California is now in the third year of its worst drought in over a millennium. Residents from Eureka to San Ysidro have responded by cutting back on their water usage in all sorts of ways, from removing their lawns to taking fewer showers.
Yet one prominent Californian who says he's done all this and more argues that even extreme residential cutbacks are unlikely to make a serious difference in the fight against water shortages. In an interview with Rolling Stone, musician Moby argued that only drastic changes to the state's agricultural system can do enough to address the crisis. He noted that 80 percent of California's fresh water -- not counting the portion dedicated to environmental uses -- goes to the state's farms, and only 20 percent goes to residential uses.
"Golf courses, grass lawns: they're definitely the low-hanging fruit in terms of things that could be addressed and dealt with to make California more water responsible," said the 49-year-old rocker, who recently moved from New York to Los Angeles because he thinks the latter has a more vibrant, experimental creative scene. "But compared to agriculture, everything else is literally just a drop in the bucket."
Moby, a vegan and outspoken advocate for animal rights, had particularly harsh words for California's meat and dairy industry.
"Animal products are just egregiously unsustainable, from a resource perspective," he told Rolling Stone. "It takes up to 500 pounds of grain to make one pound of beef. And it goes without saying that 500 pounds of grain is food that could be fed directly to people. It just doesn't make sense to funnel food resources through animals. It's a really irresponsible and inefficient way of using food resources."
Moby is far from the first person to blame California farmers for the state's water shortage. The Los Angeles Times and the New York Times, for example, both recently came out with eye-opening interactive articles illustrating the amount of water it takes to produce food in the state.
Nor is Moby the most knowledgable person to weigh in on the issues facing California, as he admits in the interview. He doesn't acknowledge, for example, just how difficult it would be for the state to strip farmers of their water rights against their will.
But he's also right, in a very fundamental way. Unless California gets several very wet years in a row, the state will have to cut back its water usage in a big way. And the only source plentiful and elastic enough to make up the shortfall is agriculture. Farmers have already started to take historic steps in the direction of conservation -- but going forward, they'll have to take more.