successful. Still, pyrabactin, by being partially effective (it works better on seeds than on plant parts), serves as a leading molecule for devising new chemicals for controlling stress tolerance in plants.
Each receptor is equipped also with a lid that operates like a gate. For the receptor to be activated, the lid must remain closed. Pyrabactin is effective at closing the gate on some receptors, turning them on, but cannot close the gate on others.
Cutler and colleagues have now cracked the molecular basis of this behavior. In a receptor where the gate closes, they have found that pyrabactin fits in snugly to allow the gate to close. In a receptor not activated by pyrabactin, however, the chemical binds in a way that prevents the gate from closing and activating the receptor.
“These insights suggest new strategies for modifying pyrabactin and related compounds so that they fit properly into the pockets of other receptors,” Cutler says. “If a derivative of pyrabactin could be found that is capable of turning on all the receptors for drought tolerance, the implications for agriculture are enormous.”
So he and his colleagues continue their research on pyrabactin derivatives, having set their eyes on the prize: An ABA-mimicking, inexpensive and light-insensitive chemical that can be sprayed easily on corn, soy bean and other crops to help them survive drought – one effective approach to combating and preventing hunger worldwide. Imagine that!