California’s Almonds Suck as Much Water Annually as Los Angeles Uses in Three Years

And other amazing facts from the Golden State’s epic nut boom.


California’s worst drought on record isn’t stopping the state from growing massive amounts of nuts: The state produces over 80 percent of the world’s almonds and 43 and 28 percent of the world’s pistachios and walnuts, respectively. As Mother Jones’ Tom Philpott details in this longread, the state’s almond market in particular has taken off: What was a $1.2 billion market in 2002 became $4.8 billion market by 2012.

Why are the almond growth rates so…nuts? (Sorry.) One reason is that the average American now eats two pounds of the crunchy snack per year—more than twice as much as a decade ago. But the biggest demand is coming from abroad: The US now exports 70 percent of almonds.

The thing is, nuts use a whole lot of water: it takes about a gallon of water to grow one almond, and nearly five gallons to produce a walnut. Residents across the state are being told to take shorter showers and stop watering their lawns, but the acreage devoted to the state’s almond orchards have doubled in the past decade. The amount of water that California uses annually to produce almond exports would provide water for all Los Angeles homes and businesses for almost three years.

China and Hong Kong together are the top buyers of US almonds; as Philpott writes, “Between 2007 and 2013, US almond exports to China and Hong Kong more than quadrupled, feeding a growing middle class’ appetite for high-protein, healthy food.”

Yet the center of almond farming—and the farming of lots of the US’s fruits and veggies—is exactly where the worst the most extreme drought is taking place. To make up for the water shortage, farmers are pumping groundwater—the underground water that feeds aquifers, serving as a savings account of sorts for the state’s water supply.

As the value of treenuts soars, the water required to support crops is pumped from a groundwater supply that has been shrinking for decades.

So how does the amount of water used to create nuts stack up with the water we use in our daily life? Check out the graphic below:

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is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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