Agriculture is a big business in California, bringing in $37.5 billion annually and accounting for nearly half of the fruits and vegetables grown in the United States. Those valuable crops and livestock require a lot of water, a precious commodity in a state that is right now suffering through extreme drought. According to a new report, the state stands to lose as much as $2.2 billion and more than 17,000 agricultural jobs from the drought.
California is going through more than a bit of a dry spell. Los Angeles is in it’s driest rainy season since records started being kept in 1877, and it looks like this year’s El Niño will offer no relief. And it gets worse. A new study by researchers at the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences shows that California agriculture is facing the greatest water loss ever seen in the state.
While the economic losses are certainly in the forefront of many people’s minds, the water issue has the potential to be far more devastating.
The report found that the amount of river water available to farms in California’s fertile Central Valley is down by one-third, a drastic decrease and a severe blow to the agriculture industry, which consumes nearly 80% of all water drawn from natural sources like rivers, lakes and groundwater.
In order to make up for the lost water, farms are drawing water for their crops and livestock from the ground. Using groundwater might keep them in business right now, but the report found that in some areas, if pumping continues, farmers could see their wells go dry as early as next year.
“A well-managed basin is used like a reserve bank account,” Richard Howitt, lead author of the paper said in a press release. “We’re acting like the super rich who have so much money they don’t need to balance their checkbook.”
The current drought is the third most severe drought on record for the region.