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Executive Summary for September 2nd

For an overview of the latest news on the California drought, we’ve organized the most recent developments in a curated summary.

Published on Sep. 2, 2015 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Get Over It: Food Doesn’t Have to Be Pretty

From across the continent comes this important viewpoint about food: The drought is making many farm products smaller and uglier, and it doesn’t matter. Buy it anyway, and eat well. When we reject imperfect produce, it results in food waste on a massive scale, which is also water waste, of course.

Consumers must realize that small or imperfectly formed fruits and vegetables are just as tasty. In some cases, as the Charlotte Observer reports, it tastes even better.

“A vegetable doesn’t have to be beautiful,” says Stephen Satterfield, author of the cookbook Root to Leaf and chef at Miller Union in Atlanta. “Flavor should be the most important factor. Flavor and texture.”

The fruits and vegetables we eat are products of nature. Sure, many are grown by what we would call “industrialized agriculture.” But ultimately they depend on the whims of nature to provide enough sunshine and water, and the right temperatures. So we should accept the fact that many of our foods will look different during drought. That doesn’t mean they will taste bad.

It takes a lot of water to grow food. In fact, agriculture uses 80 percent of the “developed” water in California (or the water conveyed by infrastructure for human use) and 40 percent of all water (versus 20 percent and 10 percent consumed, respectively, for urban purposes). Thus, when we buy more food than we can eat, either in a store or restaurant, or refuse to buy a peach because it’s smaller than usual, we’re wasting water. And we’re aggravating the hardships of drought by depriving farmers of a chance to make money on the best that nature can deliver in a time of stress.

A Federal Drought Fix Isn’t So Easy

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has a new report out on the California drought. The goal of such reports is to inform lawmakers about complicated issues and help point them toward potential legislative solutions. So we’ll jump right to the point: What can Congress do about the drought?

In short, there are no easy solutions.

Many legislative attempts so far have focused on rewriting the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in order to divert more water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. This estuary, the largest on the West Coast of the Americas, is home to numerous endangered fish species, many on the brink of extinction. Preserving water for these fish necessarily means diverting less water from the estuary.

The CRS report reminds us, however, that even if the ESA were amended, it wouldn’t necessarily open the valve on more water for people and farms. That’s because many other laws govern how water moves in California. Some of them are state laws that Congress has no power to amend.

“There is a question about whether it would be possible to pump at the levels specified in certain bills without having redirected impacts on other water users,” the report correctly states. “If these impacts cannot be avoided, the question then becomes who might bear responsibility or pay for unavoidable costs.”

Drought Messaging: Many Innovative Approaches

The Association of California Water Agencies has begun to collect some of the innovative campaigns launched by its member agencies around the state to convince consumers to use water more carefully. Remember that it is ACWA, in partnership with the state, that is the primary force behind the statewide conservation campaign, saveourwater.com.

In a website and video, ACWA showcases messages such as “Lose a Lawn, Get a Garden,” from the Contra Costa Water District; “Drought Defender,” from the West Basin Municipal Water District; and pin-on buttons available from Soquel Creek Water District that announce “I Let It Mellow.”

Top photo: Broccolini crops are harvested in a farm field on Wednesday, February 26, 2014, in King City, California. The drought has left some crops smaller and misshapen, but that doesn’t mean they’re less healthy or tasty. (by Marcio Jose, Associated Press)

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