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Thursday, April 30, 2015

California Water Part 3: Almonds & Water

With all of California on a water allocation everyone is tense and looking for someone to blame so I am trying to help provide some facts in this California Water series. Agriculture was first up to blame because it was spread all over that we used more water than we actually do. Next, Almonds have been demonized all over the news recently as well. During all this hustle and bustle of negative news a great 8 Facts about Almond, Agriculture & the Drought was released by the Almond Board to share the truth. But almonds are a large target. Almonds are the single largest agriculture exporter in California. Almonds are Americas #1 snack nut. In 2014, California produced 1.9 billion pounds of almonds making it the largest global, international and domestic year for shipments ever! With all these great accomplishments comes a big target though.

Some look at these accomplishments as negative. I look at them as positive. Being such a large exporter helps California’s economy by bringing in tax dollars as well as helping with our debt with foreign lands. Being such a consumer recognized nut also means people are looking for almonds more frequently than peanuts, cashews, pistachios or walnuts. Which I guess just causes more spotlights on almonds. Producing such a large amount of almonds in one state, must mean we are using such a large amount of water as well. Not quite! 

Over the last 20 years, almond farmers have improved their water efficiency by 33%. I think that’s pretty good! 70% of almond farmers use micro or drip irrigation. I would also agree this number is great. I know a lot of farmers 10-20 years ago who irrigated using flood irrigation who are now using micro or drip to better use water and penetrate the root zone more effectively. Farmers have done a lot of education and research to figure out how to do more with less. This ain't our first rodeo! This isn’t our first year being cut back on federal and state water. We have had to learn to adapt. The Almond Board of California has been researching water efficiency and uses since 1982. Now looking at all these fine stats, I would have to say almonds have been doing their part.

California as a state has grown and with that more and more of our land is now used for urban communities and less being used for farm land. Farmers have had to learn to produce more with less. Over the last 40 years, California agriculture value has contributed 88% more to our state with 20% less water. We are doing more with less just look at how by this great graph from the Almond Board showing just how dramatic the population rise has been versus our land in productive farms. 

The water almond farmers’ use doesn’t just go towards the nut either. Almonds are comprised of three parts; hull, shell and nut. The kernel is the nut that is consumed in its raw form, is also used for confectionery purposes, used to make almond flour for gluten intolerance, and almond oil for your beauty products. The shell is used for animal bedding, in your garden beds like wood chippings, and is used in co-generation plants to make energy. The hull is used for animal feed and is a good alternative to alfalfa in times of drought. So water for our almond trees actually produce much more than a nut!

Now you have the facts and you can decide for yourself, are almonds really the demon they are portrayed to be?

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl 

Friday, April 24, 2015

California Water Part 2: Agriculture Production

Next in this California water series we need to look at agriculture production. In our drought situation everyone seems to question why agriculture is ‘such a large consumer of water'. I put this in quotes because I feel that line is subjective. We might be a large user of water because we produce so much food in our great state. 
I say agriculture is a user not a consumer of water. Agriculture uses the water to grow our crops, leaving the water in the ground to replenish our aquifer and in the food itself to give nourishment to its consumers. But, just how much does California agriculture produce?

California is the leading state in agriculture production in the United States. California brought in over $46 billion dollars in agriculture sales while Iowa, the second leading agriculture producer, contributes $31 billion. Needless to say, we are by far the leader. Iowa produces hogs, cattle, poultry, corn and other feed crops. And for California, well the list of crops is 400 strong and too long to even begin. Our top 10 crops alone account for $38.7 billion in value. That’s more than Iowa as a state. Not to pick on Iowa, but I think this shows how important California is to agriculture and putting food on your table.

Milk, almonds and grapes are the leaders in California; valued at $7.6 billion, $5.8 billion and $5.6 billion respectfully.   California also produces more than 99% of almonds, artichokes, dates, figs, raisins, kiwis, olives, cling peaches, pistachios, prunes, pomegranates, and walnuts. Why? Well because they simply can't be grown anywhere else! Try! They won't produce a crop, have an extremely low yield or the plant will simply die. There is a reason you wont see almond trees in North Dakota or Pistachios in Vermont. These commodities are grown in California because we have the best soil, climate and production for them to flourish. 

Our largest agriculture producing counties are in the heart of the Central Valley. The Central Valley climate is ideal for agriculture and specifically almonds! Fresno County agriculture production value is $6.5 billion consisting of $875 million in almonds $650 million in livestock and $540 million in raisins.  Kern County, where I live and farm, has an agriculture production value of $6 billion consisting of $1 billion in table grapes and $780 million in almonds.  

It shouldn’t be surprising that to produce these large values of food it requires a large amount of water. Water is required to grow food. Without water, food won’t grow. Yes, people need to drink water, bathe, use water to wash dishes, do laundry but we also need to eat. And where do we expect to get that food to eat? Stay tuned  to answer more questions.

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl

Friday, April 17, 2015

California Water Part 1: How we got here

There has been a lot of finger pointing in who is to blame for this horrible drought we are in. It seems like every time I check my email or social media, I see another article blaming someone. It is sad to me that we are always looking to blame someone. We are here. Regardless of whose fault it is, we are here in this drought together. Instead of looking to blame someone I am going to give you a little back story to how we got here and let you decide. Or even better, don’t decide or pick a side. Instead let’s look ahead and see how we can move forward. But, in order to move forward we must understand the past. 

Water in California is first divided into developed and undeveloped. Undeveloped stays in the environment. Developed water usage in California is broken into three categories; 50% goes to the environment, 40% to agriculture and 10% to urban. Many people don’t consider the environmental use of water when looking at water uses. I say it must be considered because it is still water that is being used and could be used for another purpose.

Environmental water is water flowing through rivers protected as ‘wild and scenic’, water used to maintain habitats within streams, supporting wetlands and wildlife preserves, and water required for delta outflow. Yes, we pump water into ocean. Why? We have a non-native fish called the delta smelt that the environmentalists say we must protect! It is estimated that 21 million acre feet of water is released to the ocean annually to save our non-native fish. 

Urban water is used for residential, commercial, industrial and large landscape uses. While landscaping being the largest consumer of water for urban use the graph below depicts best how urban water is used.   

California State receives most of the rain and snow in the north end of the state, whereas most of the population is in the south and the majority of agriculture in the Central Valley. We developed a series of canals, reservoirs, dams and an aqueduct to store and transport this water where needed.  Let me add quickly that 70% of our water is released to the ocean because we don’t have enough storage systems in place during wet years. California water is made up of three types of systems. 

The Central Valley Project is the federal water system developed by the US Bureau of Reclamation back in 1933 to transport water from Northern California to the Central Valley. On an average year, 7 million acre-feet of water flows through the CVP. 5 million going to agriculture in the Central Valley, 600,000 acre feet goes to municipal and industrial users and 800,000 acre feet is released into rivers and streams for environmental purposes. The last two years, federal water has been cut by 100% to agriculture. That’s right, growers are receiving a ZERO allocation and still are required to pay for the water they are not receiving. 

The State Water Project is the state water system that began in 1957 and allocates 70 percent of its supply to urban uses and 30 percent to agriculture uses. SWP sends water to 2/3 of the California population and about 750,000 acres of agriculture farmland. This year, there is an 80% cut in state water to agriculture. Agriculture water districts have a 20% supply of their full allocation, but some farmers are still receiving zero water due to different classes, contracts and varying water rights. 

Both of these projects were created to ensure our water table would be able to sustain as well as provide enough water for farmers to grow their crops and cities to thrive. Being that our population has more than doubled in the last 20 years and no new dams or reservoirs have been built to handle this population we are running out of water. Farmers have been able to drill water wells and pump their groundwater to supplement the water they aren’t receiving from federal or state water. California has large groundwater reservoirs as well; we also have the largest groundwater basin in the United States. Farmers are replenishing the groundwater basin each and every time they irrigate. The water goes to the crop and its root zone, as well as leaching into the soil and rebuilding the basin beneath it. During an average year the groundwater in California accounts for 38% of the total water supply. During a dry year that number rises to 46% because we have less state and federal water due to a decrease in snow and rain. This was all the procedure until last year. Last year, the state passed legislation to control our groundwater and how much we are pumping.  

So, the government is controlling our groundwater basin, cutting agriculture 100-80% of its supply for federal and state water, urban is only cut by 25-35% and we continue to flush water into the ocean to save our non-native fish. With little to no federal and state water, and the strings being pulled tighter on groundwater, where will your next meal come from? Stay tuned for the next series to cover more!

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

California Water: Introduction to Series

California is in the middle of a severe drought. Unless you have lived under a rock recently, I am sure everyone realizes this. California has been all over national and world news with the Governor’s Executive order last week mandating a 25% state wide reduction in water usage. While there has been what seems like a million news stories covering this issue, not all are correct. Some pointing blame to farmers for using too much water, some complain about the excess of water that is being pumped into the ocean and others outlining water conservation tips for consumers.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I will be digging deeper into California water. I hope to break down the history and structure of California water, explain the truth behind agriculture water usage and provide some helpful hints for conserving water at home. All are important to understand how we got where we are and how we can help to prevent it in the future. I by no means am an expert on water, I just aim to educate people with what I do know and research what I don’t.

When it comes down to it, California has over 38 million people living in our state, a number that has doubled in the last 30 years according to the US census bureau. When looking at a list of our major dams and reservoirs in California it is safe to say, we have not made substantial growth in our water storage to match our population. With a population that just seems to keep growing and an agriculture economy that feeds the nation and world, it is puzzling to me that our state didn’t plan for such an event. But gradually agriculture has been receiving less and less water and our population centers keep growing and consuming. Agriculture has found ways to conserve, cut back and become more efficient because we just didn’t have a choice. We are doing more with less.

So just where does California get its water and why are we in trouble?
How much water does agriculture really use?
And how can you do your part to conserve?
Stay tuned!

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl