A lot of new almond orchards.

Seventy-two thousand new acres of almonds since June 2014.  Had the State Board implemented a “no new permanent crops in basins with declining groundwater levels” policy, the basins would be roughly 200,000 AF less overdrafted now.



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17 responses to “A lot of new almond orchards.

  1. Steve Bloom

    Looks like the reporting period ends with May 2015.

  2. Almonds and other orchard crops take 5 to 7 years to produce a yield–the new acreage was planted no later than 2010. The USDA counts acreage that is producing, not what is planted.

    • Uti

      Please re-read the linked report on sale of nursery almond stock for new plantings and re-plantings. The bottom line is: based on the sales reports of almond stock for new and replacement orchards, total new acreage planted expanded during a historically severe drought causing more overdrafting of the groundwater basins. It doesn’t matter that the USDA only counts acreage that is producing a harvest, the 72,000 acres of non-producing young trees are still using water.

      Yes, those seedlings won’t be producing a harvest for some years, but the expansion represents almond speculators gambling with a dwindling groundwater resource that is causing subsidence and infrastructure damages in some areas that the taxpayers will be forced to pay millions of dollars for. That doesn’t sit well with people who say “Wait a minute, the almond speculators get to pump groundwater with impunity and we have to pay for their recklessness when things break.” Not taking responsibility for the damages they cause is one more way the almond growers get subsidized by the taxpayers.

    • onthepublicrecord

      I didn’t even count the re-plantings. I was being generous.

  3. Anonymous

    I believe most of the new almond acreage you speak about has replaced other crops like wheat, corn, alfalfa that would have used about the same amount of water but returned much less $ to the California economy.

    would that be better?

    • onthepublicrecord

      Contra many of the other enviros in water policy, I have a strong bias for food security. I’m generally in favor of crops that directly feed humans, including the field crops. So I’d value the wheat more (although wheat in CA is generally rain irrigated winter wheat), corn if it were table corn (comparatively rare), and be unenthusiastic about alfalfa. Any of those crops, however, are be annuals (alfalfa can be perennial). So they aren’t imposing twenty to twenty-five years of solid demand in a climate that we know is changing.

      In addition, a lot of the money generated by almonds is going to people who are already wealthy, speculative investors and agribusiness. I’d rather have water in rivers than see those people get wealthier.

  4. Anonymous

    I see, so you’d rather have water used for low value crops 1st because the guys that farm them aren’t rich, fish 2nd, and high value crops last. A very interesting perspective to say the least.

    • onthepublicrecord

      I am more worried about climate change than most and correspondingly place a higher value on resiliency than most. Putting “resilient in the face of climate change” as the very first criteria (and minimizing misery as my second), makes my preferred policies make more sense.

      But there is middle ground between tree nuts and field crops. I’m in favor of growing truck and row crops for good money before growing either tree nuts or field crops. Important calories for direct human consumption, that’s what I’m interested in.

  5. I wrote about how the push by environmentalists and urban water agencies starting in the 1980s for more efficient agricultural water use may have backfired in achieving their own aims. But we can’t ever go to centralized decision making about allocating agricultural production. The USSR’s Five-Year Plans were notorious failures that we must avoid at all costs. https://mcubedecon.wordpress.com/2015/11/12/why-ag-savings-might-not-be-the-solution-to-urban-water-woes/

  6. onthepublicrecord

    I’ve written about that too!

    You know, the alternative to any markets isn’t necessarily bad central planning. There can be good markets and good central planning. It isn’t either a water market or USSR’s Five-Year Plans.

    • I’m waiting for your proposed alternative. What I’ve seen fits with the “bad” central planning model since you’re proposing to allocate specific acreages of crops to farmers. That’s right out of the Five-Year Plan playbook. I’m more than willing to hear about constraints on water trades, but we already have substantial constraints in place. Relying on bureaucratic decision making is a recipe for a poor-tasting meal.

  7. onthepublicrecord

    I do need to write that up in one place. My preference would be a zoning model, that linked security of water rights to producing food for humans. Essentially I want to purchase local food production during coming variable climates, at the cost of maximizing ag revenue.

    So I’d say something like:
    Complete instream flows.

    3 million acres of prime ag gets 3.5 AF water every year (including critically dry), can only grow row crops for human consumption. Prob in east San Joaquin, Sacramento Valley, Salinas. Basically the first areas irrigated, which tend to also have the best soils and most local water.

    The next million acres of ag gets water in dry years, can grow any crop for human consumption.

    The next two million acres in normal water years, can grow crops with no restrictions.

    The next two million acres only get water in very wet years, no permanent crops.

    But since that’s what I want, I’d rather just zone and move water to the designated ag acreage (and subsidize it if it isn’t profitable), instead of use a market to kludge a connection from existing water rights to that schema.

    ADDED: for urban users, a headright of something like 40gppd. Managed by the water entity, but the right and an allowance for health and safety water travels with the person, not the city. If the locality just doesn’t have it, maybe a state backstop?

    • I don’t have a problem in setting priorities for instream flows. However, you’re overemphasizing the centrality of California in growing the world’s food. For example, 85% of the nation’s lettuce is now grown in Arizona along the Colorado. What California excels at is growing the high value niche crops. The U.S. already has food security. The real problem is how we waste our food surplus–that’s a much more important issue to focus on–fixing that will address world food security for a long time.

      It’s not difficult to design a market that generally achieves those goals and avoids having bureaucratic decisions slowing down the process and largely eliminating the flexibility and responsiveness that markets provide. Again, decentralized decision making is the most effective means to implementing overall objectives.

      You’re also ignoring the importance of using groundwater as the buffer for dry years. We’re working on a proposal that will capture floodwaters to recharge aquifers. Flood control has diverted those flows until now.

      And trying to figure out how to subsidize what isn’t profitable will be a nightmare and another trail to the trough. We’ve already seen that mess in the federal Farm Bill. Are we going to start regulating economic returns in agriculture? As someone who’s working in energy utility regulation for 30 years, that’s not a mess that we want to enter, particularly for thousands of individual farms. In fact, the end result most likely will be the massive consolidation of small family farms into a few giant corporations at a much faster rate than is currently happening.

  8. There are some very obvious problems with the dogmatic private property right model of markets somehow doing the decision making many are espousing here. There is common sense, literally common, sense. There are other rights. The right to water might be among the most important.

    When groundwater that is hundred and thousands of years old is described as being a “buffer,” some sort of sustainable practice, during drought, then the right to tap it by whoever has the biggest pump without regulation or monitoring needs to be restrained by something, probably a government body.

    When water leached out of the ground contributes to making everyone else’s water toxic and saline, then someone, probably a government body, needs to be able to find a way to take that land out of production by no longer providing irrigation water or into the production of something else, like photovoltaics.

    When the argument for maximizing profits is made by a small group of well-off farmers who send their products to India and China leads to no water for a larger group of poor people who live in their vicinity (if the farmers live where they farm, that is) then someone, probably a government body, needs to require those well-off exporters of highly profitable products to make amends, by like at the very least paying to provide high-quality water to the poor communities they have taken it from.

    • You’re confusing the position that water is best managed by allocating specific rights with the Sage Brush Rebellion’s position that “inalienable” property rights cannot be infringed by any government action whatsoever. Defining property rights makes appropriate regulation easier, not harder. SGMA is an example of how defining property rights in groundwater pumping allocations will lead to solving the problems you list. In states where groundwater has been adjudicated, overdraft has diminished. The problem you describe in groundwater has resulted from a LACK of property rights. If allocations had been in place, the poorer community would have been compensated already.

      Another good example is managing fisheries. The used individual transferable quotas has led to recovery of several fisheries.

      Government can adequately set overall caps on water diversion, groundwater pumping, fishing and air emissions. It also can adjudicate among parties over disputes about usage. But it’s pretty miserable at trying to determine how much each individual needs of those resources at any given instant. That’s where market mechanisms excel.

    • Thanks, mcubedcon – you think that the answer is defining property rights more clearly with regard to groundwater pumping etc. We seem to be dong this around the edges all the time, a lawyer’s dream, one that may eventually lead to more equitable outcomes. But it most certainly will take decades to do it since this state cannot yet even comprehensively measure ag groundwater usage, let alone set caps on it. In a meantime measured in decades the legal and regulatory process you outline will unfold, to no certain end.

      The best and most direct approach that I can imagine will be laws that emerge out of a period of consensual reform and that directly constrain property rights – which will help to define what those rights are, as did CEQA/ESA – and that have to do with environmental justice and similar common good principles in the age of scarcity and variable climate.