In California, the water crisis has increased as the region suffers from a drought that threatens the country’s food supply. The fields turn into brown, dusty plains, dying plants, leaving withered trees and frustrated farmers. The border of the U.S. West and California has suffered through years of lighter-than-usual dry winters. State and local authorities fear that they may not have enough water for multiple purposes.
Across California, water emergencies can be seen due to extreme drought along with severe and widespread crop and pasture loss. A drought emergency was declared by Gov. Gavin Newsom in April. But in May also the same declaration had to be made as conditions continued to deteriorate.
A recent University of California assessment found that reduced winter chill hours and a temperature rise will impact the main crops by the end of the century. Agriculture is an important part of California’s economy, and it is the top produces of nuts, barriers, vegetables, and dairy products. Out of California’s 24.6 million acres of farmland, the majority are used for irrigation of crops like grapes and almonds, which needs more water to thrive. Yields are expected to decline by 2050, for almonds, table grapes, oranges and walnuts 20 per cent and for avocados by 40 per cent.
88% of the state is in extreme drought, according to a report by The U.S. Drought Monitor, with the Central Valley facing the worst conditions. Water in three reservoirs, Cogswell, Morris, San Gabriel, has declined significantly. In 2021, all the reservoirs are outlined in brown, which indicates how much water levels has dropped. State and federal officials have reduced water for agriculture, forcing the farmers to grow higher-value crops that require less water or leave farming.
According to the report, California’s $6 billion almond industry has been affected heavily by this drought. California is only the country in the world that produces 80% of the world’s almonds and 100% of the country’s commercial supply. More growers are expected to abandon their orchards as water becomes scarce, expensive, and due to water supply regulations. Farmers across California say that less water is expected from federal and state agencies that regulate canals and reservoirs. According to them, they are taking big risks by growing crops and are hoping that they will receive water in time.
Based on seniority and need, California farmers are allocated water from the state. Large-scale surface water projects deliver the biggest share of water in the Central Valley. This includes the Central Valley Project (CVP) that services 3 million acres and the State Water Project (SWP) that services 750,000 acres of farmland. But the drought has impacted the allocation of water from these projects. Across the state, these cutbacks have been a serious concern for farmers.
In the Central Valley, almond production in California happens mainly, where the rich soil, mild climate, abundant water supply, and sunshine make it ideal for growing almonds. California’s agricultural Central Valley has undergone lots of expansion. But due to constant drought in California, it is becoming challenging to raise almonds sustainably. The issue is complex because a high amount of water is needed to cultivate almonds.
A single almond requires roughly 1.1 US gallons of water to grow. Critics have stated that California’s almond farmers water usage is around 35 times higher than the amount of water used by the residents of Sacramento. Due to the water crisis, many farmers increased groundwater pumping, which will reduce the water level more.
As temperatures keep increasing, intensifying drought threatens one of California’s most profitable crops, almonds. The farmers don’t have enough water to irrigate their farms properly, so many of them are practising deficit irrigation, providing less water than the tree needs. Many portation of the farmland is left unplanted to save water for the almonds. After the late summer harvest, many farmers are pulling out trees, and they are doing this because they feel they do not have water for next year.
Almond crops need water all the year through but now facing severe heat and drought due to climate change. According to scientists, climate change has made the Western U.S. drier and warmer, which will continue to increase. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2020, the farmers grew 3.1 billion pounds. The land also grew from 756 square miles to 2,500 square miles. In May, it was projected by the same department that California’s almond crop in 2021 would hit a record 3.2 billion pounds. But in July it said that it would increase to 2.8 million pounds because of extreme heat and water shortage. This will keep the almond prices high and hamper consumer demand.
According to Richard Waycott, president and CEO of the Almond Board of California, “A lot of growers are having to go through a stressful time to make the water they have last to keep their trees alive.” He further said 70% of the almonds are exported overseas. India, Europe, and East Asia are the major countries where it is exported.
In an interview, an owner of a farm said the profitability of growing the almonds was not the same as before, and the world will see fewer almonds. His operation could lose more than half a million dollars in income, and 700 people working with him will be out of work. He further said about a 3rd of California Orchards are planted in areas with unreliable water supplies, and many won’t survive the drought. Many farmers are not irrigating the fields, and they have left the crop to die. California lacks water storage investments over the past 40 years, and this has intensified the drought conditions.
According to Jeanine Jones, drought manager for California’s Department of Water Resources, “Fundamentally, a storage project is paid for by the people who want the water. All we can do is deliver what mother nature provides. The new dams face environmental restrictions meant to protect wildlife and fish. Do not solve the water needs.
To combat the water crisis, the government has asked the household to cut water usage by 15% so that for farming, adequate water is there. But this decision will hurt the households. Water is a basic necessity, and cutting down on water usage is a little tough. According to a board member for the California Water Impact Network state should ban the growing of almonds where water shortage is there.
Many sustainability strategies implemented by the Almond Board of California and almond farmers like minimizing dust production during the harvest, irrigation guidelines to farmers, food safety, use of waste biomass as coproducts, use of solar energy during processing, taking help of scientific research, etc. Some farmers have chosen to install subsurface drip irrigation systems on their land despite the drought challenge for water efficiency.
If the drought continues, then almonds farmers will be forced to produce other crops with less water consumption. It is difficult to ascertain how future farming will be, but almonds farmers who use their experience with this drought to inform their adaptation decisions will survive. If immediate action is not taken, then the state will be seen collapsing.