What it would have meant to take action in 2015.

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.


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9 responses to “What it would have meant to take action in 2015.

  1. shirley enomoto

    who are you? mark arax wants to know.

    regards shirley enomoto ________________________________

    • Noel Park

      Stuart Resnick wants to know, LOL.

    • onthepublicrecord

      Seems unlikely. My friend asked Mr. Arax on his book tour. He was unaware of this blog.

  2. Noel Park

    Maybe they’re buying the water from John Vidovich.

    And they’re continuing to overdraft the groundwater basins. They don’t have to be in balance until 2040, and that assumes that there will be some kind of an effective enforcement mechanism.

    Someone mentioned the Public Trust doctrine and Mono Lake. The Mono Lake decision provides that the lake will rise to the “management level” of 6392 feet. Due to the inspired slow walking of the DWP, all of these years later it stands at 6382 with little of any prospect of ever reaching 6392.

    I’m confident that Westlands, Vidovich, Boswell, et al will be as good at slow walking as DWP. Maybe the groundwater will eventually dry up altogether. Then the change will finally come.

  3. Doug Wallace

    Dear OtPR, delighted that you’re back in action again. Having just driven down (and up) Interstate 5 earlier this week, we can see the triumph of short-range thinking with piles of uprooted almond trees right next to new plantings of same. And I love telling any available listener that the San Joaquin Valley doesn’t grow food for people, it sells nuts for export. But let me challenge you on one premise: the water used to grow all those warehoused almonds should have just stayed in the ground (yes, I know you know). If left there, then countless residential wells would have continued to serve people who actually live there. And it would not/should not have been made available to urban users either. To finish up with a concurrence: urban conservation beyond tearing out the lawns is a feel-good-we’re-doing-our-part distraction that makes no difference. What a waste of sincere people’s efforts.

    • onthepublicrecord

      Oh, I agree with you that it should have just stayed in the ground.

      Yeah, urban conservation is more and more like recycling: busywork to occupy people.

    • Diane Livia

      Doug! Glad to see you here. You’re right, of course. Urban conservation is pretty much a joke, except perhaps in Marin. In SF, where the average household uses, I believe, less water than pretty much anyplace else in CA, the SFPUC won’t give up a drop for the Tuolumne, presumably because they have to service the ag district along the T, and because they have to sell to suburbs around the Bay where the average user probably uses 2 – 3x what the average SF user does. I’d like to bring into the conversation the true family, small, often organic farms that are being made dry w/in the Sacto. R. larger riverbed area. The nut and olive farmers in the Capay Valley are sinking super deep wells and sucking up all the water that these farms have relied upon for decades. The SWRCB “listens” to the small farmers, but does nothing.

  4. Anonymous Heckler

    So they planted almonds. Wouldn’t have been my choice of crop given the water risks, but everyone’s making a business decision.

    Seems a worthwhile question what was on the land before. It likely wasn’t dryland wheat, so how much was other orchards crops that were cycling out? Makes a difference.

    • Diane Livia

      The issue is that these farmers are becoming billionaires on our cheap water. There’s nothing wrong with almonds, or any other food, but growing the quantities they do in order to corner the world market in almonds is not a good way to use our water. The almond industry in CA owns somewhere around 85-90% of the world almond market.