New Research: California Water Crisis Driven By Corporate Ag Abuses

Published Feb 1, 2023


Food SystemClimate and EnergyClean Water

Amid the deepening cycle of long-term drought, punctuated by brief periods of extreme rainfall and flooding that California now exists in, a new report from the national advocacy group Food & Water Watch – “Big Ag, Big Oil, and the California Water Crisis” – zeroes in on the toll that corporate agriculture and fossil fuel drilling is taking on the state’s beleaguered water supplies. From almond empires and alfalfa exporters to mega-dairies and fossil fuel polluters, corporate interests have taken advantage of the state’s water allocation system to benefit their own interests over public needs.

During persistent drought conditions, the state has continued to allow the expansion of water-thirsty corporations. Nut crops have expanded considerably; between 2010 and 2022, almond acreage increased by nearly 78 percent. In 2021, almond and pistachio growing required an estimated 523 billion more gallons of water for irrigation than 2017. That increase alone is equivalent to the indoor water use of 34 million people, or 87 percent of California’s population. What’s more, more than half of the state’s almonds are exported – which amounts to shipping out over 800 billion gallons of water. 

The report notes that irrigation for alfalfa – an industry dominated by several major players and located in some of the state’s hottest and driest areas, including the Imperial Valley – requires nearly one trillion gallons of water every year. Alfalfa is also a key export crop; one major company, Fondomonte Farms, is a subsidiary of the Saudi company Almarai. Its operations in California and the southwest came after the Saudi government determined that these crops would put a strain on the country’s water supply.

The Food & Water Watch report also calculates that the state’s expanding mega-dairies industry is now using more than 142 million gallons of water every day – a notable finding given that there is very little data tracking water usage in the dairy industry. 

The report calls on Governor Newsom to use executive and emergency power to stop the misuse of the state’s water resources. This would include preventing new water-thirsty crops like alfalfa and almonds, banning new mega-dairies, and ending new oil and gas drilling. State lawmakers could also move to define water as a public trust resource, which would enable the state to prioritize public interest before corporate profits. 

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

Press Contact: Seth Gladstone [email protected]