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Drought is so bad in California that farmers aren’t planting crops this season

Arastradero Lake with great blue heron and very low water level in January, 2021,

Severe drought conditions in California are forcing many farmers to forego planting crops this season because there is not enough water – and this situation will be felt at the grocery store, even as food price inflation already tightens its grip on the U.S. economy.

The drought has forced some farmers to destroy crops, like Joe Del Bosque’s asparagus field in California’s Central Valley. He had to make a tough decision, save his asparagus, which needs a lot of water, or save his melon crop, which doesn’t require near as much water.

“It feels terrible,” Del Bosque said. “First of all, it’s a producing field. It could have gone another three years, but what hurts is we had about 20 people working this field, and we have to tell them there’s no work for them next year.”

“You don’t see drought as a natural disaster where something is falling, cracking open, or washing away what you see out here in a drought is nothing,” Del Bosque said. “Bare land. No crop, no water, and no people are working. It’s just silence. That’s what a drought is here, no food. It’s deafening and disheartening.”

The map shows that 16 percent of the state is in “exceptional” drought. U;.S. Drought Monitoe, Public Domain

California grows a third of the United States’ vegetables and two-thirds of the nation’s fruits and nuts. This year’s drought has been made worse due to a La Nina weather system that pushed winter storms away from California’s coast, leaving the state with less moisture than usual.

And because the state depends on winter storms for most of its water – there will be little or no relief until – hopefully, in October, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The state’s water system is complicated

Ernest Conant is the Regional Director for the Great Basin Region of the Bureau of Reclamation. It’s a long title, with a lot of responsibility behind it because the bureau is the one who decides who gets what amount of water and when. 

The Bureau’s rules and regulations, some of which date back to the Gold Rush Days of early California, are complicated and confusing, involving contracts, and water rights. “The problem is for the economy to operate, there has to be some certainty of expectations as to what water supply is available,” Conant said.

Aerial photo of the California Aqueduct at the Interstate 205 crossing, just east of Interstate 580 junction. Image – Ikluft, Creative Commons SA 2.0.

Added to this mish-mash of rules and regulations is having to choose between agriculture and the environment, and while food production is very high on the list, supporting wildlife, particularly the salmon fisheries is also important.

But, perhaps right up there with agriculture is also having enough water available for the wildfire season, and this year’s season is already expected to be as bad as the 2020 season.

State and federal governments are working on repairing canals and building additional reservoirs, but this could take between five and ten years before a change would be noticed. “The problem is for the economy to operate, there has to be some certainty of expectations as to what water supply is available,” Conant said.

But when all is said and done, some people think the state just isn’t prepared, again. “We are in worse shape than we were before the last drought, and we are going to be in even worse shape after this one,” said Jay Lund, co-director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University of California at Davis.

“We’ve had dry springs before, but that is just astonishing,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles and The Nature Conservancy. “And we’re still a few months out from seeing the worst of things.”

 

 

 

 

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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