Hard to defend.

I have marked the almond acreage at the beginning and end of the 2006-2009 drought (700,000 acres at the beginning, 810,000 acres at the end). At the beginning of our current drought, almond acreage was 870,000 acres. In 2013, after two years of drought, it was up to 940,000 acres. It looks like the 2014 California Almond Acreage Report comes out at the end of April (here’s 2013). I will be excited to see a new total acreage. (Source)
Almond acreage since 1990

Let’s make this all explicit. Since this drought began, almonds have expanded by 70,000 acres. That’s 280,000 acft/year of new water demand for a snack that will be exported. That water will come from groundwater or from other farmers. At the same time, the California EPA is literally telling urban users to take five minute cold showers. If there is a lot of new acreage in 2014 and 2015, it is going to be difficult for the Brown administration to stay friends with them.

A couple notes:
Not-having this new almond acreage would not mean wet water for cities. But it would mean less overdraft of San Joaquin Valley groundwater.

I should be explicit that I don’t love applying California’s water resources to alfalfa/silage for meat and dairy, nor wine grapes either. But I sense that most others are much more culturally attached to cheap meat and dairy, and also to wine, than they are to almonds. In my own life, I could readily accept all three (almonds, meat/dairy, wine) becoming rarer and more expensive.


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2 responses to “Hard to defend.

  1. Agreed, although I am lactose intolerant and almond milk has been a godsend. Much better than all the other fake milks. Off topic, but what I would really like you to explain is why Delta flow standards are relaxed by executive order in a drought. Surely the point of having minimum flow standards is to apply them during a drought?

  2. Uti

    There’s no need to give up beef if you’re basing the choice on the amount of water used to grow alfalfa since 70% of it goes to the dairy cows, but as adults we can certainly have a healthy diet without milk and so much consumption of other dairy products. But you’re right that it’s a cultural thing to enjoy the abundance of beef and dairy we’ve grown up with, not to ignore the marketing strategies that we’ve been bombarded with. Got Milk, REAL California Cheese, etc.. People are going to feel deprived.

    I have quite a few vegan friends who are using the drought and the revelations on who uses the most water in agriculture to advance their agenda of promoting a plant-based diet for more people.

    OTPR, you may have better resources than me on researching water use for wine production, but so far as I’ve been able to research only 30% of California’s wine grapes were still dry farmed as of 2007. The Europeans dry farm most of their wine grapes in places a lot drier than many of California’s wine grape regions. Californians could go back to dry farming in many places, but that might mean changing root stocks that favor deep growth and would reduce per acre yields since dry farmed vines must be spaced wider. There goes the higher profit margins. It’s easier to manipulate the shallow rooted drip irrigated vines for certain qualities that have become a trademark of California wines and those practices been taught to the new generation of wine grape growers. So once again it appears water use is running up against what has become a cultural preference that was made possible by an abundance of water in the past.