California may seem like a distant state to many people living in the United States, but no matter how near or far you are from the state, its impact stretches across this country and beyond. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), California accounted for 14.7% of the total U.S. ag exports in 2013 earning $46.4 billion in revenue. The state is single-handedly responsible for the production of 99% of walnuts, 97% of kiwis, 97% of plums, 95% of celery, 95% of garlic, 89% of cauliflower, 71% of spinach, and 69% of carrots (as reported by the Western Farm Press). California may not be the Bread Basket of the United States, but it most certainly plays a major role in feeding our nation.
The food security we rely so heavily on from California is now facing its greatest threat—drought. Water shortage and drought are nothing new to many California farmers and ranchers, but stark realities of a changing world are leaving many more fearful of the future than ever before. Widespread drought continues to plague the state for the fourth year in a row and the state is facing record low snowpack levels.
According to the state of California’s drought website (drought.ca.gov), in the average year about 30 percent of California’s water supply comes from the accumulated snowpack in the mountains as it thaws and drains into reservoirs in the early spring and summer. This water supply must meet the demand for water throughout the summer and fall seasons. This year’s statewide snowpack surveys averaged just 5 percent of the average April records according to the California Department of Water Resources. This year’s snowpack is the lowest ever in recorded history for the state.
The ongoing drought and projected shortage prompted California’s Governor Edmund Gerald “Jerry” Brown, Jr. to issue a state of emergency back in January 2014 and an announcement in early March of a $1 billion emergency drought package. The package includes funding for safe drinking water and water recycling efforts. Announced just today (April 1) in response to the latest record lowest snowpack ever recorded, Brown has also called upon the State Water Resources Control Board to issue a mandatory water reduction plan in an effort to cut the state’s water usage by 25 percent.
Currently, an estimated 98 percent of California is suffering from abnormally dry conditions and 41.1 percent of the state is considered to be in an exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Many scientists point to winter warming trends over the past few years as a major factor influencing the decline in snowpack. The winter of 2014 was the hottest one of record in California with an average winter temperature across the state at a record 45.6 degrees Fahrenheit. This winter has seen much of the same pattern with an even higher average temperature of 47.4 degrees Fahrenheit. These higher temperatures translate to less snow fall as moisture falls more frequently as rain. This rain is absorbed much easier into the soil while simultaneously helping melt any snow cover. Higher temperatures also mean higher average water consumption as people drink more and more frequently use water on landscapes.
This has far-reaching implications not just for the water supply, but also has a major impact on agriculture throughout the state. As less water is available to mete out to farmers, fields are turned fallow, operating costs increase and the price of food rises. Last year, at least 400,000 acres went unplanted and farmers reported losses estimated at $2 billion. Current data for this year estimates this year’s drought could cost the state as much as $3 billion and could cost more than 20,000 jobs in agriculture and food production.
This has major implications for the future of agriculture and water use in the state of California as scientists are now predicting even worse droughts are yet to come. According to a study by NASA and Cornell and Columbia universities, researchers released in February of this year, if the current trajectory of climate change continues unabated, in just the span of 35 years areas in the Southwest and the Central Plains could be facing major water shortages and the possibility of a “Megadrought.” Unlike the drought currently being experienced in California, a Megadrought could last as long as 30 years (10 times longer than a normal 3-year drought). In addition, conditions would exacerbate water shortages and foster monster wildfires.
Even if you’ve never stepped foot in the Golden State (I haven’t myself), you cannot deny how valuable a role it plays in the future of our nation’s food security. When California suffers we all suffer. And the reality of what California is currently facing is only a glimpse of trouble yet to come to much of the rest of America if we don’t act now to curb bad habits and actions fueling climate change. For information on ways you can help combat the drought in California, visit ca.gov/drought. You can also find great tips there for helping conserve water in your own backyard.
Images of drought in California:
ABC News has great comparison images (2011-2014) demonstrating the scope of the ongoing drought. http://abcnews.go.com/US/californias-drought-worsens-governor-announces-water-restrictions/story?id=30047515