California's Thirsty Almonds 

How the water-intensive crop is helping drive the governor's $25 billion plan to ship water to the desert.

Page 5 of 5

Such concerns have many critics calling BDCP a conservation plan that could ultimately destroy the largest estuary on the West Coast. Barbara Barrigan-Parilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, an organization of Delta-area stakeholders working to protect the estuary, calls BDCP "a water grab in a green-washed package."

"We're supposed to sacrifice a limited, finite resource to keep this small group of people rich?" she said, referring to Westlands' growers. "No, it doesn't make sense, it's not the best use of water."

During the next few months, the public can review and comment on BDCP's 40,000-plus-page draft environmental impact report. And many environmentalists are questioning whether or not California should spend up to $67 billion (including interest on the bonds that would finance the $25 billion project) upgrading its water system in order to prop up almond growers in an area that some say should never have been irrigated in the first place. "If we ever expect to have a reasonable, science-based, and economic-based solution to California's water problems we have to stop sending this clean water to this poisoned ground," Stokely said.

Yet while Westlands' highly subsidized farms have come to embody everything negative about California agribusiness, Errotabere said he's just trying to carve out a living — albeit a prosperous one — growing almonds on land his family has farmed since before the Great Depression. "We have the land, we have the infrastructure, we have no choice, we are wholly invested in farming here," he said.

"Farming is who I am, my future, my entire livelihood is built around this," he continued. "We shouldn't just disappear in the dark. We need to have a public policy debate about whether we want agriculture in California or not."

Yet for many environmentalists and opponents of the governor's plan, the debate is not about whether California should have agriculture, it's about whether it makes sense to spend tens of billions of dollars so that farmers can grow water-intensive crops like almonds in dry environs — especially if droughts intensify because of climate change.

"When Westlands came online it was understood that it would grow things like lettuce and tomatoes," said Barrigan-Parilla. "They changed their business model, and these are the consequences, because the water isn't there anymore." 

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