Study: Drought Costing Calif. Billions in Agriculture, Job Losses

Wednesday, 16 Jul 2014 01:48 PM

By John Blosser

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The three-year drought will cost California $2.2 billion in agricultural losses in 2014 and put 17,100 farm workers out of a job.

A study by the University of California-Davis Center for Watershed Sciences has found that the state is in worse trouble than anticipated, with 5 percent of irrigated farmland going out of production for lack of water.

Further, the center found that the drought is likely to continue, at least through next year and "if another critically dry year occurs in 2015 the socioeconomic impacts will likely be much more severe."

The shortage of water will rack up $810 million in losses in the Central Valley, with statewide dairy and livestock farmers suffering $203 million in losses and pumping costs up by $500 million, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Gov. Jerry Brown asked Californians to voluntarily cut their water usage by 20 percent this year, but instead water use has increased by 1 percent, with an 8 percent increase in Southwest California, encompassing Los Angeles, San Diego, and Riverside, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

As a result, the State Water Resources Control Board has switched from voluntary cutback pleas to compulsory compliance, and will levy fines of up to $500 per violation on perpetrators.

By a 4-0 vote, the board approved new rules that ban washing cars with a hose without a shutoff nozzle, washing driveways and sidewalks, using potable water for ornamental fountains, and overwatering property so that water runs off onto other areas.

"California is in the worst drought we've seen in our grandparents' generation or beyond," Felicia Marcus, the water board's chairwoman, told the Mercury News. "Fields are going fallow. Thousands of people are going to be out of work. There are communities that are out of water — they're bathing out of buckets, and water trucks are coming in to help them.

"But many parts of California don't seem to realize how bad it is," she said, "because they are so far away from their source of water. We are all in this together, and this is not a time to waste water."

Also raising concern is the exhaustion of groundwater supplies through pumping. The UC-Davis report states, "The smaller than expected reduction of water availability, crop acres and employment comes at the expense of the exhaustion of reserve groundwater storage and a substantial increase in groundwater overdraft."

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