One response to California’s disastrous drought has been to point fingers at specific crops and frame them as villains. But it’s not that simple.
For example, while almonds consume a lot of water, they also provide great economic value.
There is one problem with almonds, though. They’re trees. They last for years, and they need water every single year, whether it’s wet or dry. Farmers who’ve devoted their land to production of almonds (or walnuts and pistachios) can’t easily adapt to water shortages. Letting the trees die would be a catastrophe, so they sometimes pay exorbitant prices or dig ever-deeper wells.
Water experts like Jay Lund, from the University of California, Davis, say that in the future, California should take care to maintain a healthy mix of trees and annual crops like vegetables. In drought years, farmers could then decide not to plant their tomato fields, freeing up water for their trees.