Sunday, January 25, 2015
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

    Red Cross honors community heroes

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Bridges of Yolo County: Wear, tear … repair?

    By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Four days of unusual, adventuresome music

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Spanish police arrest 4 suspected members of a jihadi cell

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Rockets kill 30 in Ukrainian city as rebels launch offensive

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Abe ‘speechless’ after video claims IS hostage dead

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    GOP presses state bills limiting gay rights before ruling

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

    Abortion opponents express renewed hope at California rally

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

     
    Share your love (story) with us

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

    Sip wines at St. James’ annual tasting

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

     
    Fake schools draw federal scrutiny

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A3 | Gallery

    Winter produce available at Sutter market

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

     
    Vote for your favorites in Readers’ Choice poll

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Donations to be distributed during homeless count

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: A4

    Speaker will share computer security tips

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Logos Books celebrates 5 years, offers language groups

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Australian olive oil company opens U.S. headquarters in Woodland

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    Pedal around Davis on weekly bike ride

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

    Explore at the YOLO Outdoor Expo

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Yolo animal shelter seeking rawhide donations

    By Lauren Keene | From Page: A5

     
    Woodland Healthcare employees take Great Kindness Challenge

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

    At the Pond: Nest boxes give birds new homes

    By Jean Jackman | From Page: A6 | Gallery

     
    California ranks worst in nation for guidance counselors

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A7

    Words and Music Festival events

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A12

     
    Davis, Woodland are saving water

    By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A12

    .

    Forum

    Family isn’t keen on relationship

    By Creators Syndicate | From Page: A8

     
     
    Caring for the aging mouth

    By Samer Alassaad | From Page: A8

    Big utilities’ nightmare begins to play out

    By Tom Elias | From Page: A10

     
    Mayor’s Corner: Let’s renew Davis together

    By Dan Wolk | From Page: A10

    We have the right to choose

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    We don’t have to suffer

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

    City helped immensely

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

     
    Rick McKee cartoon

    By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10

    When measles spreads from Disneyland, it’s a small world after all

    By New York Times News Service | From Page: A11

     
    From innovation parks to innovative buildings and planning

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A11

    .

    Sports

    Lady Devils hold off Pacers, stay perfect in league

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1

     
    Wildcats’ inaugural kids development league exceeds expectations

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Aggies get top 2015 gymnastics score, but fall short

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Loud crowd sees DHS boys win

    By Spencer Ault | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    UCD men take two tennis matches

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B8

     
    Watney in ninth at Humana Challenge

    By Staff and wire reports | From Page: B8

    .

    Features

    .

    Arts

    .

    Business

    Davis man focusing on cannabidiol business

    By Will Bellamy | From Page: A9

     
    Marrone Bio’s Regalia approved for new uses in Canada

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9

     
    UCD grad makes insurance ‘hot 100′ list

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A9

    Yolo County real estate sales

    By Zoe Juanitas | From Page: A9

     
    .

    Obituaries

    Thomas George Byrne

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

     
    .

    Comics

    Comics: Sunday, January 25, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: B8