Unlike the agricultural sector, ecosystems have fewer coping strategies to maintain health and productivity. Multiple factors play a central role in ecosystem health and affect fisheries, water availability, river flow timing, water volumes and quality – and all were affected by the drought. The Pacific Coast salmon fishery was closed in 2008 and 2009; delta smelt, longfin smelt, American shad, and threadfin shad were also at record lows. Salmon fishery closures during the drought are estimated to have cost around 1,800 jobs and $118.4 million in income compared to the salmon fishery in 2004 and 2005.

In addition, many of the state’s environmental flows went unmet during the drought period, affecting aquatic ecosystems and decreasing protections for endangered species in the form of maintained freshwater flows in rivers and streams. The salinity in the Bay Delta in 2008 was the highest on record since 1992, impacting water quality for in-Delta users and affecting waterfowl and wildlife refuge and fisheries habitat.

With the state’s growing population, the declining health of ecosystems, and climate change, there is growing pressure on water resources. The Pacific Institute report Impacts of the California Drought from 2007-2009 brings to the fore the complex nature of drought impacts to California, and the need to develop robust and resilient strategies to cope with future droughts. The full report, which includes recommendations for improving drought planning and management, an executive summary, and short video, are available free at http://www.pacinst.org/reports/california_drought_impacts/

Read the full report.

Read the Executive Summary.