The Western View: We’re Not The Bad Guys

Taylor Hillman Features, Tree, nut & vine crops, Water, Western View

California Almond Hull Split
Len Wilcox looks at the blame being leveled at almonds in the current water crisis.

The Western View: We’re Not The Bad Guys

Agriculture is taking a bad rap in the drought, with people in the cities telling us that we are taking too much water. They’ve especially focused their attention on almonds. Even Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart took a jab at the nut industry. Now, Jon is a great comedian, but he’s from New York City. Why does he think he can tell Californians what to grow?

Almonds are taking a hit partly because they are a major export item and some people think we are exporting our water when we sell them overseas. Does this mean we have to stop all exports, like wine, or cars? The amount of water used is another reason to target almonds; people in the cities think Ag in general, and almonds in particular, get too big of a share of the water supply.

One central valley almond grower took umbrage at the growing outcry against nut crops. Brad Gleason, a pistachio and almond grower, was particularly challenged by the comment coming from the cities that it takes one gallon of water to grow one almond nut. In an Op-Ed published in the Los Angeles Times and picked up by the Fresno Bee, Mr. Gleason points out that it takes 168 gallons of water to produce a single watermelon, 50 gallons for a cantaloupe, and 35 gallons to grow one head of broccoli.

These numbers don’t have any real significance, because none of them represent water being wasted. With growers paying up to a thousand dollars per acre foot, and faced with drilling new wells, every drop is precious. Drip irrigation is cheap in comparison.

This infighting among water users shows the seriousness of the problem. But the answer isn’t more water wars, it’s pulling together to find new sources of water. Conservation programs in the cities are working, let’s expand them. We need to recycle more, clean up and use waste water. And we need to put our great scientific minds to work looking for cheaper and better ways to desalinate.

I’m Len Wilcox and that’s the Western View from AgNet West.