Science & Technology



Environmental group urges California to limit the growing of almonds and alfalfa

Dorany Pineda and Hayley Smith, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Science & Technology News

LOS ANGELES — As drought and climate change continue to wreak havoc on California’s water supply, an environmental advocacy group is calling on the state to limit the cultivation of thirsty crops like almonds and alfalfa, saying the agriculture industry is guzzling most of the state’s supplies at the expense of residents.

Large agribusinesses and factory farms — as well as oil and gas operators — are among the biggest water users in the state and should therefore be making greater sacrifices, argues a report by the nonprofit Food and Water Watch. The group is demanding that Gov. Gavin Newsom develop new water policies that stop the expansion of agriculture and fossil fuel industries, while making good on the state’s promise to provide clean, safe and affordable 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,” said Chirag Bhakta, the organization’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, released Wednesday, comes at a time when the state is feeling increasing pressure to reduce the amount of water it takes from the Colorado River, and as growers struggle with curtailments.

Authors of the report found that expanded acreage for nut crops like almonds and pistachios used 520 billion gallons more water in 2021 than in 2017, indicating that expansion is happening despite tightened water supplies. That’s enough to supply more than 34 million people, or nearly 90% of California’s population, for a year, the report said.

The Food and Water Watch report also found that alfalfa uses an average of 945 billion gallons of water annually, and that mega-dairies consume more than 142 million gallons per day to maintain their cows, while oil and gas companies spent 3 billion gallons between 2018 and 2021 for drilling operations.


Andrew Ayres, a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California’s Water Policy Center, said that it’s fair to point out the agriculture industry’s consumptive water use, but that “it’s also important to remember all the benefits that we get from using water in these applications.”

California grows more than 80% of the world’s almonds and a large portion of the nation’s fruits, vegetables and other 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 said.

Steve Lyle, a spokesperson for the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said in an email that a “culture of conservation” has driven the state’s agriculture for decades.


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