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Sprinklers run in the front yard of a Foster City, Calif. home on a rainy Wednesday, April 20, 2011, afternoon. (Dan Honda/Staff)

The United States is one of the world's biggest users of water -- many Americans use as much water as approximately 900 Kenyans. As a result, water resources in the U.S. are shrinking. The country has faced five years of shortages; in 2012, the U.S. had the worst drought in 25 years.

Thirty-six states already expect water shortages this year, even without drought; and Northern California's unusually dry winter is raising concerns that the state will experience the worst drought in modern history.

The Natural Resources Defense Council expects water scarcity to be especially severe in the West and is predicting that six of the Bay Area's nine counties will face "extreme" water scarcity by 2050.

Without more efforts to reduce water waste and water consumption, the water rationing, stalled development projects, and idle fields seen in previous years could easily become business as usual.

Last year's drought drove up grain prices in the Corn Belt and plains, causing major losses for California's dairy industry and increasing demand for river and stream water for irrigation. This reduced hydroelectric output, forcing natural gas to pick up the slack and costing Californians more than $1 billion.

But consumers can profoundly reduce water consumption through their food choices. Recent research from the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition shows that a healthy diet and environmentally sustainable diet go hand in hand. Here are four steps to save water in the Bay Area:


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  • Eat less meat. A weekly menu rich in vegetables with meat in moderation could save 2,500 liters of water a day. Choosing grass-fed and locally-raised meat, eggs, and dairy products also saves water.

  • Support small-scale, family farms. Subsidies disproportionately support large-scale agribusiness over small-scale producers, which tend to practice more sustainable farming.

    Big Ag is less challenged by drought or price fluctuations than small and medium-scale farms, but changing support services could help even things out and improve food and water security.

  • Streamline water use in home gardens. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that up to 40 percent of all household water goes to lawns and gardens. Growing native plants such as red fescue, bush mallow and coyote mint can help save water because they are adapted to California's climate. Organizations like the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency manage water resources for the region and offer support to residents including classes in water conservation methods.

  • Reduce food -- and water -- waste. NRDC estimates that America wastes 34 billion tons of food. This is mostly due to overpurchasing, food spoilage, and plate waste. This waste can cost a family of four between $1,350 and $2,275 each year. Learn about food shelf life and freezer storage times. Only buy what you plan to eat and use leftovers to create new meals.

    Many Bay Area residents and other Americans are already rallying to conserve water. This World Water Day it's more important than ever that Americans keep working to save every drop.

    Danielle Nierenberg is a food and agriculture expert and co-founder of Food Tank: The Food Think Tank based in Chicago. For more information, visit www.FoodTank.org.