With the dry summers of our Mediterranean climate, the rain year of my California home town effectively ended in April with near-normal rainfall that didn’t break our drought.
Despite our drought, California is planting more almond trees every year as we use a trillion gallons of water a year to grow almonds. California dominates the world market for almonds so we could dictate prices. Instead we subsidize the delivery of scarce water to agriculture and export the crops, while degrading our environment by taking water from wildlife and overdrafting aquifers.
Shown above, the carpenteria californica, a California native plant, is blooming now.
Our rainfall since October 1 is 13″: less than our normal rainfall of 15.5″, but higher than previous years of our drought. Thanks to our near-normal rain this year, our cumulative rainfall since January 2013 rose to 61% of normal, up from 52% a year ago. The Rainfall by Month graph shows that the next six months have a normal rainfall of less than an inch — our dry summer.
Our temperature pattern remained the same, with near-normal high temperatures and above-normal overnight temperatures.
California’s reservoirs have more water than a year ago. Last winter Northern California got most of the rain, and large reservoirs in the north are much fuller this year. Another source of surface water is our Sierra snowpack, which is higher than last year’s record low.
California increases water exports during our drought
As we enter our dry summer, it’s clear California’s drought will continue. Every year during our drought, California’s antiquated water rights is leading farmers to essentially increase exports of water during our drought. California exports most of the almond crop, so exporting almonds is exporting the most of the trillion gallons used each year to grow almonds.
- Almonds are a thirsty crop. According to The Wall Street Journal, it takes “502 gallons of water per pound of nuts” or “1.3 gallons per almond”.
- California spends a trillion gallons of water a year growing almonds. From the WSJ, irrigating an acre of almonds “would consume 1,140,401 gallons of water”. “Almonds cover more than 860,000 acres of California farmland”. Multiplying the numbers, California uses 1.0 x 1012 or 1 trillion gallons of water a year on almonds.
- Most almonds are exported. “About 70% of California’s almonds are sold overseas”, according to the Los Angeles Times. “Top export markets included the European Union, China and Hong Kong, and Japan” per the LA Times. These areas lack the land and water to increase their production of almonds so they can’t grow cheaper almonds themselves.
- California is the world’s dominant producer of almonds, producing “82% of the globe’s almonds” per the LA Times.
- Almond industry growth continues despite drought
Despite California’s drought, almond growers expanded their orchards by an estimated 60,000 acres in 2015, marking the 12th consecutive year of growth for the crop, which now covers more than 1.1 million acres, or more than any other fruit, nut or vegetable crop in the state.
Why? Because almonds make money.
While recognizing the ongoing drought may constrain current and future planting, industry experts said that almonds and other tree nuts provided a good return for farmers, who responded by putting more trees in the ground.
We are increasing the production and export of almonds, which takes scarce water to grow. When we export almonds, we export the water and energy to grow them.
In our drought, California asks urban users to conserve water while farmers plant more orchards so they can export more almonds to places that lack the water to grow their own. What’s more, California has a dominant position in the world marketplace for almonds. We don’t use that dominant position to dictate the market price; instead we divert scarce water from wildlife and urban users during a multi-year drought and subsidize the price of water for agriculture.
If California were to raise the price of water delivered to agriculture, farmers would use water more efficiently, and the price of the almonds exported would rise. Since international consumers can’t replace the almonds, they would pay the higher price, reducing the US trade deficit.