Food supplies threatened by water shortages

Areas of Arizona and California produce most of the winter leafy greens and other vegetables consumed in the United States. Farmers depend on water from the Colorado River. But with long-term drought, the Colorado River is in crisis.

It is a powerhouse: a 1,450-mile waterway that stretches from the Rocky Mountains to the Sea of Cortez, serving 40 million people in seven U.S. states, 30 federally recognized tribes and Mexico. It hydrates 5 million acres of agricultural land and provides critical habitat for rare fish, birds and plants.


According to the USA Interior Department, prolonged drought and low runoff conditions accelerated by climate change have led to historically low water levels in Lakes Powell and Mead. 

Joanna Allhands writes in azcentral:

We’ve essentially drained the nation’s two largest reservoirs because, despite all our Band-Aids, use remains far greater than what the Colorado River can now produce.

Arizona State University News reports:

Climate change has produced a megadrought that has reduced water in the Colorado River, which was already overallocated to the seven states in its basin. Cuts in the water allotments were imposed in 2022, and this summer, the federal government increased those cuts. Arizona will lose about one-fifth of its share...

“In the whole Colorado basin, agriculture uses 75% to 80% of the water,” said Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy, which is part of the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU.

The rest is consumed almost entirely by cities, which cannot reduce their use enough to compensate for the upcoming cuts.

“So it will fall to agriculture just as a numbers issue,” she said.

A couple of sightseers take in the view from Hite Overlook over the Colorado River and the closed Hite Marina, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah.
Kelly Presnell Arizona Daily Star
Lake Mead, Nevada and Arizona

Meandering 1,450 miles from northern Colorado to the Gulf of California, the Colorado River is the lifeblood of the American West. It provides water to nearly 40 million people across seven states, Mexico, and more than two dozen tribes, and it irrigates millions of acres of land.

Why should Canadians care about drought in western USA? Because more than 75% of Canada’s fresh vegetable market is supplied through imports. Per capita, Canada has one of the world’s highest consumption rates of fresh vegetables and relies mainly on U.S. vegetables for supply.

With food production threatened in southwest USA, British Columbia should pay more attention to the value and potential of its agricultural resources. The present NDP government is in thrall to producers of non-renewable extractive resources. Perhaps the ghost of Dave Barrett could visit the new Dave and remind him that the BC NDP once cared about agriculture, a renewable resource.

In the Forward to a Kwantlen University paper titled Protection is Not Enough, former Chair of BC’s Agricultural Land Commission Richard Bullock writes:

Agricultural land not only feeds us, it is the heart around which stable communities have and will continue to develop and prosper over the long term. In this province, where farmland scarcity is so obvious, a diversity of large and small scale agriculture importantly binds our communities and province together to provide any semblance of control over our food security and food self-reliance.

It is imperative that we keep agricultural land and food production front and center in debates regarding natural resources such as pipelines, LNG, hydro-electricity generation and beyond. We forget, and at our great peril, that the most fundamentally important resource is agricultural land and its ability to produce food for us when put to its only proper use.

…there is lots of agricultural land laying fallow, not being actively farmed. While this is the case, it is not any sort of indication that this land should be used for purposes other than farming- it should not. On the contrary it is indicative of two things: 1) first and foremost that the ALC has effectively prevented the loss of a precious, non-renewable resource- BC’s farmland, and 2) there has been a larger failure to foster wider economic viability and a diversity of opportunities in our food production sector.

The ALC has in fact made sure that these lands were not lost to future generations. As the population of our province grows and new crops and opportunities are developed, society will find a way of getting this resource into the hands of a new generation of farmers who will put it to work, sustainably, and to all our benefit.

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Categories: Agriculture

15 replies »

  1. The Americans have done it to themselves. They knew this day was coming. Some one back in the late 1850s wrote a report for the then federal government and advised the river would not be enough if the population increased and there was a drought.

    People tend to ignore the unpleasant truth for as long as possible. Every one wants to make money and society does not stop to think about what will happen if there are too many people. In Canada, we have always thought we had an endless supply of water. Sechelt found out this past summer that isn’t the case. Many homes in the rural areas have wells. Some will go dry as droughts become more frequent.

    I think the line goes: 3 minutes with out air and you die. 3 hours without shelter in extreme weather, you die. 3 days with out water, you die. The federal government ought to have a commission to assess the needs of the current population and then double it, when it comes to water.

    Barrett did two things which are still with us today, ICBC and the ALR. Given some areas of the world will not be able to produce food in the future due to drought, we need to preserve all our agricultural land and the water. One of the big water wasters in theis country is the oil and gas industry. That needs to stop. Yes, we need gas and oil, but if we don’t have it, we won’t die. No water, 3 days and you’re dead. If we do not have food for 3 weeks you die from starvation.

    We need water to grow our food. However the agriculture industry also wastes a lot of water. There are better ways to irrigate crops.

    It was interesting that during the drought in Sechelt the media reported the population had been able to reduce their use of water by 50%. I’m sure other areas of the country could do something similar. Increasing the price of water to homes will not actually help that much as some areas in California have discovered. If you have money you can use all the water you want. Not so much money, you have a problem. Of course they found a solution for the water hogs, narrowed the pipes to ensure they couldn’t use all the water they wanted.

    We need to be very careful with our land and water.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Let’s take note of Ontario developing their greenbelts and agricultural land, and preserve our ALR!
    I guess with Lake Powell drying up, Glen Canyon may be revealed after 60 years of being flooded.


  3. The present government in BC is more concerned about oil and gas. Fracked gas destroys water tables that the camera cannot readily detect. Only when wells are contaminated do you have the camera to tell everybody what happened. Site C dam will forever destroy thousands of acres of farm land. The BC United have never cared about the environment and it appears the Old Democratic Party is the same.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This is a surprise? Hardly. I purchased the first edition of The Cadillac Desert (1986), by American Marc Reisner when it first came out. A revised
    edition is available…1993 I believe. I was involved in Trout Unlimited at that time and therefore interested in watersheds.

    You cannot talk about growth and saving this watershed in the same breath. Our growth model is our undoing and it is showing up everywhere and we ignore it to our peril.

    If you really are interested in that watershed and how the policies evolved this book is one of the best ever written but don’t expect a happy ending. Its results are on full display now and we have our Site C following suit. Check the library.

    Copout27 has ended and now next week Cop15 on biodiversity begins. More moving the deck chairs on the Titanic. It is all Vaudeville.

    Until these mega problems come to your neighbourhood nothing is going to change. We live in a very individualist society structure.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Yes, the dam being built at Site C would flood destroy 10,000 acres of class one climate capability farmland, and as much as 20,000 acres of class one climate capability wild food producing land. The Liberals removed the farmland from the ALR without even talking to the local regional district. When the NDP promised a hearing under the BC Utilities Commission the Commission was not allowed to consider the farmland or the issue of the removal. Left wing, right wing, of the same vulture.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. George Monbiot writes about irrigation and the Colorado River in his book “Regenesis”:

    “Because so much water is used for farming, rivers such as the Colorado and the Rio Grande fail to reach the ocean, while lakes like the Arab Sea are shrinking. Irrigation demand is one of the reasons why species living in freshwater are becoming extinct at roughly five times the rate of species that live on land.”

    “In California’s Central Valley, which produces, by value, 8 percent of the food in the U.S., the water table is falling by 3 centimetres a year. It’s worth noting that while people are rightly concerned about the thirsty habits of almond and pistachio trees, more than twice as much irrigation water is used in California to grow forage crops, especially alfalfa, to feed livestock.”

    “In the world’s largest irrigated farming system, along the Indus River, the threat of water wars is as real as the threat of oil wars in the Middle East. Already, 95 percent of the river’s flow is extracted to feed and clothe people in Pakistan, India, China, Afghanistan, and, through exports, several other nations. Water stress in this catchment is already intense, especially in Pakistan. As the economy and the population grow, by 2025 the demand for water here is expected to be 44 percent greater than the supply.”

    Monbiot’s fascinating book mainly promotes new ways of understanding and using the soil to feed our planet, greatly necessitated by the way we’ve misused the soil in the past, our burgeoning population, and the devastating effects of climate change (with our significant causative efforts). I highly recommend it.

    As you read you’ll see that British Columbia is making every mistake in the (Monbiot) book.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. The grocery store industry is the key for changing how people get access to their food. Vancouver Island has 4 agriculture areas. Saanich, Cowichan Valley, Comox Valley and the Alberni Valley. Only 4% of the food sold on Vancouver Island is grown here, the rest comes from somewhere else. A number of years ago I was in the fish section of one of the big grocery chain store. They were selling jars of shucked oysters from Washington State. Boy, did I have a “what the buck?” moment. There are oyster farms all along the central east coast and west coast of Vancouver Island, and north of Powell River. And I do remember not so many years ago that California romaine lettuce was being dumped here. California lettuce was cheaper here in BC than it was in California. Reason; to break the BC lettuce growers so the grocery industry will rely on California.


    • I think you identified a real problem. It is food distribution. I’ve noticed many American grown apples and berries offered for sale in BC supermarkets at a time the products were being picked in this province. I even saw American corn for sale in stores in late summer when local supplies were plentiful.

      It is common to see retailers selling imported products when similar produced in BC items are available.

      One factor in food distribution is that large corporations have been consolidating the industry and eliminating competition. For example, the Pattison Group retails food (Save On Foods, Urban Fare, Buy-Low, Nesters, Choices, PriceSmart, Quality Foods, etc) but is also a wholesaler (Buy-Low, Bulkley Valley Wholesale, Associated Grocers, Van-Whole Produce, etc. ), and processors and manufacturers of foodstuffs (Canfisco, Ocean’s, Gold Seal, Millionaires, Western Family, etc.)

      Large vertically integrated companies are more interested in maximizing profits than in supporting British Columbia’s producers. Often that means imported products land on many retail shelves. Small BC farms have difficulty getting their output into the supply chain at reasonable prices.


    • From my personal experience, it is time to break up the food monopolies.

      Westons Chains Stores (Wiki):

      Atlantic Cash & Carry
      Atlantic Superstore
      Atlantic SuperValu
      Entrepôts Presto / Club Entrepôt
      Extra Foods
      Loblaws/Loblaw Great Food
      Lucky Dollar Foods
      Maxi/Maxi & Cie
      NG Cash & Carry
      No Frills
      The Real Canadian Superstore/Loblaw Superstore
      Real Canadian Liquorstore
      Real Canadian Wholesale Club
      Red & White Food Stores
      SaveEasy (formerly Atlantic SaveEasy)
      Shop Easy Foods
      Shoppers Drug Mart
      Your Independent Grocer
      Zehrs, operating under the Zehrs Markets, Zehrs Food Plus and Zehrs Great Food banners

      There are only a very few independent grocers around, most are part of large corporate entities.


  8. Bingo Norman. Small indie grocers are more likely to source local foods. In Sooke, we have Daniels Market, which takes great care to source local, quality producers.

    Site C is the biggest policy boondoggle in recent years. To waste that quality, proven soil is a crime against our grandchildren. At the same time it lays waste to the mighty Peace River, which provides abundance to the north and potentially the south of BC. Shocking mistake.

    Locally, I know of two parcels of ALR which are incapable of growing food due to very poor soil and the owners of the properties are unable to rezone, yet the Liberals allowed the Sun River property to be removed from ALR by bribes to Basi/Virk. That land had excellent soil.

    Political stupidity is rampant here in the wild west.


  9. The USA has had desires of using BC as a water source for decades.
    The Liberals of Clark and Campbell facilitated the extraction for export by private companies a long time ago.
    Sooner or later the US will use this as lever to access larger amounts of water.

    Its time to be more creative with Canada’s resources.
    FFS there is even a mid Vancouver Island company shipping gravel to California!



    • The writing is on the wall: we are going to have to supply the US Southwest with water if we want to keep supplied with food through our non-growing seasons.
      Undoubtedly, some business people are scheming on how to profit from this opportunity.
      I would suggest quite strongly that the water exporting enterprise be owned and operated by the BC Government. Water is necessary to life and any profits should be in the hands of “All” rather than a non publicly owned corporation or enterprise.


  10. I don’t buy into the idea that the USA will need our fresh water for their dry south-west, especially the distant Peace River water.

    They have a ready supply of fresh water in their section of the Columbia River. Tap any of their dams, or wait till the water is just about to mix into the Pacific and suck it up there. No international treaties to deal with — and a lot shorter pipeline.

    Meanwhile, if OUR snowpack diminishes due to climate change: where does that leave our own dam levels? Another reason to be sourcing power from non-hydro projects.


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