Commentary: Deadly dry and holding
The ripple effect
Across virtually all of the Southwest, precipitation is as much as 20 percent below normal, according to the National Weather Service, with river flows at historic lows, high-altitude snow packs needed to fill downstream reservoirs severely depleted and out-of-season wildfires already hitting several states.
As a result of dried-up reservoirs, the drought will increase pressure on over-utilized aquifers, as farmers and orchard growers are forced to pump more water from underground sources to replace unavailable irrigation water.
If there is any upside to this drought — and even contemplating something “good” about the damage done to agriculture is a stretch — it’s this: For decades, despite previous Western droughts, severe Midwestern flooding and Florida cold snaps that destroy entire citrus crops, about the only real fallout affecting consumers is higher prices at the grocery store. Like high prices for any other essential commodity, we complain, but we pay the price and move on. Few of us bother to spend much time thinking through the causes or the implications of farm- and food-related natural disasters.
We just assume that no matter what, there will always be stocked-up shelves and filled-up freezers at the local supermarket.
That’s a dangerous delusion, one closely related to the equally insidious fantasy that all of the challenges associated with food productivity — resources depletion, soil erosion, energy constraints — could be solved just by going vegetarian.
Believing that a record-breaking, economy-wrecking drought is merely a blip on the Accu-Weather radar is a close cousin to the belief that switching to soy-based analogs and out-of-season fruits and vegetables will resolve the challenges of global food availability and affordability.
For all the diehard activists out there: California happens to be not only a leading producer of food crops, it is THE most important state in terms of fruit, vegetable and tree nut production. In fact, California produces 70 percent of the total U.S. production of green beans, sweet corn, tomatoes, carrots, onions and lettuce — all those healthy alternatives veggie activists insist we should choose to replace animal foods.
If California’s farm production dries up due to the drought, the impact will be devastating, and not just for the vegan fringe but for all Americans.
The current water crisis is only one piece of a larger set of challenges affecting food production in the 21st century, and none of them are going away anytime soon.
Even if that stubborn high-pressure ridge dissipates tomorrow.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.
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