In an arid state with growing pressures on water availability and use, the answer to that question is both significant and surprising. The answer is rice.
Contrary to a common misconception, family rice farmers in California are among the best stewards of this precious resource. Only 16 gallons of water are needed to produce one serving of brown rice (25 gallons for white rice). That's about the same as many other crops in the state, and about the same amount of water per acre as the average urban lawn.
Rice was once a thirstier crop, but a series of innovations over the last three decades has improved our water use efficiency. Newer varieties of plants are about half the height of older varieties, leading to more crop per drop of water. In addition, the use of clay soils helps conserve water, as does laser leveling of our fields.
Preserving water quality is also a top farmer priority. For more than 20 years, California family rice farmers have pioneered water quality efforts; enhancing the quality of water as it moves from our farms to cities downstream. Our industry was among the first to monitor pesticides and implement programs to reduce them in rivers. Today, we continue our commitment by expanding current programs and introducing new practices to ensure that the water rice farmers return to the river is the highest possible quality.