Water Restrictions Force Tough Choices for CA Almond Farmers

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

California’s ongoing drought has forced state authorities to drastically cut water allocations for farmers, even to zero, while water transfers have delayed. As a result, farmers have had to abandon crops that require too much water, like almonds. Despite the USDA making projections for a record almond season, growers like Fowler Brothers Farm in Snelling, CA, tore up 600 acres of their almond orchard in order to make room for crops that require less water.

Why This Matters: Because of this year’s La Niña and climate change, this drought has been one of California’s worst on record —87% of the West is under at least a moderate drought, and California Governor Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency for 41 of California’s 58 counties. California’s precipitation total was very low, statewide and the Sierra Nevada snowpack melted and evaporated early this year because the spring was unseasonably warm. A major issue as snowpack brings nearly 163 billion gallons of water into reservoirs— without that melt, California’s reservoirs are holding less than half their capacities. 

The $47.1 billion generated by California’s agricultural sector, accounts for 12.5% of the total agricultural production for all 50 states.

Almonds are California’s most valuable crop, but the drought is also affecting other crops like cotton, wheat, asparagus, alfalfa, and tomatoes. Even dairy farmers and beef ranchers have had to reduce herds because it’s too dry for grass to grow. 

A Tough Nut to Crack: State water regulations have been particularly severe for farmers — Governor Gavin Newsom drafted an order that would keep thousands of farmers from using water from nearby rivers. Meanwhile, in San Joaquin Valley, farmers were only allocated 5% of water from federal sources

Though this decision has been made to protect the state’s salmon, who need the water to survive, farmers are worried about what this means for their own survival. 

In response to these water allocations and a changing climate, farmers are not only planting less water-intensive crops, but also selling their allocated water. For example, some farmers in the Sacramento Valley agreed to sell as much as 48 billion gallons to growers in southern counties for $82 million

But not all farms have the money to buy the water they need, so they may have to make the difficult decision of letting their crops wither or letting fields lie fallow.

Learn More: Click through weather.com‘s slideshow to see images of one farm that removed hundreds of acres of almond trees to make room for other crops.


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