One of the big challenges facing the globe in the next century will be access to clean water.
In America, federal agriculture policies are putting drinking water used by millions of people at risk. Perverse incentives such as farm subsidies and ethanol mandates have ushered in an era of fencerow-to-fencerow planting of chemical-intensive commodity crops, even as funding to protect water sources has been repeatedly slashed.
The result is that water running off poorly managed fields that have been treated with chemical fertilizers and manure is loaded with nitrogen and phosphorus, two potent pollutants that set off a cascade of harmful consequences.
Troubled Waters, a new Environmental Working Group report released on April 12, examines the water pollution caused by farm runoff in the upper Midwest and demonstrates that treating the problem after the fact is increasingly expensive, difficult and, if current trends continue, ultimately unsustainable. Because most farm operations are exempt from the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act and states have little authority to compel farmers to control water contamination, the burden of cleaning up agricultural pollution in drinking water falls mostly on municipal treatment systems – and the taxpayers who pay for them. Read more
Earlier this year, I was contacted by a PR firm working for Dow Chemical to contribute a 60-second video for The Future We Create virtual conference on water sustainability the company launches today. As a vocal advocate for strict regulation of toxic chemicals—especially for food and farming—I was surprised the company would approach me. Dow is the country’s largest chemical maker, and profits handsomely from developing some of the world’s most polluting products, many of which are widely used in industrial and consumer goods as well as agriculture.
In the video I submitted, which you can watch below, I stress that one of the greatest threats to clean water is chemical contaminants—and that Dow Chemical has a long history of water pollution. The PR representative e-mailed to say “unfortunately we can’t use your video,” but that she would be happy to include me, still, if I would consider re-recording it. When we discussed what that would mean she said, no “fingerpointing;” they wanted a “positive, inclusive discussion.” Read more
Last week while savoring the last of the stone fruit and the first crisp apples here in California, I worried about water. If you eat fruits and vegetables, you, too, should be very worried about water. This is because California, the state that supplies vast quantities of our nation’s produce, is running out. The culprit? Urban development gone wild, climate change, and generations of water transfer in a state with a high percentage land in the desert.
Reading excellent coverage of the farmers vs. fisherman water issue here on Civil Eats piqued my interest. Then, last week I heard a roomful of water experts discuss how our water issues impact food and farming. Presented by Sustainable Agriculture Education (SAGE), and Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF), along with San Francisco Professional Food Society and Les Dames des Escoffier, the panel discussion made me more nervous and confused. What was true? After the panel I caught up with Dave Runsten, who heads up CAFF’s work with the California Agricultural Water Stewardship Initiative, to seek clarification. Runsten’s July 2010 report Why Water Stewardship for Agriculture was published July 2010 and outlines some relevant points of the debate on water issues facing the state’s urban dwellers, farmers and the food system. Read more
It is impossible to build a sustainable food system without addressing the issues surrounding water. The struggle over water in California is more than a century old and continues today with an $11 billion water bond, Proposition 18, proposed by Governor Schwarzenegger for November’s ballot.
Some portray California’s water problems as a farmer vs. fisher battle, but this is a simplistic, inaccurate depiction. Small and midsized farmers are just as concerned about the ecological health of the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta as the fishermen and women whose livelihoods have been devastated by the reduction in fish populations over the past several years. Additionally, many feel that continuing the status quo through the development of more dams on California’s rivers will benefit large-scale corporate agribusiness, not the family farms that serve local and regional markets. Anyone who advocates for sustainable agriculture in California needs to know about the state’s water politics.
Join us for the next Kitchen Table Talks in San Francisco on Tuesday, July 20, where we will bring together a fisherman and a farmer to share their stories and provoke thoughtful conversation about the ties between our water and our food. Read more
The sale and consumption of “bottled water” continues to grow at an astounding rate throughout the world. This is especially so in the USA. If you have ever traveled well off the beaten path in a third world country, the lack of safe and reliable water for drinking, bathing, and cooking is always a concern. And with good reason—for much of the world, this is a very real problem that leads to countless cases of disease and even death, the likes of which you would not expect in this country. Read more
Parched winter months this year have put California agriculture into a tailspin. With a third dry year in a row, the state has been forced to deeply examine its strategies for coping with dry times. Many worry this drought is a harbinger of the long-term impacts of climate change, a concern echoed recently in a warning by U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu that climate change-induced water shortages could lead to the demise of food production in the state. But California’s hardy and innovative growers aren’t going down without a fight. Read more
Water is a vital part of life, but should it be a commodity? This is the question FLOW explores, not just in developing countries where the issue is paramount, but in the United States as well. Water is currently a $400 billion industry, the third largest behind oil and electricity. Because of pollution, scarcity and corporate control, water availability is the largest issue facing humanity in this century. Read more
Bottled water is hard on the Earth, so it’s not surprising that water packaged in plastic won’t be sold at Slow Food Nation. Instead, the 50,000 people expected to attend the sessions showcasing sustainable agriculture and healthful eating will quench their thirst with tap water. Read more