Home / General / The Nuts Behind the California Drought

The Nuts Behind the California Drought


Admittedly, the near-death experiences give me an anti-nut bias. But Helaine Olen’s point here is crucial:

Barely mentioned was the fact that the clueless wealthy might just as well go ahead and turn on the taps—let ten thousand golf course bougainvillea bloom. They aren’t the problem, or not much of the problem.

Listen up: California’s agricultural sector uses about 80 percent of the state’s water. As Mother Jones reported, it takes one gallon of water to grow a single almond, and nearly five gallons to make a walnut edible.

But, hey, Governor Brown says those almonds and other produce grown in California aren’t living large. That’s why agriculture was all but excused from his edict. “They’re not watering their lawn or taking long showers,” Brown told ABC’s This Week, of the farmers. “They’re providing much of the fruits and vegetables of America.”

Nuts: Too tasty to fail?

The ritual shaming of the public, in which politicians blame us for their failures, seems like democratic politics in reverse. And the bigger the crisis, the greater the gall. For example, as we all know but few care to remember, the United States recently went through a financial crisis. Banks made massively leveraged bets that didn’t pay off. Complicated, risky financial innovations were presented as safe by people and institutions all of who should have known better. Subprime mortgages were pushed and promoted, often under false pretenses. Credit was offered up to Americans, many of whom took it because they were told it is was a good idea, and cheap, and, anyway, their incomes weren’t keeping up with the cost of housing, healthcare, and education and they needed to get money from somewhere, dammit.

And when it all went bad, who was to blame? Was it the banks who rigged the system? Uh, no. It was all of us. “This is America! How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor’s mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can’t pay their bills?,” screamed Rick Santelli on CNBC. Others blamed the financial illiteracy of the American public. There was actually a 2012 Senate hearing entitled “Financial Literacy: Empowering Americans to Prevent the Next Financial Crisis,” and no, it didn’t explain how teaching people to pay off their credit cards in full every month would have stopped the too-big-to-fail financial services sector from blowing up synthetic credit default swaps.

This is nuts. You and I can no more prevent the next financial crisis any more than some one percenter in Beverly Hills can solve the California water shortage by letting his lawn go desert native.

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  • RonC

    This is just depressing. Every time I try to improve my health (like substituting Almond for Cow Milk) I turn out to be destroying the environment.

    • ProgressiveLiberal

      Haha, good one, but uh, yeah, no you aren’t. We didn’t even get into GHG’s from cows. Consuming any part of a cow is about the worst thing you can do to the environment consumption wise, terrible conservative arguments withstanding.

  • DrDick

    There is also the whole issue of fracking in the state. While I have some sympathy for allowing more latitude for agriculture, given its importance for the state’s economy and California’s role in our food system (which is generally totally FUBAR), it is insane not to regulate nuts and other essentially luxury crops.

    • Todd

      I was surprised to read that agriculture only accounts for 2% of California’s GDP. Obviously it employs are large number of people, but it isn’t crazy to wonder if it might not be better to shift some of the nation’s agricultural output to more water-secure areas.

      • DrDick

        That is really a big part of what I meant about the food system being FUBAR. The extent to which we rely on desert regions for much of our food is insane.

        • SatanicPanic

          Central Valley’s not really desert though

          • DrDick

            I should have said arid lands, which it is. That also includes growing corn in much of Nebraska and Kansas.

          • Marek

            Central Valley’s not really desert though

            Give it time.

      • NonyNony

        Remember – that’s 2% of a $2 trillion economy. The folks involved in that $40 billion industry aren’t going to stop just because the country might be better off if what they were doing were being done by someone somewhere else.

        (Of course we should be doing more farming here out east but for reasons I can’t quite fathom we destroy our really good fertile farmland with plentiful access to water to build McMansions. The incentives are clearly all screwed up.)

        • JustRuss

          They won’t stop, but they might stop growing almonds, cotton, and other water-intensive crops if we stop subsidizing their water and make them pay market rate for it. But somehow that makes me a communist.

      • L2P

        That’s very misleading, though.

        Agriculture (if you include animal production) is the same proportion of California’s GDP as the entire entertainment industry (including travel and hospitality.) It doesn’t count all of the food production that is closely linked; the huge Kraft factories right off 99 aren’t included. It also doesn’t include all the ancillary services and goods related to agriculture.

        A better way to look at it is what would happen to California’s economy without agriculture? Generally, it’s thought that agriculture creates at least 1/3 of California’s economy.

        • Rob in CT

          I was gonna say something about multipliers, but your comment covers it.

      • mossybuddha

        FWIW, in 2011 crop and animal production was about 1.6% of the state’s total output of 3.3 trillion according to the IMPLAN economic impact model (GDP of 1.95T). i decided to do a thought experiment to see the economic impact of what would happen if we trimmed it by 80%. running that model shows a loss of about 143 billion and about 800K jobs, about 4% of output and jobs.

    • bassopotamus

      I suppose a big chunk of the issue is that many of the water secure parts of the country have really short growing seasons. We’ve grown accustomed to having a wide variety of fresh produce year round, but much of our prime agricultural land can’t sustain fall/winter/early spring crops of all kinds of stuff. Hydroponics, hoop houses, etc, help, but unfortunately, we need to either adjust our expectations about having tomatoes in february, or we are going to be stuck depending on CA for a lot of our food

  • Rob in CT

    Agreed. Though, as with *some* borrowers in the financial crisis, Beverly Hills 1%ers can be apportioned *some* of the blame to the extent they waste water (my understanding is that golf courses pretty much all use “gray” water and thus actually aren’t The Problem). Letting their lawns go “desert native” would help a (tinsey tiny) bit. But their culpability is dwarfed by that of others.

    Setting aside who is to blame, they really can’t go on using that much water to grow that many nuts. Prices will have to rise and we East Coasters will have to buy less stuff grown in CA. [I have noticed the attempt to blame us for buying the food. I’ll accept a tiny portion of the blame and note that policies I had nothing to do with made it possible for all of this to happen).

    • Pat

      Not that anyone’s kids want to run barefoot on desert native lawns. But then we can criticize them for not getting enough exercise and outdoor play time.

      • Rob in CT

        Community pools! Oh, right, water…

    • ProgressiveLiberal

      Setting aside who is to blame, they really can’t go on using that much water to grow that many animals.

      Fixed for you. Maybe we should place blame where its deserved, instead of on the few lbs of nuts Americans eat per year?

      The fact that liberals fell for this nonsense hook, line and sinker is dismaying. Have we learned nothing in the last few decades?

      • Rob in CT

        Setting aside who is to blame, they really can’t go on using that much water to grow that much food

        There, fixed it even better for you.

        Almonds, alfalfa, cows… if the water costs more things will have to change.

        • ProgressiveLiberal

          “Changing one’s diet to replace 50 percent of animal products with edible plants like legumes, nuts and tubers results in a 30 percent reduction in an individual’s food-related water footprint. Going vegetarian, a better option in many respects, reduces that water footprint by almost 60 percent.”

          PS. How do we increase the price of water in private wells? Seems to me, “increase the price of animal consumption.”

          • Rob in CT

            And if/when prices rise, people will adjust. Very few will adjust because you scold them.

            • ProgressiveLiberal

              My wife and I were provided evidence by a friend, and we changed when I became convinced the evidence was correct. But we are liberal…so…

              • DrDick

                But we are liberal…so…

                No, you are just a whackaloon dietary extremist troll who has no idea what he is talking about.

                • ProgressiveLiberal

                  Actually it had nothing to do with “diet”…i don’t have leather seats/shoes either.

          • dr. fancypants

            Serious question: Are animal products genuinely a significant part of the problem in California? I don’t think of animal products as a substantial component of CA agriculture, and I don’t see all that many cows, sheep, pigs, or chickens when I’m passing through farm country here. But I readily admit that could just be recall bias.

            • ProgressiveLiberal

              47% of ALL water consumption statewide, the single largest use – the single largest contributor, by far.

              Page 3, pie chart on right.

              You’d think it was almonds, right?

              • mpowell

                I don’t understand what point you think you’re advancing. So the biggest consumer of water isn’t almonds but raising animals? So what? The point is that the agriculture has access to ridiculously cheap water that leads them to use it without regard for the impact on everyone else. Increase their prices just a little closer to market levels and you’ll solve CA’s water problems. Consumers can figure out how much beef they want to continue eating at the new prices, which may not change much at all given the possibility of simply raising cattle elsewhere.

                • ProgressiveLiberal

                  Again, I’m tired of all these “almond” screeds in every liberal magazine and blog misleading everyone into believing that almonds (read: “nuts” [read: liberals, DFH’s]) have anything do with CA’s water problem.

                  Instead now I have clowns telling me how almonds are ruining CA and trying to start an #almondshaming campaign.

                  That’s my point. How about they write a useful, informative article instead?

                • pseudonymous in nc

                  Again, I’m tired of all these “almond” screeds in every liberal magazine

                  I avoid meat myself, but I also avoid vegetarian sanctimony.

                  Almond trees are a sunk cost. You plant the young trees, and you need to water them for years before the can be harvested. Alfalfa fields can be left fallow a year at a time. Cows can do their cow things outside of the Central Valley.

                  Planting new acreage of almond trees is like hitting yourself in the face repeatedly in the belief that if you do it long enough, it’ll stop hurting.

              • DrDick

                I quote:

                As shown in Figure ES 3, more than 90% of
                California’s water footprint is associated with
                agricultural products

                So plant based agriculture accounts for essentially the same amount of water use, but you want to target only animal production. That is called lying with numbers.

                • ProgressiveLiberal

                  So you’re pointing out that human beings use 100% of water they use? That it takes water to make food?

                  The amount of sustenance provided by those plants is several orders of magnitude larger than the animals, yet require ONLY the same amount of water. If we went to an entirely plant based diet, we’d actually reduce the water usage in CA. If we went to an entirely animal based diet, we’d multiply it several times over.

                  (And we haven’t even gotten into GHG’s….again.)

                  Thanks for providing no useful information or context to the discussion.

                • brugroffil

                  Yes, but animals are delicious and you lead a sad, empty, rage-filled life, so I win.

  • It’s a bit more complicated than that. In general, the state does not control agricultural water, the feds do. And agricultural water allocations have indeed been cut back, and a lot of acreage has been fallowed, and farmers have been moved to improve the efficiency of irrigation. Farmers are also drilling deeper and deeper wells, which is not sustainable, but Brown has no authority to stop that, it has to be done locally. As water becomes more expensive, farmers are starting to shift their crops. It isn’t really true that Governor Moonbeam is ignoring or exempting agriculture, it’s just mostly not within his authority.

    • Rob in CT

      Shouldn’t Brown have made these points then?

      • kmannkoopa
        • Rob in CT

          And I see a quote from Brown in the article mentioning farmers cutting back, and the article backs that up. So good.

          I don’t see any mention of him lacking authority to do more wrt agricultural water use. Assuming Cervantes is right about that, it seems like an important oversight not to mention it.

          Is this the whole “the executive does everything” delusion in America (POTUS just needs to lead with leadership, etc)?

          • Like I say, the feds control the agricultural water and farmers have certain contractual rights to it. They can’t just arbitrarily cut it.

            • Pat

              Aren’t a lot of those rights based on contracts that are decades old?

              • DrDick

                Water rights are generally tied to parcels of land pretty much forever unless the uses of the land change (most water rights are use specific).

              • Stag Party Palin

                IIRC federal water contracts here are for 50 years. About 10 years ago there was a fuss about renewing a bunch of them, but to no avail.

            • Rob in CT

              Brown should point this out, and so should the media (yeah, I know, I know). It’s important info.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      local control of wells? here in terry “almost as open for business as wisconsin, but quieter about it” branstad’s iowa, the state department of natural resources has permitting control over high capacity wells. would be surprising to learn local people could regulate depth here

  • This water crisis isn’t going to turn LA and San Francisco into ghost towns. These slow motion environmental disasters always hit first and hardest in poor rural areas. Look at Syria, that civil war happened because the Syria has been enduring the longest sustained drought in recorded history. The Assad regime has made sure its largely urban supporters have enough water, but rural agricultural communities are experiencing their own version of the dust bowl. It is those displaced and impoverished people that rebelled.
    In California, even last year I read of a town, in the central valley I believe, whose wells completely dried up, and whose residents are now dependent on water trucked in and distributed at the fire station in plastic jugs. That isn’t sustainable. It only works when the smallest town at the end of the road is dry. When there’s several towns in the same area that are dry, there won’t be enough water to deliver, and people will have to move. That’s when things will get interesting, America hasn’t had to deal with internal refugees in a long time.

    • Thrax

      Is ten years a long time? I seem to recall quite a few Katrina refugees.

      • Honoré De Ballsack

        Is ten years a long time? I seem to recall quite a few Katrina refugees.

        FYI: only property-owning white people qualify as “internal refugees.” (i.a., The Grapes Of Wrath.)

    • Matt_L

      I agree, the access to water is significant, but its not just about wells drying up, its also about water quality. I had a friend who came from Tracy CA. I remember talking with him and his parents about how they had to go buy drinking water from the grocery store because their well water was undrinkable. That was in the 1990s.

    • brugroffil

      I’ve been out there quite a bit for work recently, and one resident of Atascadaro told me about a lady who recently purchased some land in the town, spent tens of thousands of dollars have three separate wells drilled to depths of over 800 feet, and that they never hit ground water.

  • Danny

    My one complaint with this article is that I’d like to see more numbers. Basically, before letting golf courses and lawns off the hook I’d like to know just how much of a dent in the problem getting rid of nuts would make. While the fact that 80% of California’s water going to agriculture is important to remember, and 5 gallons of water for a single walnut is insane, I feel like getting fruits and vegetables to America is more important than letting people have lawns. Would getting rid of walnuts and almonds be enough to keep California on a sustainable path with water? I tend to doubt it, but then again, these are the types of important, difficult decisions that the article rightly excoriates politicians for not making.

    • FMguru

      The numbers I’ve seen have shown that 10% of all water use in the state goes to almonds. 10% commerical, 10% residential, 10% ag (almonds), 70% ag (non-almonds).

      So clearly the answer is to shame 38 million residents into showering only every other day. That’ll fix it.

      • Latverian Diplomat

        Almonds are a tree crop that takes years to establish.

        Livestock, dairying, and related crops (like alfalfa) are also big water consumers, and are much easier to move elsewhere in a short amount of time. There’s little reason to have so much dairy in a drought state like CA except to save a few pennies on transport. And there is most likely plenty of capacity in other states where things like almonds won’t grow.

        If we had a coherent agriculture policy in the US, these types of decisions would have been made years ago.

        • Danny

          This is why I tend to feel that an ideal solution would be some sort of cap and trade style system that would cap the amount of water each company can use per acre of farmland, and the ability to sell the rights to water if you conserve more. This may be easier said than done, but my understanding is that water is incredibly cheap on a per gallon basis, and pricing doesn’t go up based on use, with agriculture getting incredibly favorable rates. If it’s easier to save water by moving cows and alfalfa to areas where water is more abundant, that will be the choice made under such a system. It’s entirely possible that a system like that is infeasible for a variety of reasons, but that seems like the most elegant solution, and is definitely better than forcing people who use a tiny fraction of the water in the state to shower less.

          • tribble

            I think you want some slack in a system with a variable amount of water available, though. As in, if you’re using all agricultural water for almonds, stone fruits and grapes, that doesn’t leave any margin to cut back in dry years. Having some amount used for alfalfa in wet years or even in normal years may make sense, as long as it’s first in line to be cut back in a drought.

            Ditto for rice.

          • dilan

            This discussion is UGLY. There is no perfectly equitable way to cut consumption in times of shortages.

            Economists would say price it correctly, but that hits the poor.

            Suffice to say everyone should cut water use, rich and poor, during a severe draught. Much more cannot be said.

            • ColBatGuano

              Pricing it correctly doesn’t mean that you pay more for every gallon used, but perhaps a tiered system where usage over a certain amount increases the per gallon cost. I’m sure the poor aren’t flooding their fields to grow rice.

    • SatanicPanic

      I’d like to see this broken down too. I’m curious, for instance, how much water the Imperial Valley uses, because they get their water from the Colorado, not CA sources. And while we’re at it- almonds vs. green front lawns… which do I want? Uh, neither, really.

      • Danny

        Agreed, I wouldn’t be incredibly sad to see both go, though given the difficulty involved in establishing an almond crop I would actually rather see lawns go first as they are completely decorative and almonds at least serve some purpose.

  • Karen24

    This is why I like pecans, and am grateful to live in a place that produces tons of them with very little irrigation.

    That said, do they still grow RICE in Cali? If so, is there any way for me to ensure I never buy any?

    • Pat

      I know that one of the brands is “Calrose.” But are you making things better by buying rice from Asia?

      • NonyNony

        Rice is grown in the South as well – Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas all have pretty sizable rice growing operations, IIRC. A lot of rice is grown along the Mississippi river, and the climate in the South is good for growing rice.

      • DrDick

        They also grow rice in Louisiana and Arkansas and at least used to in South Carolina.

        • Hogan
        • StellaB

          Although thanks to the Southern laissez-faire attitude towards the environment and environmental regulations, southern rice is heavily contaminated with arsenic compared to California grown rice because rice plants concentrate arsenic. Also, rice in California is grown in the Sacramento Delta (i.e. where the smelt live) rather than in the Central Valley.

          • sparks

            Central Valley used to grow a good deal of rice but the land became more value for development so a lot of it was taken out of production. The arsenic issue is one reason I still buy California rice rather than Texas rice. I won’t tell the name of the company who grows rice here. The one I know ain’t Calrose.

            I’d buy rice from overseas, but again don’t know if there are any contamination issues.

      • Honoré De Ballsack

        But are you making things better by buying rice from Asia?

        In terms of water usage, you may well be.

      • Murc

        But are you making things better by buying rice from Asia?

        Honestly? In terms of both water and energy usage you may very well be.

        People don’t realize just how staggeringly, amazingly cheap and energy efficient oceangoing transport is, and while freight trains on electrified rails aren’t nearly in that league, it is still pretty good. There are kinds of food where it is literally more environmentally sound to have them shipped here halfway around the world, then put on a train, and then last-miled to grocery stores via truck, than it would be to grow them in the continental US.

        Logistics can do amazing things.

        • Hogan

          Don’t start talking about supply chain management. We can’t be having with that kind of thing.

          • Lee Rudolph

            By the way, shortly after our last discussion of same, what should show up unannounced in my mailbox but the February 2015 issue of Modern Materials Handling (subtitle: Productivity Solutions for Distribution, Warehousing and Manufacturing), with the lead cover article being “The Home Depot builds an omni-channel supply chain” (cover art: Scott Spata, vice president of supply chain direct fulfillment, The Home Depot, decked out in his orange apron emblazoned “We put customers FIRST–The Home Depot SUPPLY CHAIN”) and the month’s Big Picture article being “The new role for supply chain technicians”. Great back of the book, too, filled with quarter-page ads for things I just wish I could find a use for; my favorite is the DrumTumblr™ corner-over-corner drum tumbling device guaranteed to “correct settling and homogenize the contents of steel, plastic, and fiber drums … from 30- to 55- gallon sizes”, the perfect gift for your sad-eyed lady of the lowlands.

            But here’s the thing. This didn’t arrive in my e-mailbox, it arrived in my physical mailbox, and the address on the label is the particular variant of my name that I use only for my undergraduate alumni magazine. If (against all evidence since 1969) the editors have decided to sell the list, why to Modern Materials Handling, of all places?

            I feel that LGM is, somehow, obscurely at fault.

            • Murc

              That drum-tumbler thing actually sounds amazingly useful. Weight distribution is important when you’re dealing with entire containers full of things. There have, iirc, been documented instance of ships needing to return to port because their container loads were unbalanced or because the containers themselves had unbalanced loads inside them that threw off the weight distribution in ways that made them unsafe to sail.

        • Yankee

          And no doubt people in Asian countries will be better off industrializing their ag sector and getting hip with that globalism thing, like Irish potatoes, Mexican corn, or Ethiopian teff.

          • Hogan

            Just tell me when I have to give up basmati.

        • Craigo

          I worked briefly on a case for a logistics company, and the rule of thumb that I gathered from their documentation was that rail is four times as efficient as highway, and maritime is ten times as efficient as highway. And while nobody would ever call the shipping industry “green,” each ton-per-mile has a smaller carbon footprint.

          (And it’s a hell of a lot safer, despite the relatively high casualty rate among seafarers.)

    • DAS

      Isn’t a lot of the rice grown in Cali grown in swampy regions and/or upland varieties of rice that don’t actually require so much water? Of course, there is certainly damage to wetlands growing rice there instead of letting migrating birds have homes. But I seem to remember that one of those “ironic” “you won’t believe this true fact” facts about rice is that it actually is not as much of a water hog as some plants that you would actually associate with drier regions.

      • trollhattan

        Most rice is grown north of Sacramento on land that doesn’t percolate well, so the water tends to stay put. It’s really important to add the paddies are a critical component of the Pacific Flyway for migratory birds, replacing the original wetlands that are more than 90% converted to farmlands.

        Nevertheless, a lot of rice land is current fallow for lack of water, and then there’s this:

        With the drought stretching into its fourth year, a heavyweight water agency from Los Angeles has come calling on Sacramento Valley rice farmers, offering up to $71 million for some of their water.

        The price being offered is so high, some farmers can make more from selling water than from growing their rice. Many are willing to deal: Nine irrigation districts, mainly serving rice growers along the Feather River basin, have made tentative deals to ship a portion of their water to the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and several other water agencies later this summer.

        Almost all of the buyers are located south of the Delta, where the water shortage is generally more critical than in the Sacramento Valley.

        As many as 115,000 acre-feet of water could be sold, or more than 37 billion gallons, to Metropolitan and its fellow buyers. The result: a reduction in the amount of rice planted as farmers take fields out of production. As it is, California’s rice industry is struggling to recover from a difficult 2014, in which 140,000 acres were idled due to drought and one-fourth of the crop didn’t get planted.

        I’m still scratching my head over the hundreds, if not thousands of acres of new orchards I saw planted along I-5 in Stanislaus County last week. WTF?

    • ProgressiveLiberal

      Rice is about 300 gal/lb, or one-eight to one-sixteenth as much as beef.

      So next time you’re eating rice and beef, eat a pound of rice and an eighth pound of beef and you’ll be better off than eating a quarter pound of beef with no rice.

      • Rob in CT

        The Great Google informs me that cooked rice is ~500 calories/lb (216 calories for 1 cup/195 grams of cooked brown rice).

        It also informs me that 85% lean ground beef has about 1129 calories/lb.

        Where are your numbers from?

        • ProgressiveLiberal

          My numbers are from the great google. “gallons water per pound rice.”

          The gubmit tells me rice is about 700 cal/lb.

          So, calories per gallon water (if this is your preferred measure):

          beef – .45 max (could be even half of that)

          rice – 2.33 (you could quadruple the water consumption and still come out of top.)

          And we STILL haven’t gotten to talking about GHG’s….

          Animal consumption is the largest user of water in CA, and probably the entire US. Can we face facts yet or are we going to keep on with these screeds against “nuts”?

          (Or maybe you can shift the goalposts again, and start talking about “gallons water per gram of protein” in which case I’m going to introduce you to my friend “Mr Bean.”)

          If CA want to end their crisis, the world needs to consume less animals. PERIOD.

          • Rob in CT

            I misread! I read your gal/lb as cal/lb. I think it’s because you followed with “you’d be better off” by which I think you really mean “we’d be better off” or “you’d have less water footprint” or somesuch.

            Any goalpost shifting was entirely unintentional on my part. And no, I don’t need a primer on protein from beans.

            • ProgressiveLiberal

              Ok, I apologize for my “tone” then. I’m just fed up with these silly almond articles on every blog I read.

            • Rob in CT

              Though “water per pound” does strike me as a simplistic metric.

              Thinking about calories, protein and other nutrients makes sense. I have no doubt, however, that one can construct a diet that provides good nutrition and has a much lower water footprint than, say, the average American’s diet.

              52 lbs of beef a year per person sounds really high to me, so somebody is eating a lot of beef to get the number up that high. Chicken is actually the staple meat in my house, though we do have plenty of beef too.

              The core problem here is that meat is tasty and scolding people only gets you so far. If it costs more, people won’t have much choice but to adjust.

              • ProgressiveLiberal

                “Tasty” is a construct. We could eat humans or dogs or bugs…but it seems scolding (or something along those lines) works on some level.

                4 burgers a week (or equiv) doesn’t seem that high to me considering what I see people eat here in the US.

                A high vegetable/fruit, low grain plant based diet seems to be the best balance when it comes to what is good for humans and the environment, which is what my family has chosen to stick to. Every time you want to think about how “tasty” a chicken nugget is, just think about what that animal has to go through to provide you with that taste. Works for me. But I have a lot of self control, as does my wife.

                • Rob in CT

                  Oh come the fuck on. Taste is subjective, certainly, but people eat meat generally because they like eating meat, and they can afford to do so.

                  But I have a lot of self control, as does my wife.

                  Yes, I know. You’re BETTER than everyone else. You’ve made that abundantly clear.

                • ProgressiveLiberal

                  You actually believe that?

                  You also think people “choose” their religions after a systematic study of all that are available?

                  Come the fuck on indeed….

                  Do you eat bugs for dinners like some cultures in SA, Asia, or Africa?

                • ColBatGuano

                  Thank you for fulfilling every stereotype of the holier than thou progressive liberal. Your lectures are so informative.

                • Richard Gadsden

                  I do eat arthropods. Unlike most people, I don’t just eat water-living species, though edible non-water-living arthropods are quite difficult to get hold of, so I don’t eat them as often as I would like. Very tasty – locust is delicious in honey, for example.

                  But, honestly, this is irrelevant. The question is not number of litres of water per kilogram of food, nor even the number of litres of water per joule, it’s litres of water per dollar of food.

                  If people prefer to eat beef, then they should have the freedom to do so, as long as they are internalising the externality of the use of water through the price mechanism.

                  If animals use a lot more water than plants, then meat should be more expensive than vegetables. That could well see California meat driven off the market by meat from other, better-watered parts of the country. That’s far more realistic as a solution to a current drought than major changes in the dietary habits of the US, which are certainly not going to happen in a few months.

    • Srsly Dad Y

      Pecans are the queen of nuts, Jerry!

      I’m amazed that Kramer never said that.

  • Denverite

    I usually have to go to Sacramento on government business a couple times a year. A former colleague liked to reserve a room at the Governor’s Club for prep sessions and debriefings (he usually requested the Ronald Reagan room, but often was stuck with the Earle Warren room). The club has an entire exhibit dedicated to Blue Diamond almonds.

  • KN

    I find the focus on almonds peculiar given animal agriculture (including crops grown for animal feed) accounts for nearly half of CA’s overall water usage. Which doesn’t even get into the additional negative impacts of animal agriculture on climate change, and, you know, animals.

    • timb

      More people like to eat animals than almonds. Personally, I’m a fan of both

      • NBarnes

        Animal with shaved almonds on top is one of my favorite things at a local Indian place. Which makes me a monster, and I’m not happy about it. :(

      • DAS

        Time now to swap recipes involving both almonds and animals. Almond chicken? Almond stuffed cornish hens?

        • sparks

          I had a Chinese takeout Almond Chicken that was incredible, but the place that made it up and disappeared after being in business for 40 years.

          I still cry over that. For years after I tried AC at many different restaurants, and none were close.

    • ProgressiveLiberal

      THIS, a thousand times over. Seems liberals never stop hitting themselves when given the chance. Could we carry any more water for bad conservative arguments?

      Let’s look at the numbers:

      Avg American consumes 2lbs of almonds, 52lbs of beef (plus butter, cheese, milk, etc). (Remember, 70% of almonds are exported.)

      Almonds = 1700 gal/lb, Beef = 2500 gal/lb (minimum, some estimates are double)

      So, it would seem to me that we could the same reduction in water usage by either A) banning almond consumption in the united states, or B) americans not eat beef (JUST BEEF, they can still have their chicken, etc) for TWO WHOLE WEEKS PER YEAR.

      Yeah, almonds are CLEARLY the problem.

      Blaming almond consumption in american for the water crisis in CA is as stupid as blaming the water crisis on cities instead of agriculture. The REAL culprit is animal consumption – but we all know we can’t talk about that! Y’all might have to give up a cheeseburger or two to prevent a water crisis or global warming, and that just ain’t worth it!

      The ACTUAL solution is to raise the price of water to reduce consumption to sustainable levels. Also, increase taxes on animal consumption to reduce consumption. But again, can’t have that!

      • Hogan

        I had a premonition you’d be showing up.

        • ProgressiveLiberal

          I had a premonition you’d be showing up.

          I just couldn’t take it anymore. Bad arguments are TERRIBLE.

          • DrDick

            Then why do you keep making them?

      • SatanicPanic

        two weeks of no beef vs. almonds… almond farmers are going to lose that battle

        • ProgressiveLiberal

          No doubt. But I’m actually just hoping these stupid “almond” screeds stop. Liberals look dumb enough already. We shouldn’t provide evidence.

          • DrDick

            In terms of economic and other impacts, reducing almond production has much less impact than reducing meat and dairy production. I would also say the same thing about artichokes. You are the one providing all the evidence that “liberals”(sic) are dumb.

      • Snarki, child of Loki

        “There are TOO MANY nuts in California. Please eliminate half of them. I am not a …oh, wait”

      • Rob in CT

        Nobody is talking about banning eating almonds, you nut (edit: not here, at least, nor have I seen it proposed by other liberals). People are talking about raising the price of water or otherwise restricting water usage, which would in turn impact both almond farming and animal agriculture.

        Almond farming is part of the problem. So are other agricultural products, including animals.

        What is it with people and monocausal explanations for things?

        also, what does exporting 70% of the almonds have to do with anything? That doesn’t change how much water gets used…

        • ProgressiveLiberal

          My point is that liberals are sounding very stupid on this one – falling for more bad arguments. Every liberal magazine and blog now has the standard LOOK AT THE ALLLLMONDDDSSS!!!!111ONE screed when referencing the drought in california (including this here thread) – when consumption of almonds in the US is of NO SIGNIFICANCE. So not only are almonds not the biggest culprit – not by a long shot – even you admit there is nothing we can do to stop their consumption. So, basically, we sound like idiots again. What exactly is the point of this almond nonsense if A) its not the largest cause, and B) we can’t do anything about it anyways? Enlighten me.

          Instead, now the stupid portion of american is under the impression that almonds are to blame for the crisis. Congrats, we’ve just made america dumber.

          Maybe instead of #almondshaming people should be looking at #beefshaming?

          And yes, raise the price of water and let the chips fall where they may. But on the “hypocrisy” level, I’m tired of animal eaters whining about almonds. Cry me a fucking river. You all caused this. How about taking some responsibility for your actions?

          • Rob in CT

            My point is that liberals are sounding very stupid

            That’s always your “point.”

            Yet, you manage it yourself quite often.

            To whit:

            consumption of almonds in the US is of NO SIGNIFICANCE

            We’re discussing PRODUCTION, not consumption per se. Production of almonds in California, specifically. This is why I pointed out your pointless argument about 70% of the almonds being exported. It’s irrelevant.

            you admit there is nothing we can do to stop their consumption

            Um, no. If (big IF, certainly!) water costs more or is otherwise constrained (and this is happening, though probably not enough), then almonds (and other products) will cost more. And that will reduce consumption.

            But on the “hypocrisy” level, I’m tired of animal eaters whining about almonds.

            Yes, yes, we know you’re a superior human being because you don’t eat meat. Nevermind that you have no substantive disagreement here with the proposed solution (raise the price of water).

            It’s all about YOU, amirite?

            • Rob in CT

              Oh and by the way: if beef cost more (and it has risen in price pretty significantly over the past decade), I’d likely eat less of it. As would many people, particularly those who simply couldn’t afford it anymore.

              I didn’t put policies in place that made beef cheaper than it “should” be (in your world, I imagine it “should” cost infinity dollars/lb).

              A similar argument applies to other things that are driven by bad policy (e.g., subsidizing corn –> cheap HFCS -> Americans buy stuff loaded with HFCS).

              So sure, I’ll take a tiny share of the blame for eating things that I enjoy eating, but the lion’s share needs to go to those who designed and implemented policies that set up perverse incentives.

            • ProgressiveLiberal

              First, these articles inevitably turn into shaming “yuppies” and “hippies” fro their consumption of almonds (milk, especially.) Which is why I’m tired of this crap, and focusing on “consumption” here in the US.

              If they wanted to write a pure economics article on consumption of water – BE MY GUEST – but the word “almond” wouldn’t be in it. So again, what is the point of this post? To give misinformation? To shame? I’m at a loss here…it surely isn’t informative or educational. The most likely outcome is confusion as to the actual problem.

              Anyway, including exported crops, animal ag is still about half of all water consumption in CA (alfalfa to feed animals in china, cows to feed americans, etc) and ten percent almonds. I still have NO IDEA why the word “almond” ever came up. We mock people for talking about direction consumption (5%) as a solution, but harp on an idea that is only “half as stupid”? How about liberals concentrate on writing informative articles instead?

              I think raising the price of water will work on SOME level – but wells don’t have a “price” on them – in which case, we need to raise the price on animals directly. You cool with that?

              • Rob in CT

                The primary point of the article is that blaming residential users is misguided (true).

                There is also a bit about almonds, mostly I think b/c it allowed for having some fun with “this is nuts!” The text quoted points at the entire agricultural sector, not just nuts. Also, more than one nut is mentioned (walnuts & almonds), so it’s not all about the evil almonds.

                The counterpoint that KN raised and you seconded, that raising animals uses even more water, is a fine one. I had no issues with KN’s post, and neither did others, as far as I can tell.

                Re: wells: seems to me that in order to have sane water policy in CA (and elsewhere, obviously), some laws have to change. That does not strike me as more politically difficult than, say, a special tax on meat. Either way it’s a big lift, but I actually think there’s a better chance of changing CA water laws than having a nationwide tax on meat, because it’s California that is suffering from the epic drought.

                Now I know there are other reasons to go after meat. But purely on the subject of water, water-intensive agriculture is more harmful in some areas than in others, so I think putting a price on water > taxing the end products selectively (again, this ignores global warming, but then I want a carbon tax, which would tax the hell out of meat no doubt).

            • DrDick

              Yet, you manage it yourself quite often.

              As in every time he posts.

            • brugroffil

              …doesn’t the fact that most of the almonds are exported make it even worse? As in, now whatever residual water there was in the almonds is shipped far, far away from the source rather than remaining local to California where it’s desperately needed?

              • ProgressiveLiberal

                Alfalfa is exported to china to feed animals for consumption, and is more water intensive than almonds…

                “Grown on over a million acres in California, alfalfa sucks up more water than any other crop in the state. And it has one primary destination: cattle.”


                “Alfalfa hay requires even more water, about 15 percent of the state’s supply.”

                Again, the single biggest waste is using water to feed animals for consumption later. It is completely wasteful and inefficient relative to the alternatives, and its not even close.

          • Srsly Dad Y
        • DAS

          Do you know that monocausal explanations for things are the sole cause of many of the problems our planet faces today?

          • ProgressiveLiberal

            Hence the “almond” articles….

            • Rob in CT

              There is truth in that. The original thing starts with “stop watering your lawns!” People look into it and discover that 80% of the water goes to farms, and 10% to one particular crop. Then THAT becomes The Answer. Even though no, it’s only part of the answer.

              Just like with the financial crisis. “It was people taking out risky loans that were to blame!” (mostly false, kernel of truth, but as THE explanation it fails spectacularly). Response: No! It had nothing to do with homeowners taking out loans they couldn’t afford! It was banks engaging in egregiously risky and sometimes illegal behavior (mostly true, though it’s not 100% of the story).

              Reality is that it was mostly about insane, unethical financial sector shenanigans, with sides of neverending low interest rates from the Fed, the global savings glut, stagnating household income, and yes, some people took out loans they shouldn’t have. Some lied to do it. And since I’m doing this from memory, I’ve left out a few contributing factors.

    • trollhattan

      Orchards represent a long-term commitment that cannot be fallowed during a low-water year or worse, a historic four-year drought. The rapid increase in almond acreage (also, too, grapes and the like) represent a terrible strategy for what may be a wildly variable water supply as an outcome of ongoing climate change.

      In short: a risky management decision being replicated across the state. And now that they’ve committed to mining the groundwater in an unsustainable manner, they’re doubling down on the long-term damage caused. I’ll leave out poisoning the soil with the salty groundwater for the moment.

    • pseudonymous in nc

      I find the focus on almonds peculiar given animal agriculture

      If worst comes to worst, livestock agriculture can be moved. There are people in the Central Valley planting out new almond acreage and in doing so betting that they’ll have a consistent supply of water for the next decade.

  • DAS

    The ritual shaming of the public, in which politicians blame us for their failures, seems like democratic politics in reverse.

    This is a particular quirk of modern American politics, as far as I know: the more “unpopular” and “pain inducing” your proposals are, the more people will support you because you are “a serious person who is willing to make tough choices and do what has to be done no matter how unpopular it is”. So doing things like shaming the public is actually a form of pandering and small-d democratic politics.

    What does it say about the American electorate, though, that we essentially expect politicians to abuse us?

    • Murc

      The thing is, it’s a formula that kind-sorta makes sense. The image many Americans hold in their mind of politicians leads them to expect said politicians to pander, to tell them what they want to hear and to try and make things nice and good for everyone, to ignore problems or bury them because that might impact re-election chances. So if they encounter a politician who tells them “you need to take it in the shorts” a lot of people will think “whoa! That doesn’t make me feel good. That makes me feel bad. This guy must be brave enough to be addressing a real, actual problem. I should take him seriously!”

      And really, that’s not at all nonsensical. It’s just a case of the people who hold that image being unaware of the incentive structures involved.

    • Honoré De Ballsack

      the more “unpopular” and “pain inducing” your proposals are, the more people will support you because you are “a serious person

      So if they encounter a politician who tells them “you need to take it in the shorts” a lot of people will think “whoa! That doesn’t make me feel good.

      Huh? ANY American politician who suggests “unpopular” and/or “pain inducing” solutions that involve actually raising taxes, automatically loses his/her next election. What Americans DO respond to (as many others have already noted) is the Puritan notion that every individual is somehow in complete control of his/her own destiny…in this case, if there’s a drought, it MUST be because too many self-indulgent people took long showers and watered their lawns.

      • Rob in CT

        Yeah, this.

      • xq


      • DAS

        I agree with you about taxes. There is perhaps a better way I could have phrased my point.

        • Honoré De Ballsack

          How about this: American voters love “pain inducing” proposals, as long as it’s somebody else going to be feeling the pain. And it seems to me this phenomenon isn’t unique to America.

    • rea

      Hardly unique to modern American politics.

      The Solution
      Bertolt Brecht

      After the uprising of the 17th June
      The Secretary of the Writer’s Union
      Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
      Stating that the people
      Had forfeited the confidence of the government
      And could win it back only
      By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
      In that case for the government
      To dissolve the people
      And elect another?

      • Matt_L

        Berthold Brecht. Word. One of the best poems written by a communist writer, albeit one with a swiss bank account.

  • Francis

    oh dear me. OK, who besides me has ever practiced water law in California? Anyone?

    First of all, the bit about Beverly Hills billionaires is kinda funny, because Stuart Resnick is a BH billionaire who is both a huge contributor to the Democratic party and the guy who controls Paramount Farms, which grows most of the pistachios in the US.

    Second, in its current form the California constitution prohibits local governments from setting fees and assessments above the cost of service. Anyone who just talks randomly about water prices being too low or subsidized simply doesn’t know what they’re talking about. Yes, local agencies can adopt demand management programs, and fund those programs through fees and assessments. But they have to get the votes first.

    Third, the perception of shared pain is a great way to build public support. How far would Brown get if his public message was that farmers have to take it in the shorts but municipal users can do what they please?

    Fourth, water in California is local. Brown’s drought declaration is notable for the lack of direct State control. He is ordering the State Water Resources Control Board to issue regulations that will trickle down to various water agencies that will then in turn issue rules affecting individual users.

    Fifth, even federal ag water is subject to state law.

    Sixth, I very much doubt that the State of California has the power to prohibit farmers from exporting their crops either to other states or overseas. Brown has to work within federal constitutional limits on his power.

    Seventh, water ‘markets’ don’t really exist. The last major water transfer, from Imperial Irrigation District to San Diego County Water Authority, took about 10 years to negotiate, 10 years to litigate, required both state and federal legislation, and still left unsolved major environmental impacts regarding the Salton Sea.

    There’s much more to say, but I don’t have the time this morning.

    • Matt_L

      Thank you so much! As a Californian-in-exile, I appreciate it when someone with actual expertise in this issue speaks up. Otherwise many people, inside and outside of California, just assume everyone should move. Or they believe that Governor can turn off the tap at the head of the California Aqueduct and leave LA a desert wasteland.

    • ProgressiveLiberal

      And there it is…our press, our liberal blogs, etc, once again leave everyone no better off than they were before. Why oh why can’t we have one intelligent place on this planet we can go for news? We get silly articles on almonds and water…and have learned nothing.

      • sibusisodan

        I’ve learned quite a lot from both the OP and the comment thread. It’s likely from what you’ve written here that you don’t think enough of the right facts have been presented, but that’s not really the same thing.

      • DrDick

        The fact that reality does not correspond to your prejudices does not prove your point.

  • ringtail

    After reading in the NYT that gallon of water for one almond figure I spoke to a Texas Ag Extension agent who confirmed it and told me walnuts are a little better but pecans take only about half a gallon. I eat a lot of almonds but I guess I’m going to swap in some more pecans from now on.

  • YosemiteSemite

    This post from On the public record has the figures about who gets what from California’s fields and orchards. The blogger suggests in other posts that Californa could stop growing almonds for export altogether and still provide fruits and vegetables for America’s table. Except that the banks that financed the loans to plant almond trees and the orchardists who took out the loans would be mighty unhappy. And where do we think the political clout lies?

  • Francis

    Here’s my problem with the linked article. The author writes: “Are we all in this together? Not a chance. … It’s a systemic problem that begs systemic reform.”

    She negates her own thesis.

    Lots of internet geniuses have simple solutions to California’s water woes. Many of them involve local governments violating Prop 218 by imposing illegal rate increases on their constituents. Others wish into existence water markets that have no externalities (but see Mono Lake / San Joaquin river litigation / Bay Delta litigation / Salton Sea), or that require the existence of non-existent infrastructure.

    The drought will cause a great deal of short-term suffering. One reason that Brown didn’t focus more on ag cutbacks in his drought declaration is that the SWP is projecting a total allocation of 20% and the CVP an allocation of 0%. (SWP – State Water Project, 70% M&I, 30% ag; CVP – Central Valley Project, approx 80% ag.)

    But this drought will pass and the underlying problems in moving water across the Bay Delta will remain. California faces two very challenging interrelated problems — moving more water across the Delta in wet years and storing it in the big groundwater basins around Bakersfield for urban use in dry years, and reducing the amount of irrigated agriculture. Telling urban users not to worry because farmers will bear the entire brunt of a systemic redesign is a great way to fail before you’ve even started.

    Those systemic issues require the buy-in of both Stuart Resnick, BH billionaire and Stuart Resnick, pistachio farmer.

    • TheDeadlyShoe

      @ Francis – It’s very strange for you to focus on the possibility of ‘farmers bearing the entire brunt of a systemic redesign’ when municipalities are literally bearing the entire brunt of the current conservation measures.

      • tribble

        That’s not true. As I understand it, a Central Valley Project allocation of 0% (as Francis says is projected for this year) means that at least some of the distributors that get water from the project will get zero water this year. That means some (probably a lot) of agricultural water customers will get zero water from their usual sources and will have to try for ground water or some other source.

        This isn’t included in Brown’s 25% reduction for urban water districts, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.

  • Rob in CT

    Ezra Klein, making the same basic argument as Progressiveliberal, but doing it without being a massive jerk about it:


    The one counterpoint I’d make is that “everybody” reducing our meat intake by 50% requires some sort of global pact. Americans could do it and just watch the cattle get raised and shipped to China. This is, of course, the same basic problem we have with greenhouse gas emissions in general. The tragedy of the commons.

    Another way to attack the problem is to increase the cost of producing meat, maybe via pricier water, or intelligently designed carbon taxes (plural because, again, global issue). But either way, these issues are global, because one could increase the cost of American beef and see production move (though I don’t think it’s quite as easy as moving a factory).

    I think people respond better to price than to shaming and thus prefer the carbon tax route. But clearly, shaming isn’t useless. It’s a crucial component of anti-racism, for instance. Less successfully, there is some stigma (by some people) attached to having a massive gas guzzler (but not much, so I think Ezra’s point there is fairly weak). So far, however, shaming people for eating meat (whether b/c of animal cruelty or b/c of global warming) hasn’t worked. I think it’s pretty clear, however, that if you want to utilize shaming, the best approach is not to spend half the time talking about how superior you are. Neither is it to pretend that meat isn’t tasty. Note that Ezra does neither.

    In addition to Ezra’s article, Vox published another one recently also pointing out that almonds are hardly the only problem in California. So I guess the state of liberal journalism isn’t quite so dire after all…

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