Friday, December 19, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Drought impact study: California agriculture faces greatest water loss ever seen

Josh Sheppard

In this May 1 file photo, fourth-generation rice farmer Josh Sheppard walks across the dried-up ditch at his rice farm in Richvale. A third dry summer is forcing some farmers to fallow fields and lay off workers. AP photo

By
From page A1 | July 16, 2014 |

A new report from UC 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 Center 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.

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.

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 percent 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 Center 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.”

The California Farm Bureau Foundation responded to the report with calls for better surface water storage.

“One of the saddest things about the losses caused by the drought is that they could have been prevented,” said the foundation’s president, Paul Wegner, in a news release. “California has spent 35 years pursuing a conservation-only strategy that has proven disastrous.

“When we last built a new reservoir to capture rain or snowmelt, in the late 1970s, California’s population was 23 million. Now, we have more than 38 million residents, on the way to 44.3 million by 2030. We must build additional and expanded water storage if we are going to be prepared to handle drought periods, to accommodate population growth and capture the warmer, flashier storm runoff linked to climate change.”

Other key findings of the drought’s effects in 2014:

* Direct costs to agriculture total $1.5 billion (revenue losses of $1 billion and $500,000 in additional pumping costs). This net revenue loss is about 3 percent 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 percent of farm unemployment.

* 428,000 acres, or 5 percent, of irrigated cropland is going out of production in the Central Valley, Central Coast and Southern California due to the drought.

* The Central Valley is hardest hit, particularly the Tulare Basin, with projected losses of $810 million, or 2.3 percent, in crop revenue; $203 million in dairy and livestock value; and $453 million in additional well-pumping costs.

* Agriculture on the Central Coast and in Southern California will be less affected by this year’s drought, with about 19,150 acres fallowed, $10 million in lost crop revenue and $6.3 million in additional pumping costs.

* Overdraft of groundwater is expected to cause additional wells in the Tulare Basin to run dry if the drought continues.

* The drought is likely to continue through 2015, regardless of El Niño 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.

Groundwater reserves

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.

“We have to do a better job of managing groundwater basins to secure the future of agriculture in California,” said Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which largely funded the UCD study. “That’s why we’ve developed the California Water Action Plan and a proposal for local, sustainable groundwater management.”

Failure to replenish groundwater in wet years continues to reduce groundwater availability to sustain some crops during drought — particularly more profitable permanent crops, like almonds and grapes — a situation that lead author Richard Howitt of UCD called a “slow-moving train wreck.”

“A well-managed basin is used like a reserve bank account,” said Howitt, a professor emeritus of agricultural and resource economics. “We’re acting like the super-rich who have so much money they don’t need to balance their checkbook.”

To forecast the economic effects of the drought, the UCD 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 UCD agricultural economists Josué Medellín-Azuara and Dan Sumner, and Duncan MacEwan of the ERA Economic consulting firm in Davis.

California produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, nuts and vegetables and nearly a quarter of the nation’s milk and cream. Across the nation, consumers regularly buy several crops grown almost entirely in California, including tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, almonds, walnuts, grapes, olives and figs.

— UC Davis News, with additional reporting by Elizabeth Case

Comments

comments

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    There’s a plate for you at the Davis Holiday Meal

    By Dave Ryan | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    UCD, UC team up to study effects of climate change

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Teens’ goal? Helping other soccer players around the world

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Police seek suspect in hit-and-run collision

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

    Help sought in search for runaway Davis teen

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

     
    Feds release ‘framework’ to rate colleges

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Gunfire leads to DUI arrest

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A2

     
    Luminaria display planned in West Davis

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Sierra Club calendars on sale Saturday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Creative women share food, friendship

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Konditorei presents free holiday concert

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Welcome 2015 with Mumbo Gumbo at a gala bash

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Blue Christmas service planned at Davis churches

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Willett bench is a labor of love

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A4

     
    Author! Author! UCD hosts talks, Q and A on Asia-focused books

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

    Libraries will be closed around the holidays

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

     
    See diving ducks at city wetlands tour

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5 | Gallery

     
    Downtown gift cards get a new perk

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6

    Meditation, Buddhism classes offered

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

     
    Nobel Prize winner will discuss research related to autism

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

    A home for the holidays?

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8 | Gallery

     
    Traditional carols service is Saturday at St. Martin’s

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    Explorit: Experience nano this spring

    By Lisa Justice | From Page: A9 | Gallery

     
    Soup’s On will benefit NAMI-Yolo

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

    Donate to STEAC at Original Steve’s

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

     
    Supplies collected for victims of abuse

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

    Grandmothers support group meets weekly

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11, 1 Comment

     
    .

    Forum

    He needs them to pay up

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

     
    Tom Meyer cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A14

    Cheers and Jeers: Have you ever seen the rain?

    By Our View | From Page: A14

     
    Defeating Ebola involves medicine, and prayers

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A14 | Gallery

    Kudos to Central Park Gardens donors and volunteers

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A14

     
    .

    Sports

    UCD RB coach Wright heads to Florida; what next?

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1

     
    Aggies nab junior college defensive lineman

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

    Cousins is back in lineup but Kings fall

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Devil boys hold off scrappy Rio Linda

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Lady Blue Devils rout an undefeated Liberty squad

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    Nostra-Dunning makes his college bowl picks

    By Bob Dunning | From Page: B2

    Tennyson’s first goal is the difference in Sharks win

    By The Associated Press | From Page: B6 | Gallery

     
    .

    Features

    Name droppers: Trio elected to academy of inventors

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A11

     
    .

    Arts

     
    DMTC announces auditions for ‘Sweeney Todd’

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A15

     
    ‘Before Midnight’ screening is tonight

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A15

     
    DMTC plans New Year’s Eve party

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A15

    Tom Rigney and Flambeau to play

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A15

     
    .

    Business

    After 19 years, Alfa Romeo returns

    By Ann M. Job | From Page: A16

     
    .

    Obituaries

    Rena Sylvia Smilkstein

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6

     
    .

    Comics