California's drought deepens, threatens water reserves

GRN Reports

The US Drought Monitor for July 29  shows that the historic California drought has engulfed nearly the entire state, extending across parts of Northern California that had not been as greatly affected.

The intractable drought is expected to cost the state more than $1 billion in agricultural losses.

California Drought Worsens, July 29 2014 map
Dark red shows the areas of “exceptional drought” the worst category. Bright red is “extreme drought” and orange is “severe drought”.

Reservoirs across the state are averaging about 60 percent of the conservation level, and while that’s not as low as they went in the 1970s when California suffered a similar dry period, the state’s population, 38 million, has nearly doubled since then.

Here’s what the drought looked like three months ago, at the end of April.

California Drought, April 29, 2014

A study released in July by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences estimated that the total loss to California’s economy from what is being called the state’s third worst drought would cost the state economy $2.2 billion.

"California's agricultural economy overall is doing remarkably well, thanks mostly to groundwater reserves," said Jay Lund, a co-author of the study and director of the university's Center for Watershed Sciences. "But we expect substantial local and regional economic and employment impacts. We need to treat that groundwater well so it will be there for future droughts."

The study predicted that if the drought continued, and farmers continued to draw on groundwater reserves, some wells in California’s vast agricultural Central Valley could go dry.

Other key findings of the study:

  • Direct costs to agriculture total $1.5 billion (revenue losses of $1 billion and $0.5 billion in additional pumping costs). This net revenue loss is about 3 percent of the state's total agricultural value.
  • The loss of 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs related to agriculture represents 3.8 percent of farm unemployment.
  • 428,000 acres, or 5 percent, of irrigated cropland is going out of production in the Central Valley, Central Coast and Southern California due to the drought.
  • The Central Valley is hardest hit, particularly the Tulare Basin, with projected losses of $800 million in crop revenue and $447 million in additional well-pumping costs.
  • Overdraft of groundwater is expected to cause additional wells in the Tulare Basin to run dry if the drought continues.
  • Agriculture on the Central Coast and in Southern California will be less affected by this year's drought, with about 19,150 acres fallowed, $10 million in lost crop revenue and $6.3 million in additional pumping costs.
  • Statewide dairy and livestock losses from reduced pasture and higher hay and silage costs represent $203 million in revenue losses.
  • The drought is likely to continue through 2015, regardless of El Niño conditions.

Consumer food prices will be largely unaffected, according to the UC Davis study, because higher prices at the grocery store of high-value California crops like nuts, wine grapes and dairy foods are driven more by market demand than by the drought.

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