I spent much of 2015 urging the State Board to issue a moratorium on planting new almonds (although I myself was too timid. I said to only restrict them in gw basins with declining water levels, although that is all of them so maybe that argues against my timidity). Yesterday I wrote that had they done that, they’d look prescient now. But in that counterfactual, I do not think we could have estimated the policy success.
In 2015, CA almond acreage was 1,110,000 acres. (3.3MAF/year)
In 2021, CA almond acreage was 1,640,000 acres. (4.9MAF/year. This is a low estimate, btw. I’ve seen ETAW up near 5af/acreyear for almonds in the south Valley.)
We would have 1.6MAF available to us this year* if the State Board had issued a moratorium on planting new tree crops in 2015, when it was abundantly clear that we have bad droughts. In the counterfactual, we’d be grateful for the flexibility, but I don’t think we would ever have guessed that without a moratorium those fuckers would go and plant another half million acres of almonds. (I notice that this increased acreage is about 30%, the same size as this year’s harvest carryover. It would have prevented the volume of unshippable almonds.) This doesn’t count the cumulative consumption of those trees over the years.
There are about 7,600 almond farmers in California, who use up one Shasta Reservoir every year (4.5MAF). Yes. We let 7,600 almond growers use three times the water of 19 million people in Southern California. We could do that, or MWD could get three times its current deliveries (1.5MAF) each year. Or we could have full rivers.
I know these are excruciating decisions for the State Board, or they would be if the State Board were confronting them. Water use decisions are land use decisions (and vice versa). It would require making choices based on values (I propose ‘make the most people the most happy’, but there are others). But we are reaching the breaking point; we are at such a blatant extreme that people are rebelling against conservation messages from a timid administration. Fuck shorter showers. Fuck an individual response. Fix things for Californians or Californians will fix it for themselves.
*We know this is wet water because those trees are alive. I don’t know how the growers are scrounging it (perhaps from other crops? very likely from groundwater) but no matter their official deliveries they’re getting it from somewhere or the trees would be dead. Huh. This reminds me of Arax’s profile of the Resnicks, in which Stuart Resnick felt safe from drought because the last one was so extreme and he felt another rare event wouldn’t happen again and I thought ‘who is advising him?’. Anyway, wonder how that is going for Mr. Resnick.