News

Drought takes aim at farms

A drought-stricken farm in Central California. (Photo: Johnny Habell)

California farmers are taking a huge economic hit as the drought’s impact deepens, with crop and livestock losses estimated at $1 billion this year alone, and an additional out-of-pocket cost of some $454 million to pump groundwater to partially replace surface supplies, according to a new study.

The report by the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis put the total economic impact  at $2.2 billion, a figure that includes the loss of 17,100 seasonal jobs and the fallowing of more than 400,000 acres. The study can be seen here.

 Additional dry years in 2015 and 2016 would cost Central Valley crop farming an estimated total $1 billion a year, the study noted.

As California suffers through its third-driest year on record, the effects of the drought are hitting home in some of the nation’s richest farmland. The state’s $37.5  billion-a-year agricultural yield represents about 12 percent of the nation’s total. Agriculture uses about about 80 percent of the state’s water.

On Tuesday,  the State Water Resources Control Board, as expected, approved new regulations to curb unnecessary water use, including the over-watering of lawns, auto and pavement washing, runoff, fountains and the like, with violations of up to $500 a day. The rules come in the wake of uneven conservation across the state, with some areas — including the Bay Area and Sacramento — reporting significant conservation,  while others reported greater water use despite the drought. In the L.A.-Orange County-San Diego region, an 8 percent increase was reported.

The UC Davis study noted that nearly two-thirds of the fallowed crop land and 70 cents of every dollar lost is occurring in the inland San Joaquin Valley. Coastal farms are less affected by the drought.

A wetter than normal rainy season is expected this fall and winter as a result of the predicted arrival of El Niño,  but the additional rainfall is not expected to end the drought.

Through the first week of July, at least 58 local water agencies had implemented some form of mandatory restrictions or mandatory conservation, while at least 153 are calling for voluntary increased conservation in response to the drought 

“Statistically, 2015 is likely to be another dry year in California — regardless of  El Niño conditions. Continued drought in 2015 and 2016 would lead to additional overdraft of aquifers and lower groundwater levels, thereby escalating pumping costs, land subsidies and drying up of wells. Additional dry years in 2015 and 2016 would cost Central Valley crop farming an estimated total $1 billion a year, the study noted.

The state water board’s action came amid conservation efforts — voluntary as well as mandatory — that already have been put into effect at the local level. The state’s rules would be mandatory statewide, enforced by local agencies – including police and sheriff’s deputies – with the authority to write up violators.

Through the first week of July, at least 58 local water agencies had implemented some form of mandatory restrictions or mandatory conservation, while at least 153 are calling for voluntary increased conservation in response to the drought and Gov. Jerry Brown’s call for all Californians to reduce water use, the Association of California Water Agencies reported. The group represents about 450 members.

“A majority of those agencies have asked customers to cut back irrigation to two or three days a week, in the evening or early morning; use a broom instead of a hose to clean paved surfaces; use automatic shut-off nozzles on hoses; use a bucket to wash vehicles or patronize car washes that use recycled water. Indoor conservation measures include asking customers to install low-flow washers, toilets and showerheads; fixing leaks; taking shorter showers; not running the water while brushing teeth or shaving; and washing full loads of dishes and clothes,” ACWA spokeswoman Lisa Lien-Mager wrote in an email.

Gov. Brown in January asked for voluntary conservation of 20 percent.

Brown is no stranger to droughts: He was governor during the historic dry spell of 1976-77, when mandatory rationing was ordered. That drought ended dramatically: Torrential rains buffeted the state from January through March 1978, and a third dry year was averted. The drought of 1928-1934 included at least one year of near-normal rainfall.

In the current drought, a third dry year has not been averted. But even if substantial rains come this fall and winter, people should be cautious.

“Droughts do not occur in precise historical sequence or in equal severity,” the state noted in a voluminous after-action report on the 1976-77 drought.

 

 

 


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: