What are farmers growing with all that water?

Farm products generated $50 billion in sales in 2018, making agriculture the state’s most valuable industry. The biggest money makers are dairy, grapes and almonds. 

Almond groves cover more than 2,000 square miles, mostly in the Central Valley. Because the trees occupy so much land — more than any other crop — environmentalists argue that they guzzle too much. They use an estimated 3 to 4 million acre-feet per year.

But other major crops require plenty of water, too. Alfalfa often uses more than 5 million acre-feet per year, although acreage has been declining. Open pasture for grazing takes up another 3 million acre feet or so. Rice paddies are annually flooded with almost 3 million acre-feet per year (though much eventually returns to the environment).