In Spite of Recent Rain, California’s Central Valley Water Wells are Drying Up

New Report Blames Egregious Expansion of Specific Agri-Business Crops

Published Mar 7, 2023


Food SystemClean Water

New Report Blames Egregious Expansion of Specific Agri-Business Crops

New Report Blames Egregious Expansion of Specific Agri-Business Crops

In spite of substantial recent rain and snowfall throughout the state, a deepening, long-term ground water table crisis exists throughout California’s Central Valley. A new report from Food & Water Watch tracks the growing trend of home water wells drying up amid the rampant expansion of thirsty nut crops like almonds and pistachios. The report features a detailed, interactive map of each dry well report filed with the Cal. Dept. of Water Resources between Jan. 2021 to Nov. 2022. There were nearly 2,400 reports made in the 22-month period, likely a significant undercount given that the data relies on self-reporting to the state. 

The report, titled “Fighting for the Human Right to Water in Tombstone Territory, California,” also features firsthand accounts from Tombstone Territory, an unincorporated community near Fresno where residents have watched as water from their wells sputtered and then disappeared completely.

Despite promised help from Governor Gavin Newsom and legislation intended to shore up groundwater resources, the fact remains that water goes to the highest bidder in the Central Valley. In rural areas like Tombstone, most residents can’t afford to compete with well-funded agribusiness interests who can pay to routinely drill ever-deeper wells in search of depleted groundwater. 

“Water is a human right, but in California it’s treated like a commodity to be bought and sold for profit,” said Food & Water Watch California Director Chirag G. Bhakta. “In Tombstone Territory as in so many other places in rural California, families are going without water because they can’t afford to drill deep wells the way big agribusiness can. The solution is simple: Governor Newsom must immediately address corporate water abuse and cut back water allocations for thirsty nut crops in the San Joaquin Valley.”

More than one million people in California suffer from water scarcity, and state auditors estimate approximately 370 water systems are failing to provide people with clean and safe water. The majority of these failing water systems are concentrated in the Central Valley and serve predominantly low-income residents like those in Tombstone.

“Over-pumping of groundwater in the agricultural fields of Tombstone Territory has greatly impacted the drinking water source for residents. In just the last few months, more residents have had their wells go dry; many now rely on emergency water tanks placed outside their homes,” said Mariana Alvarenga, policy advocate at the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability. “The time for state and local entities to work together to ensure all communities in California have safe and affordable drinking water is now.”

Despite this and the drier conditions made worse by climate change, almond acreage in California skyrocketed by 80 percent between 2010 and 2022.

“It’s not fair,” said Michael Torres, a resident of Tombstone interviewed by Food & Water Watch. “They’re telling us to cut back. But here, they’re allowing these farmers to do almonds.”

“[These] are days of desperation,” another resident, Carolina Ledesma, told Food & Water Watch. A mother of five, she recounted painful memories of being unable to bathe her children or clean her house because they had no water.

Contact: Seth Gladstone – [email protected]

Press Contact: Seth Gladstone [email protected]