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Almond Board Outreach on Water Issues

The California Almond industry has devoted considerable resources to becoming more efficient in its use of water, and that message is being delivered by Almond Board of California (ABC) staff at key public meetings being held as the state is in the grips of a third straight year of drought.

The Almond Board’s Bob Curtis was an invited panelist at the Symposium on Water and Energy Efficiency Across Food Systems at UC Davis. He pointed to almond grower practices, as highlighted in the California Almond Sustainability Program, that have led to a 33% reduction in water use to produce a pound of almonds compared to 20 years ago. Curtis participated in a panel on innovations in water technologies, and discussed “Past Advances in Almond Irrigation and Future Opportunities.” The presentation focused on research over the last few decades — much of it funded by the ABC.

Curtis also reviewed current research to promote further adoption of efficient practices and advances in irrigation and production efficiency. These include:

  • A look at return on investment for high-priced water, and the relationship between water applied and resulting production increase;
  • Possible alternatives to leaf water potential using pressure chambers to determine tree water status; and
  • Developing irrigation systems that can account for soil variability in orchards to not only improve production efficiency but also to enhance environmental stewardship of water.

In May, Gabriele Ludwig represented the ABC at the California Drought Forum held in Sacramento. The forum brought together government and academic meteorologists with various groups that are being impacted by the drought and would benefit from better data for planning purposes.

Meteorologists explained the impact of climate change on drought conditions and the significance of a potential El Niño. According to a meteorologist for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), models indicate a high chance for an El Niño event late this summer and fall. However, the strength of the event will not be clear until that time, and only with a strong El Niño event is there a chance all of California will get higher-than-typical rainfall.

A meteorologist from Columbia University explained that the current drought, caused by a high-pressure ridge sitting in the Pacific Ocean that has moved rain to the north, was not due to climate change. However, all the models for climate change indicate that California will get slightly more moisture during the winter months as rain rather than snow, with less rainfall in the spring. California needs to figure out how to capture the precipitation from winter rains to use later in the year, given that less of it will be stored as snow for gradual release from the mountains.

The Bureau of Reclamation provided some insight into efforts the federal agency and state counterparts have been undertaking to both understand the water supply and deliver the water they are legally required to on the basis of water rights. As the drought continues, the Almond Board of California is targeting critical public meetings as part of a coordinated outreach effort to educate public policymakers and regulators about the ongoing efforts of almond growers to conserve water and use it efficiently.
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