Infographic: California Freshwater Withdrawals

A breakdown of how California’s water is used, from fracking and Nestle’s bottling plant to almonds and lawns.

Most of the water that California withdraws from its rivers, lakes, and aquifers goes to agriculture. California is the nation’s top farm state, and 77 percent of freshwater withdrawals are used to grow a bounty of almonds, oranges, lettuce, strawberries, and tomatoes, among dozens of other produce aisle staples.

Alfalfa and almonds receive more water than any other crop, but they generate vastly different economic returns. An acre-foot (about 1,200 cubic meters) of water generates four times as much value when used to grow almonds versus alfalfa. (This calculation does not include milk, cheese, and beef that come from cattle that eat the alfalfa.) In total, crops used to feed cows account for more California irrigation water than any other category — 37 percent of farm water goes to alfalfa, corn, and pasture.

Fruits, vegetables, and flowers are the most valuable crops in terms of dollars generated per acre-foot of water — on average, these crops yield nine times as much value as almonds.

And though they steal headlines, bottled water and fracking are minor uses of the state’s water. Less than one gallon in 10,000 is bottled by Nestle, and less than one gallon in 100,000 is used for fracking. Diverting water from a creek into a bottle may stress local water sources, but the practice is a small fraction of the state’s total water use.

Click on the infographic below to learn more. All water use estimates represent 2010 data, which are the most recent figures. Bottled water and fracking data are from 2014.

Infographic graphic data drought California water use total annual freshwater withdrawal 2010 almonds lawns Nestle bottled water fracking agricultural water use irrigated agriculture Kaye LaFond Circle of Blue

Graphic © Kaye LaFond / Circle of Blue
Most of California’s freshwater withdrawals go to agriculture. Click here for a high-resolution pdf file.

This graphic was made to accompany the article California Drought Invites Scrutiny of Bottled Water, Fracking. Brett Walton contributed reporting. Contact Brett Walton or by @waltonwater on Twitter.

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