California Agricultural Water Use: Key Background Information

Published: April 29, 2015
Author: Heather Cooley 
Pages: 9

ag-water-use-coverWater plays a vital role in California’s agricultural sector. And in recent months, water challenges imposed by the current drought have brought agricultural water use into the limelight.  In a new “Need to Know” brief, the Pacific Institute provides essential background information on the state’s agricultural water use. The brief estimates total water use for crops grown in California, the water intensity of those crops, and the economic productivity of water.

Although water use data exists, there are large uncertainties in agricultural water use due to a lack of consistent measurement and reporting, time lags in information, and confusion about definitions. Data on agricultural production and water use are not collected at all, or are collected by individual irrigation districts, counties, and a variety of state and federal agencies using a range of tools from voluntary reporting at the field level to remote sensing from satellites. Additional estimates of water use come not from actual observations or reposting but from model estimates and other techniques for projecting use. Author, Heather Cooley argues that in order to truly understand the risk and opportunities for water use in California, more and better data are needed.

This brief is a primer on agricultural water use and will be followed by more detailed assessments of California’s agricultural sector in the context of the drought in the coming months.

 Download the “Need to Know” brief here.