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California suffering worst drought in decades


July 16, 2014
By UC Davis

July 16, 2014, Davis, CA — A new report from the University of
California, Davis, shows that California agriculture is weathering its
worst drought in decades due to groundwater reserves, but the nation’s
produce basket may come up dry in the future if it continues to treat
those reserves like an unlimited savings account.

July 16, 2014, Davis, CA — A new report from the University of California, Davis, shows that California agriculture is weathering its worst drought in decades due to groundwater reserves, but the nation’s produce basket may come up dry in the future if it continues to treat those reserves like an unlimited savings account.

The UC Davis Centre for Watershed Sciences study, released today at a press briefing in Washington, D.C., updates estimates on the drought’s effects on Central Valley farm production, presents new data on the state’s coastal and southern farm areas, and forecasts the drought’s economic fallout through 2016.

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The study found that the drought – the third most severe on record  –  is responsible for the greatest water loss ever seen in California agriculture, with river water for Central Valley farms reduced by roughly one-third.

RELIANCE ON GROUNDWATER PUMPING

Groundwater pumping is expected to replace most river water losses, with some areas more than doubling their pumping rate over the previous year, the study said.

More than 80 per cent of this replacement pumping occurs in the San Joaquin Valley and Tulare Basin.

The results highlight California agriculture’s economic resilience and vulnerabilities to drought and underscore the state’s reliance on groundwater to cope with 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 Centre 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.”

SIGNIFICANT COSTS AND LOSSES

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 three per cent 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 per cent of farm unemployment.

• Some 428,000 acres, or per cent per cent, of irrigated cropland is going out of production in the Central Valley, Central Coast and Southern California due to the drought.

• The drought is likely to continue through 2015, regardless of El Nino conditions.

• Consumer food 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.

IMPACT OF A CONTINUING DROUGHT

If the drought continues for two more years, groundwater reserves will continue to be used to replace surface water losses, the study said.

Pumping ability will slowly decrease, while costs and losses will slowly increase due to groundwater depletion. California is the only state without a framework for groundwater management.

To forecast the economic effects of the drought, the UC Davis researchers used computer models, remote satellite sensing data from NASA, and the latest estimates of State Water Project, federal Central Valley Project and local water deliveries and groundwater pumping capacities.

The analysis was done at the request of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which co-funded the research with the University of California.

The report’s other co-authors include UC Davis agricultural economists Josue Medellin-Azuara and Dan Sumner, and Duncan MacEwan of the ERA Economic consulting firm in Davis.


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