What is the Value of Fresh Water Using an Almond Currency

The Value of Fresh Water in the United States Rests on No Water equality No Jobs

No Water-No Jobs

The Current State of Fresh Water

“Instead of enacting legislation that would provide a road map to convert the unsustainable, water intensive, agricultural practices of northern California to more sustainable practices. Let’s do the exact opposite – let’s give them more fresh water.”

Maybe a Little Enviro Terrorism

Arriving at home the other day, at the hottest part of the day, in full sun, my neighbor had his sprinklers blasting at full force. I had visions of leaping over the fence laying waste to his watering system by smashing the sprinkler heads with a shovel. After all, I was voted, “most likely to become an environmental terrorist,” my senior year in high school. But, that was a long time ago and I’ve learned to control my enviro terrorist instincts.

Instead, I stewed, and counted the minutes that those water guzzlers spewed our Earth’s most precious resource all over the lawn. What was my neighbor thinking? Doesn’t he know that the water is mostly evaporated and not useful to his dying lawn? Doesn’t he understand that the highest evaporation rate is during the hottest part of the day? Is he really that ignorant? Or does he just not care? Judging from his other behaviors I’ve witnessed, I’m guessing it’s the latter. It’s crazy, he’s metered. I can’t even imagine the total for his next water bill.

If water was priced as high as oil I bet he would get smart real quick and not flood his lawn at the hottest part of day.

Fish Vs. Farms

Ironically, the next morning, I received an email from one of my many enviro news sites about California’s water crisis. The hottest debate is fish versus farms.

The new legislation, if passed, would send more water to northern California’s farms. Currently, any excess fresh water is sent to the Pacific Ocean to support fish populations.

Well, hell, California, that’s a great idea!

Instead of enacting legislation that would provide a road map to convert the unsustainable, water intensive, agricultural practices of northern California to more sustainable practices. Let’s do the exact opposite – let’s give them more water.

Let me clarify, I don’t think it’s a great idea, just in case you didn’t detect the sarcasm in my writing.

Are these lawmakers crazy?

Do lawmakers understand sustainable practices?

Sustainable means, “able to be upheld at a rate or level.” The growers need lots and lots of fresh water to grow their almonds and avocados.  UNESCO reported a shocking 2,100 gallons of fresh water needed to produce just a single pound of shelled almonds. Let me break that down to something that makes a little more sense.

Almond Orchard Grown in a Dessert in California with Unsustainable Fresh Water Pratices

Almond Orchard Castell Area

What is the Value of Fresh Water Using an Almond Currency

Converting the UNESCO statistic, I calculate that it requires 5.8 gallons of water to produce 1 almond. What?? Did I calculate correctly?? In other words the United States is willing to pay 5.8 Gallons of Water for 1 Almond. California produces 2 billion pounds of almonds each year using an estimated 1.1 trillion gallons of water each year. 

Unsustainable Agricultural Practice Showing One Almond to 5.8 Gallons of Water

5.8 Gallons of Water to One Almond

Actually, 10 percent of California’s water goes to almond farming and it is California’s most lucrative crop producing 80 percent of the world’s supply. Sadly, almonds are grown in American deserts.

There is a reason why the United States produces 80 percent of the worlds Almonds – no other country is crazy enough to allot that much fresh water to produce a water intensive crop in a desert.

And now it gets crazier, the legislators want to anti-up more water. Apparently, the United States government values almonds more than water.

It’s Complicated

I know, it’s it not just about almonds. It’s the agricultural industries lobbying power, the jobs, and the tremendous amount of money the almond industry produces for California. It also goes deeper than that. Like my neighbor, many Americans don’t value fresh water or see water as a commodity. We use water as if there is an unlimited supply. Sadly, for other parts of the world, fresh water is an extremely valuable commodity.

We have to ask ourselves, as Americans, are we willing to support legislation that allows us to grow more water intensive crops, with the temporary gain of jobs and revenue and the knowledge that wild fish populations may diminish and that as a society of growing populations, we may not be able to continue this agricultural water demand with increasing drought conditions. Is that the best use of such a valuable, and especially for California, scarce resource?

Or would a better use for the water allotment be supporting Pacific Ocean wild fisheries and developing a plan to implement sustainable agricultural practices.  We could meet our countries agricultural demands with drought tolerant crops and technologies while at the same time support wild fisheries for future generations.

The Solution

Don’t eat anymore almonds – supply and demand, right?

Sure, but don’t just stop eating almonds. Stop eating many of the foods produced in California. For example, other water intensive foods are beef, walnuts, avocados, pork, eggs, chicken, rice, and you get the picture. California produces one third of our vegetables and two thirds of the nuts and fruits each year for the United States. Mass production of food requires lots and lots of water. The water usage for almond production is not the most shocking statistic.

I have another shocker – It takes 220 gallons of water to produce a large avocado.

A Chart Showing the Most Water Intensive Foods

Most Water Intensive Foods

While the solution of growing less water intensive foods in climates where there isn’t a lot of water seems obvious; unfortunately, the implementation is much more complex.

Our most valuable resource is entangled in a political, economic, and environmental tug of war.

What Can One Person Do

Until we as a society demand our lawmakers and the agricultural industry to wake up from the disbelief that climate change is just a hoax; that sustainable agricultural practices is the best path forward for the preservation of our Fresh Water resources; then we as an individual must:

  • Be a smart consumer.
  • Know where your food is coming from, country of origin, is the producer using sustainable practices.
  • Eat locally grown seasonal food from sustainable agriculture.
  • Place your vote in a sustainable future – support legislation that fosters sustainable practices and Environmental Vitality
  • Adopt water saving tips at home. For example, landscape with drought tolerant plants and “do not” water during the hottest part of day.
  • And most of all, ask questions and make informed choices.
Mekonnen, M.M. and Hoekstra, A.Y. (2011) National water footprint accounts: the green, blue and grey water footprint of production and consumption, Value of Water Research Report Series No. 50, UNESCO-IHE, Delft, the Netherlands

About Melissa Schaar

I am a scientist, teacher, student, friend, and mom. I am on a journey to my ultimate vitality. That journey includes living to the fullest, loving everyday, laughing whenever possible, and a constant state of learning.

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