Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Put down that almond milk

The news about almonds gets worse and worse. In 2015, Mother Jones exposed that almond groves used up more water in California than the residents of LA and SF combined. Almonds made up 17% of all irrigated farm land in CA and used up 10% of CA irrigation water used for food crops.

Almond apologists countered that almonds are highly nutritious and that their water use should be weighed against their nutritional and economic values.  The Almond Board of California (an industry group) hired researchers at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento to study the water footprint of almonds and their nutritional and economic value relative to other California crops.

The evidence is in and it looks even worse for almonds.

Remember the statistic of 1.1 gallons of water per almond?  It's actually 12 liters or 3.2 gallons per almond.

It got kinda wonky
Consumptive water use includes the water from managed sources, termed “blue water,” effective rainfall or “green water” and pollution impacts to ground and surface water, termed “grey water.”
  • Green water falls from the sky
  • Blue water is managed by humans by pumping it up from underground aquifers or transporting it from another region
    • Grey water is the amount of water fouled by pollution from almond production assuming all polluted water is diluted to safety. (Water is not always diluted to safe standards.  It can be cleaned up in other ways that don't take as much water, but require access to technology, energy and money)
Water inputs to almonds by type.  Notice the tiny amount of rainwater (green) used relative to imported or groundwater and how polluting it is.
Almond apologists chime, "Almonds are nutritious!" True, but how do they rank nutritionally compared to other California crops? "Spinach, broccoli, raspberries, artichokes, and kiwifruit rank similarly in relative nutrient content but rank better in terms of water footprint."

Almonds use more water than any other crop and provide less nutritional value than other tree nuts.  Almonds are comparable nutritionally to some row crops like spinach, broccoli and berries--but at much higher water cost.
The money shot:
Almonds are a mediocre money-maker relative to their water input.  It falls on the line with most other crops.  Spinach, strawberries, and berries in general,  are the real money makers.

Almonds do bring in the most revenue per kilogram of all food crops, but with mediocre returns relative to saner crops. If we wanted to maximize revenue for water consumed, we should grow spinach, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries. Moreover, spinach and berries are row crops, which means their acreage can be rotated or fallowed as conditions warrant.

Almond trees need to be  irrigated year-round, every year.  In drought years, when there is little rainfall and no water to import, almond growers pump obscene amounts of water from aquifers (some 100,000 to millions of years old) until the land literally breaks and sinks. The acreage under these almond farms is sinking up to 11 inches per year, breaking roads, bridges and aqueducts.

Almond farmers are privatizing a public resource, groundwater, and socializing the cost of their irresponsible behavior (pollution, broken shared infrastructure.)  Until we attain the political will to drastically reduce and regulate almond farms, don't buy almond products.  Please spread the word that vegan is not always good for the environment or the earth.


  1. Thank you for informing me. But damn.

  2. We have a lot of similar issues here. Australia, the driest continent in the world grows cotton as a cash crop. This takes place at the head of a major river. Result...the rived is now pretty much dead for 1500 kms. Fish are dying in the 1000's. And one state is impacted negatively very much by this - one of the best food growing states in Australia. Go figure...

    1. I read about the Murray Darling basin and it has me fuming. How can the cotton fields of Queensland be wet while the fish are dying downriver?

  3. Thank you. Posting link on my socials. My son is patting himself on the back for telling me this years ago.


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