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On January 17, the governor of California declared a state of emergency due to the stateâ€™s megadrought. Most regions have only received 20-30% of their usual rain or snowfall this winter. This follows two straight less extreme, but still below normal, years of precipitation. According to US Trustâ€™s Joseph Quinlan (via Steven Perlberg), California joins China, India, Australia, and the Middle East — all of which â€śare experiencing multiyear water challenges that threaten to slow or impair economic activity”.
This is a big economic issue for California, which is the nationâ€™s largest agricultural producer. Modern Famer reports the drought will probably affect prices across the US for fruits, vegetables, nuts, olives, meat and dairy (so pretty much everything except grains and sugar). While farmers saw a record $44.7 billion in revenue from agricultural products last year, the California Farm Water Coalition estimates this yearâ€™s drought will cost the industry about $5 billion. According to Bloomberg, farmers plan to leave about 12% of fields fallow due to an anticipated lack of water.
However, some farmers canâ€™t just leave their fields fallow for a year. Produce like cantaloupe, broccoli, lettuce, and tomatoes might be more scarce in grocery stores this year, but can be planted anew next growing season. Crops that grow on permanent trees and vines â€” like nuts, avocados, and grapes â€” have to be kept alive at all costs. California grows 80% of the worldâ€™s almonds, a crop which requires an especially large amount of water, and has planted many of the trees in parts of the state that are dry even in a normal year.
To complicate matters, the stateâ€™s groundwater aquifers are running low. The water table under California has been shrinking since the 1930s, and â€śeffective water management has eluded the region since it opened up for homesteaders in the 19th centuryâ€ť,Â writes John Kemp. Â The naturally arid state has a growing residential population, huge amounts of agriculture, and a dependence on plenty of water to run through its hydroelectric power plants,Â says Kemp. Just to make things a little worse, Gwynn Guilford says the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws means the state canâ€™t really regulate the water use of pot producers in the northwest of the state.
Though California is investing in technology that might help â€” desalination plants to make ocean water potable and moisture detectors for the soil to help farmers make more efficient use of the water they have â€”Â neither yet seems like a viable long-term solution (desalination is energy-intensive and harmful to fish, while “drought technology” just isnâ€™t that popular with California farmers).
There also may be hope in regulation. While some cities in Northern California are running out of drinking water, Southern California doesnâ€™t even need to ration water, according to Kate Pickert. Through a combination of regulations and rebates given for installing fixtures that use less water, Los Angeles has been cutting its per capita water usage for two decades. Madelyn Glickfeld, a water resources expert at UCLA, tells Pickert that the hard-hit Central Valley farming region doesnâ€™t even have water meters, which is part of its problem. — Shane Ferro
On to todayâ€™s links: