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Readers React: If we’re worried about a smaller Sierra snowpack, we must look hard at agriculture’s water use

A mower cuts through a mature crop of alfalfa in an Imperial Valley field.
A mower cuts through a mature crop of alfalfa in an Imperial Valley field.
(Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: Not mentioned in the op-ed article, “The Sierra Nevada snowpack will be 64% smaller by the end of this century. We need to prepare now,” was the role agriculture plays in water use in California.

About 80% of the developed water supply in California goes to agriculture. A significant part of that water is used for crops with relatively low value, such as alfalfa, which is the largest agricultural consumer of water. While most of the alfalfa continues to be used to feed livestock domestically to support the meat and dairy industries, increasing amounts of alfalfa are being exported as the demand for feed for livestock increases in countries such as China.

According to reports, it is cheaper to ship alfalfa to China than it is to ship it across California, in part because our trade deficit means there are so many empty shipping containers leaving the U.S. That exported alfalfa requires hundreds of billions of gallons of water annually to grow — water that could better be used in California.

The issue of water use in California is complex, and all factors must be evaluated — including agricultural use.

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Darrel Miller, Santa Monica

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To the editor: Why haven’t our elected leaders acted sooner on the water storage issue?

That we live in a region of severe droughts and flooding is not new information; scientific studies over the last few decades have confirmed what historical accounts over the last 150 years have told us.

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Over the last 1,500 years, California suffered one dry period lasting more than 180 years and another such period lasting about 250 years, with numerous decade-long droughts thrown in. Our politicians have chosen to ignore this information and have made political decisions that spend our tax dollars on projects that further their political agendas.

Where are our desalination plants? Where are the projects that enlarge our water storage capabilities? Humans are capable of finding solutions and adapting; we have time.

Scott Miller, Chatsworth

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To the editor: Thank you for the op-ed article on California’s diminishing annual snowpack. It was good timing to publish it the day after running a front-page article in the print edition about the current drought in Cape Town, South Africa.

We need to keep our drought a high-priority issue or we will find ourselves in a similar situation as South Africa.

Paula Van Gelder, Thousand Oaks

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