The worst thing about Californias drought is the suffering it has put on ordinary people. In many places, drinking wells have dried up. The crisis is so severe that the state has restricted water use.

The second worst thing about the drought is how farmers are bearing most of the blame. We hear one figure over and over: Agriculture consumes 80 percent of Californias water.

It makes farmers like me appear as gluttonsand it suggests that if we were to reduce our reliance on water just a little bit, then our states predicament would vanish like a puddle on a hot day.

Except that its false. Farmers dont use 80 percent of Californias water, even though this figure has saturated the medias coverage of the drought. Its the fabrication of environmentalists who want to disguise the fact that they use even more water than farmers.

The difference, of course, is that farmers grow food for people. The environmentalists want to protect their pet causes, such as a tiny fish called the delta smelt.

California collects water through a large infrastructure of reservoirs. When theyre full, they can hold about 42 million acre-feet of water. Thats enough to submerge Iowa in nearly knee-deep water.

Each year, however, the state diverts half of its water supply for environmental purposes, such as replenishing the habitat of the delta smelt. Much of this water flushes into the ocean.

Farmers use about 80 percent of whats leftin other words, 40 percent of the total. When journalists try to describe agricultures water usage, this is the figure they should adopt.

Thats a lot of waternot as much as what the environmentalists demand for their purposes (which the media fails to question), but certainly enough to demand an accounting.

So let me explain how the drought has affected my farm and the steps weve taken to conserve our most precious resource.

This year, Im letting 35 percent of my land lie fallow. That is, Im not farming it at all. Id much rather put it to productive useId like to see employees working and crops growingbut I need to save my water for other fields.

Where I do use water, I try to achieve maximum efficiency. Rather than spraying water on fields, like a sprinkler on a suburban lawn, I send it through an underground-irrigation system. It trickles to precise locations beneath the soil. Rather than evaporating in the summer heat, it satisfies the needs of our plants and nothing else.

We try not to waste a single drop.

I have a huge economic incentive to conserve. When I started farming in the 1970s, an acre-foot of water cost about $8.

A couple of weeks ago, I paid $2,500 per acre-foot.

So it frustrates me to read articles on how farmers stand in the way of conservation. Earlier this year, a reporter for the Washington Post claimed that if California required farms to increase water efficiency by about 5 percent, then homeowners wouldnt need to cut their water use at all.

I wish this writer had toured my farm, starting with those fallow fields.

The other problem with pointing fingers at farmers may be so obvious that were actually forgetting it: The allegation assumes that farmers guzzle water out of pure selfishness. But this is silly. We grow crops to feed people. We dont consume water as much as invest it. Our return on investment is the food supply that benefits everyone, including reporters who wolf down takeout lunches at their desks inside the D.C. Beltway.

Nobody eats delta smelt, by the way.

The best long-term solution to Californias drought is to build more reservoirs, dams, and desalination plants. We havent done enough of this in the recent past and we arent doing enough of it today.

You know who opposes this common-sense idea? The environmentalists. Their agenda is to trick you with misinformation about farmersso that you wont know who really wastes our water.

Ted Sheely raises lettuce, cotton, tomatoes, onions, wheat, pistachios, wine grapes and garlic on a family farm in the California San Joaquin Valley. He volunteers as a board member of Truth About Trade & Technology (

Follow us: @TruthAboutTrade and @World_Farmers onTwitter| Truth About Trade & Technology onFacebook

A version of this column first appeared in The Wall Street Journal.