A rice farmer would be sloshing through inches of water amid lush, green rice plants in a typical year. But today, the soil lies naked and baking in 35 degrees Celsius or 95 degrees Fahrenheit heat during a devastating drought. The drought started in early 2020, and conditions have progressively gotten worse due to climate change. Low water levels in reservoirs and rivers have forced farmers to slash their water use. One farmer named Rystrom says, “We’ve had to cut back between 25 and 50 percent.” He’s relatively lucky. In some parts of the Sacramento Valley, he says farmers received no water this season in the United States, depending on water rights.
California is the second-largest U.S. producer of rice, and over 95 percent of California’s rice is grown within about 160 kilometers of Sacramento. Rice growers in the valley below count on the range of mountains that contain snow to give them enough water for the season. In spring, melting snowpack flows into rivers and reservoirs and then through an intricate network of canals and drainages to rice fields that farmers irrigate in a shallow inundation from April or May to September or October. If too little snow falls in those mountains, farmers like Rystrom are forced to leave fields unplanted. On August 4, Lake Oroville, which supplies Rystrom and other local rice farmers with irrigation water, was at its lowest level on record.
Water is a fundamental part of the process of photosynthesis. Water acts as a reducing agent by providing H+ ions that convert NADP to NADPH. This electron loss must be fulfilled by electrons from some other reducing agent. Hydrogen ions thus released create a chemical potential (chemiosmotic) across the membrane that finally results in ATP synthesis. Photosystem II is primarily known for its use of water to fuel its system, which fuels Photosystem I. Since there is a lack of water in Rystrom’s rice fields, the photosynthesis that would occur in the rice plants cannot happen. If there is no water, there is no photosynthesis, and if there is no photosynthesis, there is no rice. The water allows the rice plant to go through the two Photosynthesis Cycles and then the Calvin cycle, which allows for glucose production. Glucose enables the plant to grow and mature. If the plant cannot grow, there will be no rice.
If the water in the California Valleys continues to plummet, California may not feed half of the world. If and maybe even when that happens, the rice market will not function. Water is so important to these farmers and so crucial to the plants. Is it possible to save the water we have left? Is it possible to reverse our mistakes with global warming to save these farms? I honestly don’t know, but I am willing to do what it takes to preserve what we have left.