I like this little creek that flows in the vale behind our house. No, it's not the prettiest but it provides habitat for a variety of wildlife. Quail, pheasants, raptors and many other birds make their home here. Coyotes and bobcats find sustenance from the rabbits and voles that live here. While the stream is natural, the flow is not. It is managed to provide irrigation water for the rice fields father west. Is that a problem? Maybe, maybe not, it depends on your point of view
California is in a drought, homeowners are asked to conserve water and many of us do. I use a minimum of detergent when I wash clothes or dishes and collect the water to use on the garden. No lawn for us, much of the landscaping produces fruit and vegetables and that which doesn't gets little water other than rain.
That irrigation water flowing behind my house mostly goes to grow rice and most of that rice is exported. In fact, most of what California grows is exported. Farmers choose crops for profit (it just makes economic sense) and not for what is needed here at home. I'm not sure how I feel about that, the world needs to be fed and it is good that we have a surplus of food but perhaps there are less water intensive crops that can be grown.
Rice is only part of the problem, though. There are other water intensive crops grown in California that do not feed people. Alfalfa is a very water intensive crop and much of the alfalfa grown in California is sent to China.
Another water intensive crop, even more problematic is cotton grown in the San Joaquin Valley. I don't know whether to laugh or cry each time I see a cotton wagon covered with a sign saying "food grows where water flows".
Water is a complex and controversial subject in the west. Streams that once flowed abundantly and freely are now diverted to agriculture so little water remains to reach the delta. Aquifers are being drawn down at an alarming rate to grow almonds and other crops for export. Our water laws were written for a simpler time, a time when water seemed abundant and few cared about the future of the environment or our ability to feed a growing world population.
Don't think I am maligning the family trying to make a living off the land. Much of California's farms are owned by large conglomerates or hedge funds. Unlike traditional farmers they don't take a long view, they will draw down the water table, take their profits and leave a dust bowl behind.
While I don't agree with all of the positions of the California Water Impact Project, they do have a lot of information on their site for those interested in the subject.
More information about water and agriculture can be found here.