Aw, Nuts

It is turning into a very wet drought here in Northern California. Since the beginning of the new year, we’ve had nine “Atmospheric Rivers” travel above our heads and one “Bomb Cyclone” for good measure. In the good old days, we didn’t have those terms in our weather vocabulary. We’d say, “Man, it rained cats and dogs last night!” Or, maybe we’d say, “The wind was howling last night!” And now today, you can look on an app to get a precise radar representation and location of the atmospheric rivers and the bomb cyclones. There is no need to even go outside.

This gift of moisture has created flooding that has become a life-threatening reality in many areas in California. Still, although we are ahead of seasonal averages in rainfall and the Sierra snow pack is 200% of normal for this time of year, the severe drought is also our reality. Our lakes and reservoirs are well below levels where they should be… and we need them to be.

On the little potholed country road, we live upon – well actually just off the road – many people have dry wells. They get their water delivered to them weekly which is pumped into a holding tank that sits next to their homes. You see these black storage tanks everywhere around here. Although we live above a large underground aquafer which was always thought to be plentiful, the never ending expansion of corporate farming and their need to water the 60,000 acres of almonds and the 35,000 acres of walnuts in our little county (Glenn County) is contributing to the depletion of underground water resources. As the water districts began to cut back on surface water deliveries throughout the State of California, large, corporate agricultural businesses have the resources to dig deeper wells in our area. In addition to that, some water districts have fulfilled water contracts to the southern part of the Central Valley of California by pumping underground water. Why all this digging for water? It takes one gallon of water to grow one almond and five gallons to grow one walnut. (Sources provided below.)

It is not uncommon to drive along the main North-South freeway in California, the Interstate 5, which extends all the way through California and see signs along the way blaming someone for a lack of irrigation water. The ones being blamed are nearly always politicians and they are usually Democrats. Also, somewhere near those signs you will also see signs with the words, “Farmers Feed America.” I suppose the 2nd sign is basically true, but 70% of the almonds grown in California are exported beyond America. It is not from a philanthropist’s heart that 445,000 acres in California are being irrigated to grow walnuts. And, the 1,338,000 acres of almonds in production is probably due to a forecast of very favorable financial returns for those involved in ownership.

Certainly, the local economies benefits from all these nuts, but five gallons of water to grow a walnut? As more water becomes available, guess what happens? Yep, more land is used to plant nut trees. Of course, no politician would ever be so stupid to say, “Enough is enough.” Their next opponent would find their election campaign to be quite well funded.

Many of the wells on our road were drilled years ago when the water table was much higher. Some of the wells are only 50 feet deep. Last summer, I started having issues with our well. I was told that the water table was at 58 feet and my pump was at 60 feet. Fortunately, my well was 125 feet deep, so we put in a new pump and lowered it to 120 feet. We were lucky. The new residential wells going in now are drilling 300 to 600 feet and the new agricultural wells are being drilled even deeper.

As our aquafers cannot recharge quickly enough, as more and more water is removed from our natural underground storage tanks, large amounts of land in California has subsided, some as much as 28 feet over the past decades. Let that sink in.

I was watching CNN the other day and a scientist from the Pacific Institute – whatever that is – was saying one of the problems we have in California is that we’ve built levees to protect natural flood plains which now are called neighborhoods and subdivisions. The natural flooding that used occur, and would recharge the groundwater, now rushes out to sea. He suggested that we needed to learn to live better with our rivers and their natural tendencies. Of course, that would conflict with the interests of the more traditional type of land developers – those who build houses and commercial properties. The land above and beyond the flood plains also has its own challenges – forest fires.

As I was listening to the scientist on CNN describe his solutions for our water issues in California, I remembered this song I sorta, kinda wrote a few years back. I describe the reason behind it in the first part of the “song.” Oh yeah, guess what? It is raining right now. “Aw, nuts” or “Ah, nuts!”