Totally nuts! Growing almonds in California uses over 250% more water than all of L.A.

Almonds
CC BY-SA 2.0 Flickr

Is your snacking contributing to water scarcity?

California has been going through a multi-year drought that a recent study has shown is the "worst in 1,200 years", with 2014 being the driest year in a century. Nobody knows exactly when things will return to normal, but some researchers say that, if history is our guide, it's possible that it could take decades.

While there's been some precipitation lately, if we look at the U.S. Drought Monitor website, it's pretty clear that things are still pretty far from normal, with a majority of the state being "extreme" and "exceptional" drought conditions:

US Drought Monitor Map, January 6 2015USDM/Public Domain

So water is scarce and everybody is being asked to do their part to conserve (despite some misfire from the authorities, such as giving fines to some people because they didn't water their lawn). But how much water are people really using compared to other industries in the state?

MJ Water usage chartMJ/Screen capture

The state produces over 80 percent of the world's almonds and 43 and 28 percent of the world's pistachios and walnuts. (source)

As you can see on the chart above, just the walnuts that are exported overseas from California use more water than all the homes and businesses in Los Angeles (population: over 10 million), and the almonds produced for export use more than 2x LA's water, while all the almonds are close to 3.5x. And Los Angeles is a big water user (just look at San Francisco at the top of the chart...).

This provides some context for who the real water users in the state are. Remember, almonds and walnuts are just two crops, though a very thirsty ones; it takes about a gallon of water to grow one almond, and nearly five gallons to produce a walnut. Does it make sense to ask people to take shorter showers while the area dedicated to growing nuts in the state has doubled in the past 10 years?

What California really needs to deal with its drought challenge is a much more water-efficient food-producing sector (other areas of the world are much more advanced in techniques like drip-irrigation and permaculture), and that might mean that certain crops are just not meant to be grown in the state, at least not in the quantities that they are now.

AlmondsFlickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Via MJ

Tags: Agriculture | California | Los Angeles | Water Conservation | Water Crisis

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