There is hardly any contention that America has become a nation that exists for the benefit of corporations and the rich. Republicans in Congress and state legislatures have made little effort to conceal their intent to give all of the nation’s wealth to their generous donors. Sadly, the rich, particularly wealthy corporations, are not content with collecting the nation’s man-made resource (wealth) and are on pace to take what is left of Western states natural resources as well. In California, the greatest natural resource, water, is in extremely short supply and the oil industry, the Nestle Corporation, and corporate agriculture is rapidly draining what is left of California water for pure profit.
As it stands today, according to very generous estimates by NASA, California likely has less than one year of surface water left with no end in sight to the historic drought. It is true that in nearly every neighborhood and municipality, areas accounting for less than 20% of California’s annual water consumption, residents are tearing up lawns and landscaping, installing low-flow toilets, taking shorter showers, installing rain barrels, and using gray water trapping systems to preserve the precious resource. Residents cutting their water use by 25% have rightly accused the agricultural industry of not doing anything to curb its water use, and corporate farms have fought back with public relations campaigns explaining how their produce feeds much of the country and should be exempt from water restrictions.
Farmers have been fighting to maintain their right to use as much of what little water remains as they want to irrigate their money-making crops. Their claim is that they were too important, make the state too much money, and argue that they feed the nation. Although there is some validity to their claim of feeding the nation, agriculture has been spared the same mandatory water-saving restrictions urban Californians face. However, yesterday in a sign that some small-scale farmers realize the record-setting drought is a real danger to their survival, some in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta region struck a deal with state officials to give up a quarter of their water this season.
Any farmer willing to opt in on the deal will either leave part of their land unplanted or find other ways to reduce their water use although there are no plans for how to monitor their compliance. If they fallow their fields, crop insurance will cover their losses so there is little risk to their livelihood in saving water, but any saving is better than none. State officials are hopeful that the concession will prompt similar agreements throughout the state’s agricultural industry which uses 80 percent of the state’s water, but it is doubtful there will much, if any, change because corporations maintain a very large percentage of the state’s agriculture industry.
What is never discussed is that a relatively large amount of California’s dwindling water supply goes to large corporate farms growing, and expanding by tens-of-thousands of acres, water intensive nut trees; primarily profitable almond trees. The latest records show corporate agriculture recently planted a whopping 150,000 new acres of almonds in spite of the drought, or the incredible amount of water required, to produce a commodity set for export on the foreign market.
This new almond acreage will use more water than the average annual yield of all the current and proposed CALFED water storage projects put together according to Steve Evans of the Wild Rivers Consultant. The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) estimates that the CALFED projects will have a combined average annual yield of 410,000 AF under normal rainfall conditions; conditions California is not expected to experience anytime in the foreseeable future.
According to Tom Stokely, the Water Policy Analyst for the California Water Impact Network (C-WIN), “It’s a good thing for urban users to conserve water, but since agriculture uses 80 percent of water, a lot of people feel their efforts to conserve water are so that a wealthy corporate almond farmer can plant more trees and make greater profit. These new statistics on increased almond plantings actually PROVE that we are conserving water in urban areas so that more almonds can be planted.”
Corporate agriculture and the Republicans in their employ argue that if the acreage was not planted with water intensive almonds, it would be planted with cotton or some other crops that feed the nation. However, as Mr. Stokely rightly noted; “Cotton and row crops are not permanent and you can fallow them any given year. You cannot fallow permanent crops like almonds and pistachios.” No, but they can be ripped out by their roots and sent to the corporate headquarters as firewood.
Stokely continued that “It’s inexcusable to increase the demand for California water by 500,000 AF in the midst of a historic drought.” According to agriculture experts, using a figure of 3.5 AF (one foot of water per acre) of water for every acre of almonds, the new acreage of 150,000 acres X 3.5 af/Acre = 525,000 AF of water for a commodity that is primarily being sold overseas.
If California’s rainfall ever returns to average, there will still be insufficient groundwater to irrigate just the new trees, much less the existing 870,000 acres or any of the crops that actually feed a very significant number of Americans across the country. As an aside, most California nuts are sold on the foreign market because they are free of taxation; plus almonds are not what are known as a “food crop” like other fruits and vegetables that are less water intensive and consumed domestically.
One example of why urban residents mandated to slash their water use are in an uproar is the action of Beverly Hills billionaire Stewart Resnick. Resnick is the owner of Paramount Farms; the largest tree ‘fruit’ grower in the world. At a recent annual nut conference hosted by Paramount Farms, Resnick revealed his current expansion of almond acreage during the record drought. During the event, Resnick bragged about increasing his nut acreage and cited a 118 percent increase for pistachios, 47 percent increase for almonds, and 30 percent increase for walnuts. The conservative-owned media did not publicize Resnick’s boasts any more than they report the Nestle corporation’s theft and bottling of Californians’ water because they fear losing advertising dollars; or they fear inciting California residents to violence.
The news that some farmers, and the operative word is “some,” in one region of California offered to cut their water use by 25 percent is encouraging, but it really means very little in the grand scheme of the drought. The agreement is not mandatory and the one group that did not ‘opt in’ on the agreement was the very substantial corporate nut growers group that include Republican state legislators and at least on Republican member of Congress.
California will run out of surface water within a year regardless the efforts of residents or smaller farms willing to cut their water use. Even now, as surface water is running out, corporate agriculture up and down the state are busy drilling new and deeper wells as fast as they are planting new almond orchards. Because after they exhaust the surface water, the greedy locusts intend to wipe out what little ground water is left until nothing is left for residents.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.