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California Almonds and the Historic Drought

Updated on April 21, 2015

I love almonds and prefer the smoked variety, so very good. They are healthy as nuts go in moderation. While almonds are grown elsewhere, the California almond is the most sought after, however, the consumer would not know the difference. The market for these prized almonds soaked in sun and water has grown exponentially in 10 years, some say the growth is 1000%. It is now California's top export crop to the world. Driving that boom is China, which seems to thrive on them. Part of the reason is that the returns on almond crop investments has reached 30%. This has had a chain effect forcing California to expand almond growing trees acreage. So much so, that there are 1,000,000 acres of almond tree crops! They are grown on former barren hillsides, pastures, deserts mainly in the Central Valley and Southland.

As with every good thing, there is downside. For California, it is water. The state only has enough water in its lakes and aquifers for another year and the 2015 rain season simply was too little to do anything. Water rationing is on the horizon because the next rainy season will not come until next year. Some lakes are down by 20-50 feet. Orange county in the L.A. basin, is now trying to produce clean water from sludge normally sent back into the ocean. Their aquifers have dropped considerably. The downside of the almond crops is that it consumes a staggering amount of water, so much, it is more than all of California's households used by 39 million people! The almond crop is vital for the economy, some $7 billion is made from the little nut. Now, communities and agricultural entities are fighting for water.

The almond nut, each nut, uses one gallon. As a whole, the crop uses 1.07 trillion gallons of water per year! This is one-fifth more than all of the state's residents use in the same year. The almond debated ignited when California did issue a declaration that all cities and towns will reduce water consumption by 25%, yet, none on the agricultural industry. The almond growers point out accurately, the California's tomato crop does use more water than they do, and that the most serious water villain is alfalfa. The almond growers now on the defensive. Some of the investors in almond crops are the famous, like Oprah Winfrey and Condoleezza Rice. Agriculture in the state consumes 80% of its sources and provides 80% of the world's almonds.

Thus, the water dilemma brought on by the historic drought has created a conundrum for the state government. The almond crop is growing because of China's love of the nut. Farmers are planting even more trees for fill the need and for greed. The state wants the income and does not want to stop its expansion, yet, for its 39 million residents, they must now be forced into rationing. So far, residents do not think this fair and has created a "them versus us". Why should farmers have no restrictions on water use, yet, a person who waters a lawn on the wrong day may receive a $100 fine?

The old saying, "money talks", seems to apply in the golden state.


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    • Swisstoons profile image

      Thomas F. Wuthrich 

      3 years ago from Michigan

      I love almonds and have consumed them daily for years. In recent months, the price has risen, the bags have gotten smaller...and so have the individual nuts. Given the water situation in California, I don't see things improving anytime soon.


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