Troubled Waters

istockphoto © Eliza Snow

The most valuable natural resource is crucial to foodservice. Whether due to necessity or desire, the country is finally getting smart about its use of water.

The importance of water as a natural resource can’t be understated. Wars and lesser skirmishes have been fought over water, and it’s been at the heart of numerous public utility projects and significant legislation at all levels of government.

In addition to being the world’s most popular beverage, clean water is crucial to restaurants, whether it’s used in the front or back of the house or even outside the facility.

The importance of H2O became particularly clear this year due to several major developments in different parts of the United States. As the ongoing drought in the West and Southwest takes its toll, land and crops—which are also impacted by the quality of water—are starving to death, leading to higher food prices and, ultimately, less food. Between the lack of rain and other disasters, such as the chemical spill that shut down the capital of West Virginia in January 2013, restaurants and municipalities are looking to conserve, filter, and even reuse water.

“All utilities are very important for us, but none is as essential as good water,” says Christian Fischer, executive chef and vice president of culinary innovations for Chartwells Higher Education Dining Services, based in Rye, New York. He says water is equitable to treasure at many of the 260 academic institutions for which the company manages foodservice operations. “Some of them refer to water as liquid gold.”

Drought woes

Extreme drought conditions hit central and northern California and western Nevada, and continue to impact many regions already suffering, like northern Texas and Oklahoma.

This has impacted crop production and cattle ranching, pushing food prices higher. The West has been in drought conditions for the past several years, but “the intensity is particularly great this year in California and the Southwest into Texas and Oklahoma,” says Liz Purchia, spokeswoman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Parts of California depend on melting winter snowpack for water, but that has been lower than average in recent years, producing only 20-30 percent of the usual amount. As a result, state and local officials have been forced to make tough water allocation choices among agriculture, industry, and cities. The troubled area includes the Central Valley, which supplies a big chunk of the nation’s produce. The two major government projects supplying irrigation water to the region are providing little, if any, water for agriculture.

“A lot of growers who traditionally rely on this state or federal water have turned to ground water, so our ground water levels have dropped significantly,” says Peter Brostrom, chief of the Water Use Efficiency Section at the California Department of Water Resources. Deeper wells run the risk tapping into water with higher mineral levels, which require more soap when washing dishes and can create issues for equipment that handles water, such as boilers.


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