Turning the tables on almonds.

The 2014 California Almond Acreage Report tells of 50,000 new acres of almonds.  The projections are for more almonds acreage.

Fairmead, CA is one town of a few hundred people who lost their wells to the deep almond wells next door.

In Tulare County, rural homeowners are seeing their wells dry up after almonds go in.

In Madera Country, rural homeowners are seeing their wells dry up after almonds go in.

In Stanislaus County, almond groves are terrible neighbors.

Longtime farmers locals are asking Fresno County to impose a moratorium on new almond trees.

This economic model, in which powerful outsiders come in, displace the natives and destroy local natural resources (the aquifers) to provide cheap unprocessed goods to a foreign country is pure colonial extraction.  I don’t see how it is different from slash-and-burn agriculture in the Amazon to provide cheap beef or cutting hardwoods like teak out of tropical forests.  Mostly I am just stunned that my state is on the receiving end; I thought we were first world.  I guess anywhere can be exploited if they aren’t willing to protect their poor or their natural resource.

I have been trying to think of ways that the Valley governments can turn the tables on the hedge fund almonds.  Could Fairmead incorporate as a town, including the almond acreage, and take it by inverse condemnation?  They need some recharge lands and the hydrologic connectivity is well established.

What if Stanislaus County thought of Trinitas Partners as the sweetest, juiciest fly that ever stumbled into their web?  They should bleed Trinitas shamelessly.  Make them prove their neighborliness by providing the new headquarters for their new groundwater management agency and fund the first few years of study and monitoring wells.  Any charity drive in Oakdale should start with a phone call to Trinitas requesting the donation of the big raffle prize.  Then, Stanislaus County can start with the real charges.  All those Trinitas trucks take a toll on county roads; an assessment for re-paving should be based on truck weight and traffic.  There are dust containment costs that should be assessed to the largest acreages, and it would be real neighborly ifTrinitas would pay for a new asthma clinic and air quality monitoring station.

The proper attitude for Stanislaus County is that some slow, rich pockets just got snagged and everything that could possibly be billed to them should be.  When Trinitas goes under, it should at least leave some nice public buildings and newly re-paved roads behind.  Does anyone from Trinitas Partnership vote in Stanislaus County?  The Commissioners’ actual constituents hate Trinitas.  They’ll reward Commissioners who find ways to internalize the externalities caused by the new giant orchards.

Finally,  those orchards will one day be abandoned when pumping depths and energy costs get too high.  The time to impose clean-up costs is now.  Poor Central Valley counties, do you remember 2009, when all those foreclosed houses were abandoned and it was expensive to patrol them, keep mosquitos down, mow lawns?  Did you wish you had laws on the books to force banks to pay those costs?  Pass those now, for when mega-orchards go under (drip tape disposal in your landfills, irrigation pipe clean up, restoration requirements if it was not ag land before, well closure costs).  They won’t be watching now and you’d have a hook to go for the rich hedge fund if they suddenly decide to divest from almonds.

I don’t know why California is allowing big agri-business money to dispossess her people.  That seems more like Louisiana or Texas.  I hope a local government can turn the tables.

10 Comments

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10 responses to “Turning the tables on almonds.

  1. What a brilliant almond analysis. I can’t wait to see the comments it generates, and hopefully the actions/wars it ignites. This issue presents a true challenge to the American system of law, liberty and justice.

  2. A quibble. You write “Longtime farmers are asking Fresno County to impose a moratorium on new almond trees”. The article you link to is headlined “Drought causing tension between residents and almond farmers.” I didn’t see anything about farmers requesting a moratorium.

  3. onthepublicrecord

    CORRECTED 5/8: I was reading too fast and combining categories. Mr. Laryrobe pointed out by email that the story does not identify Mr. Mitchell as a farmer himself. We know from the story that Fresnans are objecting to almonds, but not that farmers are, necessarily. My error and thanks for the polite correction.

    Third full paragraph onward:

    One of his neighbors, Robert Mitchell took these concerns to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors.

    Mitchell said, “My community is surrounded by almond trees which will not produce product for another three years which is 2018, yet in the one small area I live we have lost five wells in a one block area.”

    Mitchell urged the board to think about a temporary ban on new almond orchards. He said, “Look at the possibility of saying we made need to come to a moratorium of planting of new crops that are labor intensive.”

    That’s a shocking idea in farm country, but Sarge Green head of the Water Institute at Fresno State, says it’s becoming a more common cry around the Valley.

    “Every county I have worked in thus far there has been a community that has asked the same question, we want you to adopt a moratorium,” Green explained.

  4. Although you’re right in principle (businesses should help communities), you forget the problem of SOME politicians (et al) selling out the community for friends. That’s the principal-agent problem that curses california: many managers and politicians who work for special interests over the people. It’s not too hard to see when you look…

  5. jrfleck

    The Nebraska Supreme Court’s answer to this problem seems like one approach – if my well goes dry because of your groundwater pumping, you have to pay to deepen my well. Prather v. Eisenmann, 261 N.W.2d 766, 200 Neb. 1, 200 Nebraska 1 (1978). IANAL, but California law seems to have no such principle.

  6. Paul

    You mention hedge funds but not investment funds like TIAA-Cref. Public employee pension funds are among the biggest funders of new almond orchards.

  7. Katy

    WELL said, Otpr. And way to really get under our skin, by comparing us to Texas :)

  8. Agriculture is virtually exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act. Big Ag should be required to demonstrate sustainability of a crop just as developers are required to show there’s enough water for their projects. Planting crops reliant on groundwater should require a full environmental review with the focus on effects of pumping on neighbors and public resources (rivers, lakes, reservoirs, etc.).

  9. Anonymous

    How much more land do the almond people really need? There is only so much water to supply the already crops & it is IMPOSSIBLE for a cattleman to find any winter or clover feed for their cattle.

  10. Anonymous

    Thank you OTPR for the clear perspective re: almonds. The analogy to third world exploitations of the Amazon rainforests IS appropriate and needs to become part of the public narrative. All water is part of the Public Trust, to be stewarded for all Californians AND for future generations. We are failing in that Trust responsibility. Almonds now directly and substantively diminish our public trust asset, water. Keep up the good work OTPR http://www.publictrustwater.org