Thursday, March 22, 2012

World Water Day 2012

By coincidence, our CSA delivery day this week falls on the UN's World Water Day 2012:
There are 7 billion people to feed on the planet today and another 2 billion are expected to join by 2050. Statistics say that each of us drinks from 2 to 4 litres of water every day, however most of the water we ‘drink’ is embedded in the food we eat: producing 1 kilo of beef for example consumes 15,000 litres of water while 1 kilo of wheat ’drinks up’ 1,500 litres.

When a billion people in the world already live in chronic hunger and water resources are under pressure we cannot pretend the problem is ‘elsewhere’. Coping with population growth and ensuring access to nutritious food to everyone call for a series of actions we can all help with:
  • follow a healthier, sustainable diet;
  • consume less water-intensive products
  • reduce the scandalous food wastage: 30% of the food produced worldwide is never eaten and the water used to produce it is definitively lost!
  • produce more food, of better quality, with less water.
As residents of an arid basin surrounded by mountains on one side and the Pacific ocean on another, most of our region's food and fresh water is imported over high mountain passes. Ironically, less energy may be required to truck vegetables from the Central Valley over the El Tejon pass aka "The Grapevine" (4160') than to grow vegetables locally inside our basin with water imported via aquaducts reaching ~750'.

Why? Because water is heavy and crops need water nearly continuously throughout their growing cycle.

Worry not about what your CSA box does to your annual carbon budget. Farmer Tanaka employs ultra-efficient drip irrigation, often in conjunction with plastic row covers that minimize evaporative losses from the soil, AND he uses reclaimed water from the Irvine Ranch Water District.
On my farm here in Irvine we use a drip irrigation system on our crops that puts the water right in the root zone so as to use our precious water as efficiently as possible with no runoff. We also use reclaimed water supplied by the IRWD (Irvine Ranch Water District) who produces the cleanest and safest reclaimed water in the country.
Using reclaimed water gives the added benefit of not adding salts to his soil. Gardeners in this region may be familiar with the heavy load of salts in our "hard" water. If we irrigate regularly with hard water and the water evaporates or is taken up by the plants, you may notice a white powdery substance left behind. That's the salt building up in the soil. (Even if you are not a gardener, you can see the white calcium salt deposits in your kitchen and bathroom.)

If the winter rains do not come to flush the salts away, gardeners and farmers need to deep water (often repeatedly) the land to flush the salts away artificially. This is very water intensive.

The reclaimed water is so pure, it doesn't have the salts found in freshly-imported river water. Thus, Farmer Tanaka can drip irrigate just the amount needed by his plants, without worrying about poisoning his fields with salt.

What does that mean for your CSA food? It may have a lower carbon and water footprint than even food you grow in your own backyard*.

* Residents of north Redondo Beach get about half our water supply from local aquifers, which are replenished with reclaimed water from West Basin Water District's Edward C. Little Water Recycling Facility in El Segundo, California. Read a report about a visit to the facility. You can also learn more in walking my watershed.

Unfortunately, pumping the water into the ground and then pumping it back up uses energy and loads the water up with salts. I'd much rather use the cleaner reclaimed water directly from the plant, but the general public is still resistant due to the "eww" factor. I hope you will be a vector for getting the truth out.

Have you noticed that people have completely irrational beliefs in the purification capacity of nature vs. industrial facilities? For instance, cities draw their water from a river, treat it, use and then treat their sewage so it is cleaner than the river water they originally took in. Yet, instead of using the treated water, they dump it into the river so it can pick up more chemicals (often running off farmland) before the next city downriver goes through the same cycle.

I see the same absurdity in the West Basin water district injecting the water into the aquifer so it can pick up salts before they pump it back up again to treat and deliver to our homes.

Or the Fiji water marketing speak about how Fiji's water is purified by the tradewinds.

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