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Award Winning Special Report

The Fresno County Farm Bureau recognized Meteorologist Justin Sacher with an award for excellence in agricultural reporting for this CBS47 Special Report.
The average person uses 20 gallons of water to brush your teeth, use the restroom, take an 8-minute shower and so on...

It's a lot of water and we all know how important it is to conserve. And while 20 gallons is a lot, just wait till we show you how much more you use.

What about breakfast? Washing dishes and cleaning up after breakfast seems pretty basic, but how much water is needed to make breakfast? The real question is how much water does it take to produce the food we eat?

Let's start with a glass of orange juice. How much water is needed? Most people would say a gallon but it's really nearly 50 gallons, for just for one glass of O.J. It takes 56 gallons of water to make a slice of toast with butter, 40 gallons for a slice of cantaloupe, and more than 62 for one egg.

That's 200 gallons of water per-person for breakfast! That’s ten times the water each family member used to get ready in the morning.

Where does all that water come from? For food grown here in the Central Valley, much of it is captured flowing down the mountains in reservoirs and delivered in canals.
Central California's warm and sunny climate makes it one of the best places in the world for fruits like grapes and oranges. It's too cold to grow them in most other parts of the country.
Like other Valley farms, Zach Sheely's family farm near Lemoore has had its water allotment cut. Laws meant to protect natural waterways have reduced their water delivery to less than half of what it once was. "We have to make tough decisions. We have to say, well, are we going to farm it at all. Sometimes we say, 'no we can't afford to,'” said Zack.

They supplement with water drawn from several wells, but it’s still not enough. They’ve stopped farming some fields in order to use the water on others. "We have to think of the sustainability of our farm, and is it wise to rely upon the wells and make them run full production the whole year," said Zack.

Some foods require more water to grow than others. Meat and dairy often require more because you're not only counting how much water the animal drinks, but also the water it takes to grow the grass and grain the animal eats.

For lunch, the chicken on your sandwich can easily require more water to produce than everything else on your plate combined -- 115 gallons! And that’s not counting another 20 gallons for the bun. It takes nearly 14 gallons of water for a medium orange, and more than 60 gallons for a serving of cherries.

California growers produce more with less water than just about anywhere else on the planet. The worldwide average amount of water used to produce an 8 ounce glass of orange juice is 122 gallons. 72 gallons for the U.S. average and only 48 for California. California growers do the same with one-third of the water.

Water-saving technologies and farming practices commonplace here, are often a rare novelty outside California’s Central Valley.

On the Sheely farm, a drip irrigation system buried underneath their tomato field, delivers water directly to the roots.

Pistachio trees have much deeper and larger roots so, water is piped and hosed to each tree through an above-ground drip system. Keep in mind, each tree must be watered several years before it’s mature enough to produce nuts, so a serving of pistachios requires 122 gallons of water compared to only 21 for a serving of grapes.

Growing foods like pistachios is really Zach Sheely’s second job. For his day job, he's a high-tech agricultural software developer. "With some of the automation, we can bounce the water around, essentially, through the fields, so I can irrigate this section here, then this section there, all from my computer or iPad. So we can actually figure out how much water is going to each tree," said Zack. 

Zack's brother, Jake, lives on the farm full-time. "I went to school and was like, 'I'm not coming back to farming. That's not what I want to do. I want to be a city boy.' Farming, for some people it's like their worst nightmare - 'ugh Farming?' - but I come out here and I see these plants grow through my computer and going out in the fields and testing the soils and testing for bugs and everything about it is just nice to do. You're out here. You're doing. You're growing things from a seed and making a huge crop on it and it's nice to have that function in life that can benefit others," said Jake.

The technology allows Zach to do some farm work at a distance. Right now the farm is a testing ground for a water monitoring iPad application set to be released this summer. "We are using aerial imagery here that was showing variability in the field. And we're standing on the side that used to be one of the worst areas on the farm. And we've changed that by using a little device that turns our valve on and off for us," said Zack.

They don’t see it as a different way of farming, but rather a way to make the work farmers are already doing easier. "Just using iPads and iPhones is really easy and effective way of capturing information while out in the field," said Zack.

The software helps keep track of weather and water, letting farmers share and compare the results with neighbors. "It's another way to bring everyone closer in terms of conservation of water," said Jake.
S0 that brings us to dinner... About 5 gallons for the salad, 48 for a glass of milk. 615 gallons for a hamburger, add another 56 if you want cheese, and a few more gallons for toppings. Dinner requires the most water for a meal yet at about 744 gallons.

So how much water does it take to grow the food for a family of four? Imagine every family had a swimming pool, filling it one day, emptying it the next, day in and day out all year long. That's how much water it takes to grow the food a family eats. Over 1,300 gallons per person, 5,200 gallons for the family of 4, and nearly 2 million gallons for that one family for one year.

Now imagine that for every home on every street in every state.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when considering water use on such an enormous scale. But at the same time, it shows just how much of a difference a small saving makes over time. Whether it’s you taking a shorter shower or farmers in California’s Central Valley finding new and even better ways to grow more food with less water.

By the year 2050 the population will have doubled and so we’ll have to produce twice as much food, but we’re not getting any more land.

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