California, the producer of nearly half of the nation's fruits, vegetables, nuts, and many export crops, is entering its third driest year on record. Eighty percent of the state is experiencing "extreme" or "exceptional" drought conditions
. In addition to affecting agricultural production, the drought will cost the state billions of dollars, thousands of jobs, and a lot of groundwater, according to a new report
prepared for the California Department of Food and Agriculture by researchers at UC-Davis. The authors used water data, agricultural models, satellite data, and many other methods to predict the toll of the drought through 2016.
Of the $2.1 billion dollars in predicted losses, $810 million will come from lower crop revenues, $203 million will come from animal losses, and $454 million will come from the cost of pumping groundwater. Up to 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs will be lost, many of them taken by illegal immigrants.
In a normal year, about one-third of California's irrigation water is drawn from wells that tap into the groundwater supply throughout the state. The rest is the surface water from streams, rivers, and reservoirs. This year, the state is losing about one-third of its surface water supply because of the droughts. The hardest hit area is the Central Valley, a normally very fertile inland region. Because the groundwater isn't as easily pumped in the Valley as it is on the coasts and the Colorado River supply isn't as accessible as they are in the south, the Valley has lost 410,000 acres to drought, which is an area about 10 times the size of Washington DC.
To make up for the loss of water, farmers are pumping more groundwater than usual. They are projected to pump 13 million acre-feet this year in total.
California is in its third year of drought, and despite of the effects of El Niño, 2015 is likely to be a dry year as well
. As the dry years go up, it becomes harder and harder to pump water from the ground and is adding to the crop and revenue losses. California is the only western state without any groundwater regulation or measurement of major groundwater use.
"A well-managed basin is used like a reserve bank account," said Richard Howitt, UC-Davis water researcher and an author of the report. "We're acting like the super-rich, who have so much money they don't need to balance their checkbook."
It seems like nothing can be done without great expense or many prayers of the people, but we can do something about managing the water better. The problem lies in California's over-dependence of surface water from far away. It will create more problems down the road as the Colorado River treaties leave California in the dust.