In Which I reply back to @almonds or #NoMoreAlmondsCA or #AlmondsYouCanStillBePartOfTheSolutionIfYouTry
So this happened yesterday while I was at a concert with A Tribe Called Red. They are an awesome group and if you don't know them you should KNOW THEM. I danced like a mad woman. In the meantime, @almonds tweeted me. I was a bit shocked. First, California Almonds is THE @almonds on Twitter. Second, they found the time to tweet me and third wow something I said merited their response. I suppose we could take it a few ways. We could think "wow, they really do care about talking to the every day person. Look at how Twitter breaks down barriers." Or we could say "Man, they must really care what people are saying about them." Or even "Wow, they must know that the grumbles of WTH almonds might actually have something to them. Time to get mobilized!" Social media... I love it. So I decided to write them back.
In Which I reply back to @almonds or #NoMoreAlmondsCA or #AlmondsYouCanStillBePartOfTheSolutionIfYouTry
I really do appreciate the time you took to write me back on Twitter and send me Almonds and Water: By The Numbers. This may be surprising, but Twitter is still "new and interesting" to me (I was never a regular Tweeter until I was) and when THE @almonds account tweeted little old me I felt like this Twitter thing could really catch on. Because yes, we SHOULD be talking to each other. If @almonds wants to join the conversation, and really talk about these issues of agricultural use and the actual sustainability of agriculture big business in California... well good. It's hard to do in 140 characters. But I'm game. Also, I'm a cheater and plan to just tweet you this blog entry.
It is entirely impossible for me to Tweet a response to you that will in will address any meaningful issues I may have with the continued abuse of our water in California. This is mostly because I am a wordy person and also because I can't see myself writing things like Almonds use 2 much water 4 the State in this drought YFM?* I find myself squirming around uncomfortably when I have to do that. And I think my facts should be easily available for access and use as well, like yours, if we're gonna talk about *Facts.*
@almonds says (and @cutchabaldy responds)
@ almonds says: Over the past two decades, almond growers have reduced the amount of water they use per pound of almonds by 33%. Key strategies, for example, have included the wide adaptation of micro-drip irrigation instead of traditional sprinklers, soil maps, and soil monitoring systems that allow for demand-based irrigation instead of scheduled irrigation.
Good job @almonds. But that doesn't mean growing almonds in a state that is constantly plagued by water use issues is smart for our state's environment or our state's water supply. Consider this: it takes 1 gallon of water to grow one single almond. They say it takes more water to grow one walnut (4. 9 gallons) or one head of broccoli (5.4 gallons) but those crops are not currently one of the fastest growing crops in California. From this article:
...growing almonds in an arid climate requires lots of water. In fact, Westlands' almond orchards suck up nearly 100 billion gallons of water a year. Cotton, by contrast, needs 40 percent less water per acre, and tomatoes require about half as much water as almonds.
You may be doing better on water conservation than you were before but it's not enough. Look at where we are at now. It's not enough. Do better. You decided to grow a bunch of water intensive crops in an area that does not get a lot of natural water. It's not sustainable in a state that also has a growing population and a commitment to the environment and environmental diversity. Also, just because you planted it here doesn't mean it was a good idea. Maybe, instead of trying to dominate and corner the market of almonds worldwide, go to those places and help them to grow a sustainable number of almonds for their county/state/region. Show us that your bottom line isn't "as much money at the expense of everybody and everything around us until we are forced to find another plan because we have drained the water sources dry."
@almonds says: While it’s true that more acres of California farmland are being used to grow almonds, that doesn’t tell the full story. That shift toward almonds – and other perennial crops like other nuts and olives – has not led to an increase in water used for farming overall in the state. In fact, from 2000 to 2010, the state’s agricultural water use held steady. By the way, so did urban and environmental use.
And that's part of the problem, because we should have been increasing "environmental" use of our water during that period of time. That's what gets left out of this conversation. In fact, most of the policies passed by the state of California supported increase in water use for environmental protection of species and habitats. And you know why? Because we (as in the grand we, not the "we" as in me and other tribal peoples who had been TRYING to tell you this was a big issue for quite a few years before that) were finally seeing the lasting results of water policy that valued big business over environmental use. In 2002, we (as in all of us) experienced a mass fish kill of approx. 68-70,000 salmon in the Klamath River. What does a fish kill look like? It looks like thousands upon thousands of dead, rotting, Salmon lining the side of the river. It looks like elders standing on the river bank crying. It looks like the end of the world.
But that's so dramatic? What does the end of the world look like to you then? Cause to me, it looks like dry rivers, dead fish, toxic water and big business controlled green fields kept green at the expense of communities who have no access to water.
Knowing all that, Agricultural water use held steady. Why? California said that it needed to send more water to protect the very place we live and agricultural businesses threw fits, filed retraining orders, and demanded that their needs be met. Even if it's not sustainable. Even if reports showed that it was actually more economically beneficial to take care of the rivers and natural environment. Even if we were protecting endangered species (and not an over abundance of non-Native crops for shipping overseas) -- agriculture demanded the same use of water and maintained the same use of water from 2000-2010.
This is not a statistic I would brag about.
@almonds says: Some reports have overstated agriculture’s share of water use in California. Agriculture accounts for about 40 percent of the state’s developed water usage in an average year. Fifty percent is comprised by environmental water use, including water in rivers, streams, wetlands and water needed to maintain water quality for agricultural and urban use, and 10 percent is used in urban areas.6 All these types of usage are important for California.
A lot of people have asked me about this statistic. Is it true? What we hear in the news is that 80% of California's water goes to agriculture. This is a staggering amount. Agriculture accounts for 43% of the land use in California but uses 80% of the water? Except @almonds says it only uses 40% of the water. That's better, right? It's just that the fact was wrong the first time. And this is the funny thing about "facts." Because all are true... *Mind Blown* It just depends on the measurement you are using. But the simple response -- it's 80%. According to the California Department of Water Resources:
In average year California agriculture irrigates 9.6 million acres using roughly 34 million acre-feet of water of the 43 million acre-feet diverted from surface waters or pumped from groundwater.
Or 80%. I will now spend a significant amount of time trying to explain what I have learned about this very statistic as a result of my research. Because when it comes to statistics and "facts" it always comes down to the measurement you use. This presentation from Blaine Hanson (Department of Air, Land and Water Resources) at UC Davis says depending on those measurements you will find that agriculture uses:
80 %: based on the developed water supply
But what does that mean? First we have to start off with how California talks about water so we can understand the difference between "Gross water use" and "Net water use." (You should be able to click on the image to make it bigger. The green outlined boxes are my comments.)
Some of the problem is in how people understand what "excess" and "lost" water means. Some people (like me) would say that "excess" water which is used for the river is not that, it's not in excess of, nor is it simply return flow (meaning it returns for gross water usage). It essentially quantifies and qualifies water for how it can be used, instead of understanding how we should be responsible for ensuring a "sustainable flow" or a "healthy living flow" and not be concerned with a bottom line of how "Gross water use" affects "Net Water Use." But the other part of the problem is that the reduction of gross water use does not make that much of a difference. (Even though it seems to be the measurement that @almonds wants to use to figure out water usage in California). The significant difference comes from a CHANGE IN AGRICULTURE.
Oh, speaking of which @almonds, I got this info from the exact same place that you cite for your facts. Although instead of using their "just the facts" page I looked through the full report.
AND, the "Just the Facts" page you refer us to also answers part of this question as well. How much water does agriculture use? It depends, not just by what you measure BUT by what region.
Statewide, average water use is roughly 50% environmental, 40% agricultural, and 10% urban. However, the percentage of water use by sector varies dramatically across regions and between wet and dry years.
The part of the state that you live in, @almonds, is one of the parts where environmental use is not dominant. Which means that at minimum, the agricultural use in your area amounts to at least 53% (not the 40% you want us to believe) of the total use of water. That is over half. State average considers areas like the Northcoast, which primarily uses their water for the environment. Now, to settle the "is it 80% of 40% that agriculture uses in California" question. I got this from californiawaterblog.com:
The roots of confusion lie with the change in how the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) reports water use. Historically, DWR only counted water that was applied for economic uses. Under this scheme roughly 80 percent of water went to agriculture with the remaining 20 percent going to urban uses.
Now when you look at the "total water supply" (and thank goodness somebody already did this work for me over at californiawaterblog.com) which includes water that is set aside for flow requirements to protect species and habitat (and our rivers) (which by the way agriculture couldn't use ANYWAY) and it also includes water that we have to use to keep our water safe for drinking (also water that agriculture COULDN'T USE or otherwise we might not have water to drink) you still get:
this translates to 62 percent agricultural, 16 percent urban and 22 percent environmental.
Think of it this way -- after your Mom gets done baking cookies she sets aside one for your Dad and two for your Grandparents and then she says to all you kids, "divide up the other cookies equally", agriculture decides that they get 80% of the cookies on the baking sheet and then tells their little siblings "don't feel bad, I'm actually only taking 50% of the total cookies available even though those other cookies are for other people. You are still getting 50% of all the cookies that were made (even though neither one of us could, should or do have access to the cookie set-asides)." STATISTICS.
And consider this. Even though agriculture accounts for anywhere between 50-80% use of water in the state, it ONLY accounts for 2% of the total Gross State Product which means it is not the most significant contributor to our state economy.
In fact, (if what you are concerned with is the bottom line and your bottom line is $$ whereas my bottom line is something like "health of our living environment which includes people, water, plants, animals") our economy relies a lot on Education, Health and "Other" services and Real Estate.
But we aren't talking about GSP and who makes us the most money (although sometimes it feel like we are), we are talking about water usage. So let's say it again: depending on the measurement you use, agriculture still uses a significant amount (from 50%-80%) and is in a category all it's own for water use. Because it makes sense to invest the future of our state, peoples, environment and wildlife in what amounts to 2% of our state's economy (it doesn't, I'm being glib).
@almonds says: It takes water to grow almonds. It also takes water to raise all other animal- and plant-based food, as well as to make your make your car, jeans and cell phone. Estimating exactly how much water any particular item takes to produce is extremely difficult, but for a broader perspective, you might be interested in a study conducted from 1996-2005 that estimates the global water footprint for a variety of products.
Many people don’t know that almond trees produce two crops with the water they use. One is almonds, and the other is their hulls, which are used for livestock feed. A useful by-product includes shells, which are used in co-generation of energy and as livestock bedding.
I did not know that. But @almonds this is where I got a little... what's the word... exasperated. First, you seem to be saying "other stuff uses a whole bunch of water so we can use a whole bunch of water too! Everything takes water!"
Here's the thing. You @almonds are representative of a bunch of big and small business and you also represent workers and families and people who rely on jobs having to do with almonds. You employ somebody to tweet me. That person has a job, to tweet me about how much you care about almonds and the CA drought.
I know that those things are important, because I know people who need jobs and livelihoods. And I also know that almonds are good for you and almonds make milk for people who can't drink dairy milk. I also know that meat, hay and other types of farming are an issue, they are. In California, a bunch of people invested in the idea that they could do what they wanted with the land cause it JUST belonged to Indians and they couldn't really USE it so they made us reliant on agriculture and who cares what that means for the rest of the state or population cause it makes so much $$Money$$. But, all that aside, somebody has to take a step forward to say "YES we have to do something and it STARTS WITH US." So instead of "yeah but cows use this much and alfalfa uses this much and your jeans use this much and we only use this much and so you should be mean to them" stand up and be part of the solution.
What I got from your facts primarily is that @almonds isn't going to change. @almonds wants us to just leave them alone to do what they want. @almonds doesn't want to address some critical concerns on their continued water use or the continued water use of agriculture in California. I don't know if you are exactly as concerned with our shared California drought because otherwise your almond facts page wouldn't have been "but the facts are wrong and everybody else is worse" and instead would have made some concrete plans for actually reducing the number of almond crops and/or supported the rights of the wildlife and tribes to water before agricultural and big business.
Do you have to be the #1 grower and exporter of Almonds in the world? If we are in a drought, and your water use is problematic do you, in the name of actually saving our State (instead of using it up until it falls apart), decide that you can only export a certain amount of almonds and that you need to reduce the crops that you are growing in California until such time as the state can handle an increase?
What can you actually do? I believe in you @almonds because that is the person I have always been. Go out there with your political influence and figure out what you can really do to protect our (shared) state.
Because I know what I can do. #NoMoreAlmondsCA
Okay @almonds I'm going to throw you a bone. What else should we be calling attention to? Besides AGRICULTURE in California... How else can we show California law makers and Westlands Water Districts that we are serious about the well-being of our shared lands and environment? How about #NoMoreAlfalfaCA But what did Alfalfa do? First, it is the crop in California with the absolute highest water use. If agriculture uses 80% of the water, than Alfalfa uses the most of that. And that's just to grow hay. And most of that hay gets shipped far, far away. Check out this from BBC News:
The southern Imperial Valley, which borders Mexico, draws its water from the Colorado river along the blue liquid lifeline of the All American Canal.
*Translation for my Mom: "Almonds use too much water for the state in this drought ya feel me?"
**Facts are funny things, @almonds. See I'm a teacher. I teach by nature. I like to help student to learn what "Facts" really means. And because I am a humanities teacher it eventually gets to the "Fact" that most "Facts" are just "How I want to See Things" statistics and "a result of a very small sample size" or "not infallible but instead require critical response and question."
Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Associate Professor and Department Chair of Native American Studies at Humboldt State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, volunteer Executive Director for the Native Women's Collective and is currently re-watching My Name is Earl...
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