In a recent report from the UC Davis Center of Watershed Sciences studies found that California’s drought — the third most severe on record — is responsible for the greatest water loss ever seen in California agriculture.

California produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, vegetables, and nuts, as well as a quarter of the nation’s milk and cream. In the face of such a sever drought it may be assumed that the states agriculture industry would have practically withered away. Thankfully, California agriculture has been able to weather the drought due to groundwater reserves. However, the rate at which groundwater is being pumped far exceeds its replacement rate, setting the state’s agriculture up for extreme vulnerability when faced with any future droughts.

“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.” 

As the drought persists, more and more groundwater is being pumped to replace surface water losses. If the pumping is not monitored, there will not be enough groundwater to sustain future agriculture during drought, agriculture that the nation depends on.

Lead author of the report, Richard Howitt of UC Davis calls the situation a “slow-moving train wreck.”

“A well-managed basin is used like a reserve bank account,” said Howitt, a professor emeritus of agricultural and resource economics. “We’re acting like the super rich who have so much money they don’t need to balance their checkbook.”

If California agriculture continues to use groundwater reserves as generously as they have been throughout the current drought, it will be setting itself up for substantial negative regional economic and employment impacts, the likes of which have already begun to be seen.

Other key findings of the drought’s effects in 2014:

  • 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 total statewide economic cost of the 2014 drought is $2.2 billion.
  • 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 fd prices will be largely unaffected. 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.

Source: Homeland Security News Wire

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