Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut
Today, like most mornings driving in to the office, I’m tuned-in to NPR for news and interesting reporting. This morning’s program included a piece on California’s mega-drought and its implications for the State’s agricultural sector – and one crop in particular – almonds (LINK).
We all know that the West, especially the arid Southwest has been living under drought conditions for well over a decade. Our most precious resource is becoming scarce due to lack of precipitation and increased demand to support growth and our economy. In comparison to California’s hyper-critical water shortage situation, however, Arizona is in somewhat better shape thanks to our decades-long careful management of groundwater and surface water.
But, we also know that as Arizona grows, the demand on our water resources will increase as well.
The situation in California has become so serious that Governor Brown has ordered mandatory water restrictions and the State is desperately seeking ways to augment its water supplies through transfers and desalination, which are expensive propositions. California also implemented its first groundwater management act last year, something Arizona did back in 1980.
One thing is certain during times of drought. When water becomes scarce, agriculture is the first to feel the pinch and experience mandatory curtailments. Agriculture in California is big business. The state is the nation’s largest farming producer. California agriculture also accounts for 80 percent of the State’s human water use, or about 40 percent of all water uses, including environmental.
So, getting back to the NPR story. California’s almond crop has become the Frankenstein monster of the state’s agricultural community as it relates to water. The uprising against almond growing in California has been underway for a few years.
According to the Almond Almanac (yes, there is such a thing), in 2013 California produced 1.88 billion pounds of almonds. Irrigating the 790 thousand acres of producing almond trees uses something like a trillion gallons of water each year. Some estimates indicate it takes a gallon of water to produce a single almond.
That’s a lot of almonds and a lot of water. But, we like almonds. Almonds claim numerous health benefits and eating them as a snack is far better health wise than eating a twinkie, for example.
But, here’s the rub and what’s turned many Californians against the almond.
California almonds comprise 80 percent of the global supply of almonds. Some 70 percent of California almonds are exported outside the U.S. to places like Europe and China.
So, while Los Angelenos are moved to replace green lawns with rocks, gravel and drought tolerant plants, almond growers export close to a trillion gallons of water in the form of almonds to China and other international destinations.
But, there are ways to solve the problem and keep the almond through more efficient use of water and pricing. Allowing water markets greater freedom to transfer water rights and price water according to value would allocate more water to high-cash agricultural crops like almonds. While snacking on almonds might become more expensive, at least Sprouts will have an ample supply of them.
Of course, saving the almond is but a single cautionary tale of water in the West.