What is in this article?:
- California drought consequences show vulnerability of water supply
- Ag impacts not equally distributed
- Farm job losses
- Harmful impacts
- California’s three-year drought, which ended with this season’s cool and wet weather, had complicated and serious impacts that have been poorly understood and reported.
- The Pacific Institute has just completed a nine-month assessment of new data from California’s agricultural, energy, and environmental sectors to evaluate actual consequences of the drought for the state.
Ag impacts not equally distributed
Data from individual drought-impacted counties and irrigation districts detail highly varied impacts among, and even within, counties. For instance, while the total gross revenue of Fresno County agriculture increased by 2 percent during the drought years, gross revenue in neighboring Kern and Kings Counties declined by 9 percent and 19 percent, respectively. And while Fresno, Kern, and Kings Counties all fallowed land at higher rates during the drought, nearby Tulare County did not. In fact, Tulare County harvested more acres in both 2008 and 2009 than it did in 2006, a wet year. These differences reflect the uneven distribution of water in California. For instance, priority contractors received 100 percent of their supply of Central Valley Project water throughout the drought, while other users received between 10 percent and 50 percent.
Longer-term droughts will be more damaging for all sectors examined
The report also finds that many coping strategies applied in California provide short-term relief, but would not provide water security in the face of a longer or more severe drought. Quick fixes to short-term water supply reductions employed during the drought, if continued, could prove disastrous for the future of sustainable freshwater supply and those dependent on this supply. For example, the average groundwater depletion rate in the San Joaquin Valley doubled during the 2006-2010 time period; Westlands Water District groundwater pumping was 19 times greater in 2009 than in 2006. Some of the adverse impacts of groundwater mining are already apparent in this region.
To prepare for future droughts, the report recommends putting in place new drought management strategies capable of addressing the risks of longer and more severe water shortfalls, such as improving water efficiency, enhancing groundwater recharge, establishing longer-term water transfer programs and systems for monitoring and evaluating those transfers, restoring critical ecosystem flows and habitat, planting drought-resistant crops, adjusting grazing schedules and intensity, improving soil moisture management, expanding energy conservation and efficiency programs, and diversifying the state’s energy portfolio with a focus on renewable energy sources.