In the most comprehensive look yet at the impact of the worst California drought in decades on the state’s vital agriculture industry, a new study found that it has cost the state $2.2 billion, primarily in lost farm revenue and wages. And it says 428,000 acres of irrigated cropland, about 5% of the state’s total, is being pushed out of production in the Central Valley, Central Coast and Southern California, reports the Monterey Herald.
The drought also has put more than 17,100 seasonal and part-time agricultural workers out of jobs, according to the study released Tuesday by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, leading to pockets of extreme poverty and despair in the produce baskets of Fresno, Kern and Tulare counties. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will visit Fresno on Friday to announce additional funds to help rural communities struggling amid the drought.
The report found that California is managing the drought, the state’s third worst on record, by heavily relying on the additional pumping of underground water, known as groundwater. But groundwater reserves are limited, and water tables will fall if the drought continues, as expected, through 2015. Some parts of the state, such as the Tulare Basin, could see additional wells run dry. In areas with deeper wells, growers still have access to groundwater but will likely pay more in energy costs to pump the water to the surface.
Failure to manage groundwater and plan for future dry years is a “slow-moving train wreck,” said Richard Howitt, a professor emeritus of agricultural and resource economics at UC Davis and a lead author of the study.
The report, released at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, found that the drought is responsible for the greatest water loss ever seen in California agriculture. River water for Central Valley farms has been reduced by roughly one-third.