Should California stop growing almonds and alfalfa? read full article at

As drought and local weather change proceed to wreak havoc on California’s water provide, an environmental advocacy group is asking on the state to restrict the cultivation of thirsty crops like almonds and alfalfa, saying the agriculture trade is guzzling a lot of the state’s provides on the expense of residents.

Giant agribusinesses and manufacturing facility farms — in addition to oil and gasoline operators — are among the many greatest water customers within the state and may due to this fact be making higher sacrifices, argues a report by the nonprofit Food and Water Watch. The group is demanding that Gov. Gavin Newsom develop new water insurance policies that cease the growth of agriculture and fossil gasoline industries, whereas making good on the state’s promise to offer clear, secure and inexpensive water to all residents.

“California needs to make fundamental reconsiderations and changes to our water infrastructure, and the governor currently has the authority to act immediately,” mentioned Chirag Bhakta, the group’s California director. “California is mired in long-term drought right now, and even though this is the case, the state still misuses billions and billions of gallons of water that go to the fossil fuel and big agricultural sectors.”

The report, launched Wednesday, comes at a time when the state is feeling growing strain to reduce the amount of water it takes from the Colorado River, and as growers battle with curtailments.

Authors of the report discovered that expanded acreage for nut crops like almonds and pistachios used 520 billion gallons extra water in 2021 than in 2017, indicating that growth is going on regardless of tightened water provides. That’s sufficient to provide greater than 34 million individuals, or almost 90% of California’s inhabitants, for a yr, the report mentioned.

The Meals and Water Watch report additionally discovered that alfalfa makes use of a mean of 945 billion gallons of water yearly, and that mega-dairies eat greater than 142 million gallons per day to take care of their cows, whereas oil and gasoline corporations spent 3 billion gallons between 2018 and 2021 for drilling operations.

Andrew Ayres, a analysis fellow on the Public Coverage Institute of California’s Water Coverage Middle, mentioned that it’s honest to level out the agriculture trade’s consumptive water use, however that “it’s also important to remember all the benefits that we get from using water in these applications.”

California grows greater than 80% of the world’s almonds and a big portion of the nation’s fruits, greens and different nuts.

“Especially in winter, California is producing the majority of things like lettuce and other leafy greens that otherwise would be very difficult to get your hands on through the year,” he mentioned.

Steve Lyle, a spokesperson for the California Division of Meals and Agriculture, mentioned in an electronic mail {that a} “culture of conservation” has pushed the state’s agriculture for many years.

He cited information from the Division of Water Sources exhibiting that farmers and ranchers used 14% much less water over a 35-year interval whereas growing yields by 38%, and that within the span of 20 years, almond growers lowered the quantity of water used to develop a pound of almonds by 33%.

The trade is “committed to achieving another 20% reduction by 2025,” he mentioned, including that “water-efficient micro-irrigation is currently utilized by 85% of California almond farms.”

As for dairy farms, water used for milk manufacturing shrank by 88% over a 50-year interval, Lyle mentioned.

Though agriculture represents solely about 3% of California’s gross home product, it gives about 11% of the nation’s meals provide, greater than some other state. California can be the nation’s main producer of a number of crops, together with almonds, artichokes, olives and walnuts.

However agriculture can be a thirsty sector, accounting for about 80% of the state’s water allotted for human consumption. Whereas that appears like an enormous share, it’s not distinctive to California, mentioned Thomas Harter, a professor within the Division of Land, Air and Water Sources at UC Davis.

“Any place in the world where you have irrigated agriculture, that will be the dominant water user, just because of the nature of growing foods with irrigation,” he mentioned.

In California, most of that water comes from underground aquifers, which the state depends on extra closely throughout dry years. The overpumping of groundwater in some elements of the state is drying up wells in file numbers, inflicting the land to subside and harming wildlife and ecosystems.

In response to the issue, the state in 2014 handed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, which is meant to manage the quantity of groundwater pumping in California. However the timeline for implementation spans greater than twenty years, which has led to a frenzy of well drilling by many hoping to faucet into provides earlier than they’re lower off.

Authors of the report say that timeline “falls far short of protecting groundwater by delaying action until 2040.” They argue that SGMA places trade earlier than individuals. “Low-resource households, people of color, and communities already burdened with environmental injustices are more likely to face severe drought impacts and water shortages,” they wrote.

Lyle mentioned that SGMA is already being carried out and that the Division of Water Sources has required groundwater sustainability businesses submit plans to guard consuming water for susceptible communities. Water businesses should meet their sustainability objectives inside the 20 years, he mentioned.

The report additionally seemed on the dairy trade, whose merchandise represented the state’s highest quantity of agricultural money receipts in 2021 at $7.57 billion, based on the Department of Food and Agriculture.

Harter mentioned there’s little doubt that animal-based meals, on the entire, have a bigger water footprint than plant-based ones.

“I’m not advertising against animal products, but I think the more important part is to find, in the long run, a better balance between [the two] that allows us to be sustainable, not just in California but across the world,” he mentioned.

Like dairy, a variety of crops grown within the state are despatched abroad. Based on the report, greater than half of the state’s almonds are exported, equating to about 800 billion gallons of water per yr. Alfalfa too is commonly exported, with about 35% of California’s hay merchandise despatched overseas in 2020.

Whereas alfalfa requires a variety of water to develop, it has a excessive return primarily based on how a lot water is utilized, mentioned Daniel Putnam, a cooperative extension specialist at UC Davis who focuses on alfalfa. The plant’s deep root programs are additionally good for soil well being.

However he acknowledged that the strategy of rising the crop, which is most frequently via gravity-fed irrigation flood programs, might be improved “through more careful irrigation systems” and by growing yields.

“This is why growers have been working on overhead irrigation, they’ve been working on subsurface drip irrigation, and in my book, all of these hold a lot of promise,” he mentioned.

However whereas there’s room for enchancment, Putnam emphasised that agriculture makes use of a variety of water as a result of it takes a variety of water to develop virtually something.

“Even with urban water use, the majority is for landscaping, the majority goes to plants,” he mentioned. “And there’s a reason for that — plants need lots of water, and that’s just the way it is. … Food systems require water.”

The suggestions the report outlined for Newsom and state businesses embody ending new gasoline and oil drilling and banning new mega-dairies; guaranteeing that water rights and allocations profit the general public; and strengthening groundwater protections.

On the federal degree, it urged Congress to cross legal guidelines such because the Water Affordability, Transparency, Fairness and Reliability Act that might “fully fund our water and wastewater systems, put water systems back in the control of the public, help ensure water access and affordability, and restore the commitment of the federal government to protecting water.”

Bhakta mentioned California’s water provide points name for a rethinking and restructuring of how water will get used within the state. “Our main point is that we need to put everyday Californians before the profits of fossil fuel companies and big agricultural corporations.”

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About Dorany Pineda, Hayley Smith

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