Governor Jerry Brown signed a historic executive order today demanding a 25% reduction in water usage in order to help manage California’s extreme drought. Sounds like an aggressive move, but it’s really just a distraction. Maybe an April Fool’s joke? We could only wish.
25% is the big number that makes the headlines, as was intended. Some other big newsworthy numbers are 50 million square feet of lawns the state would like removed, except it’s not clear who pays for that or how fast that get’s done. And then it gets fuzzy with directives to increase enforcement for water wasters, making home builders use drip irrigation, and other such nice sounding text, all of which really does nothing in the short term of the very real lack of water in California.
But to understand why the big headline, and all the smaller ones, are all a complete distraction, you only need to look at where the water goes in California.
80% of the water in California is used by agriculture. 20% is for urban uses. However the governor’s mandated reduction only applies to urban water usage. If the 25% of urban water usage is an obtainable goal, this only results in a 5% reduction overall. 5% does not make a very good headline, does it? The real problem is no one is asking the farmers to reduce that 80%. At all. The only thing the governor’s executive order does for agriculture is to improve reporting of just how much water the farmers are drilling out of California’s dwindling aquifers, and that doesn’t even have to happen until next year. Real emergency… (my sarcasm voice)
There was a recent article by Grist on just where all that agriculture water comes from and where is it going. The TL;DR is now that California is producing 90% of the world’s almonds, and almond farming has skyrocketed thanks to an increase in demand, we can blame a good portion of this shortage on something you probably buy: Almond Milk.
2400 gallons of water to produce a gallon of almond milk
You see, according to Mother Jones, it takes 1.1 gallons of water to grow ONE almond. One pound of almonds will suck down over 1900 gallons of water. To make a gallon of almond milk it takes about 4 cups of almonds, or 20 ounces of raw almonds. So the rough napkin math comes out to about 2400 gallons of water to produce a gallon of almond milk. Not exactly a healthy choice for California’s water woes.
What really needs to happen is for the state to do the ugly task of taking away grandfathered water rights. ‘Farmers’ are now starting to sell the water the have pumped out of the aquifers back to the water districts. It has turned into a game of ‘who has the deepest well’. These are not the downtrodden poor farmers from hollywood movies. There are over 2,000 corporations, municipalities, and others that own virtually unlimited water rights that predate 100 year old California regulations and modern water districts.
Realistically though, this will never happen. If the state even chose to take on that battle, it would take 15 years or more. So given that they have not even touched the matter, and given that experts are saying we have as little as a year of water left, then the outcome is predicable: California will run out of water, and the agriculture economy will crash. And you thought gas was expensive.