California is facing one of the worst water crises in the state’s recent history, but the state’s farmers are nevertheless drilling wells and pumping billions of gallons of groundwater in order to continue growing fruits and other crops that are vital to America’s food supply. Last week, California Gov. Jerry Brown issued restrictions that required residents, businesses and farms to cut back on their water usage by 25 percent. But those restrictions excluded the agricultural industry, which consumes an estimated 80 percent of the state’s water supply.
Now, farmers’ drilling practices are depleting underground reserves of water in a way that is both dangerous and damaging, according to a report Monday by the New York Times. In places where the water table has diminished, in some places by as much as 50 feet, the ground above has begun to sink, affecting roads and other critical infrastructure.
Drawing water excessively from these underground stores may also harm the very structure of those reserves, potentially shrinking their overall capacity so that they won’t be able to hold as much water again in the future, scientists said. Although California does have surface reservoirs of water, its most significant source of water during times of drought is groundwater, according to scientists, and there are few limitations on who is allowed to use it -- and how much of it they can take.
Critics have voiced their opposition to the state’s exempting farmers from these water cuts, with some suggesting that agriculture not only depletes the water supply but that it also does so in a wasteful way.
California’s agriculture industry is vital not just for the state but for the entire country, others point out, with many warning that as a result of the continuing drought in California, food prices in America will rise. Produce grown in California comprises a significant amount of the supply of certain foods in America. For instance, the state produces 99 percent of artichokes in the U.S., 95 percent of the country’s garlic and 71 percent of its carrots, Slate reported.