Musings on California Water: Daunting But Hopeful

Not usually one for politics and certainly not contentious politics, as the California water crisis worsens, I do have thoughts to share.

This year Colusa County went from planting an annual average of 150,000 acres of rice to barely more than 7,000 acres (AgAlert). California is the second-largest rice-growing state and most of that rice is grown in the Sacramento Valley, home of Colusa County. Short and medium-grain rice isn’t just a staple food – and a key sushi roll ingredient – it’s also a staple food ingredient that I care about deeply given my son’s celiac disease diagnosis. It is a crucial gluten-free grain that provides essential vitamins and minerals and is consumed in every form in our home from snacks to meals to smoothies.

Rice won’t be the only crop impacted. Many other specialty crops in California are experiencing similar supply decreases and yield compromises due to the water shortage. We hear “do more with less” daily in the ag industry. While there are merits to this adage, such as the birth of ag technology, I’d argue there are hardships for every family farm in California due to these pressing drought-ridden times. Whether you believe that water is being squandered to the ocean or not, we cannot deny that ag jobs and our food supply are one area worthy of compromise.

What I know to be true is that hardship fuels opportunity. To keep feeding our state, nation, and the globe, California will need to better invest in and support its agriculture industry by transforming water usage. Motivated to understand the “how,” I’ve been researching scalable water innovation. I’m becoming more familiar with our water zones, irrigation districts, water treatment plants, wastewater buyback, and reclaimed water solutions. The more I research, the more I realize how much I have left to learn. “Daunting but hopeful” most accurately expresses my feelings on the matter.

But I am not without hope. I feel confident and inspired by changemakers like Anthea Hansen, General Manager of the Del Puerto Water District in Patterson, CA. She led the North Valley Regional Recycled Water Program (NVRRWP), providing vital recycled water for agricultural and wildlife refuge use. The program increased regional self-reliance and allowed for integrated water management across all levels of government. “We believe this project to be a model for other municipal and agricultural agencies,” Anthea said. “Regionally solving issues together… will be a model for the nation. Hopefully, people are looking at this as a good example of ways to think outside the box and use available technology to solve problems locally and regionally.” (To learn more about Anthea’s vision and the project, read California Ag Today’s series of articles here.)

Again, this is the first of many notes my team and I will be sharing on the water crisis. At the agency, we often say, “what got us here won’t get us there,” and it feels like a fitting and inspiring maxim.

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