Recycling center employees sorting through materials

The Nutty Truth About Almonds

Almonds are one of the thirstiest crops in California. It takes approximately one gallon of water to produce just one almond.

More than 80 percent of all California almonds are exported overseas, mainly to Asia. Some argue that we're sending California's most precious commodity in the midst of a three-year historic drought. That's the equivalent of California sending more than 912 billion gallons of water overseas.

While almond farmers say that's good for California's economy, some residents of California say almonds are sucking up an unfair share, particularly when they're being asked to ration.

In this segment of "SoCal Connected," reporter Jennifer Sabih visits the Central Valley to learn more about how farmers are getting water to keep their trees alive and protect their investments. Sabih also consults water activists Carolee Krieger, executive director of the California Water Impact Network, and Jon Christensen, professor at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

Reporter's Note

Fred Starrh purchased 10 million dollars of water from a farmer this year to keep his almond orchards alive. But he is an exception. With no rain coming from the sky, growers desperate to keep their trees alive have been turning to the ground, digging deeper and deeper into the aquifers to find water.

The demand is so great, well digging companies are booked years in advance and drilling crews are working 24 hours a day to keep up.

JPL's Senior climatologist Bill Patzert told me that the ancient water underneath the Central Valley has been there about ten thousand years. And no one knows just how much is left. And most likely, we are running low

Patzert's colleague hydrologist Jay Famiglietti told the San Jose Mercury News, "We may be only a few decades away from hitting bottom."

Up until recently, California was the only state that did not regulate groundwater pumping. That is in the process of changing. Governor Brown recently passed new groundwater control regulations, but they don't really go into effect until 2020. In the meantime, no one can say for sure if California's ancient waters, deep underground, will even last that long.

Featuring Interviews With:

  • Frank Starrh, almond grower
  • Carolee Krieger, California Water Impact Network
  • Jon Christensen, Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, UCLA

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