All of California Is Now Under Drought Conditions, and That's Bad News for All of Us

Consumers will feel the effect soon as food prices are expected to skyrocket.

Photo Credit: Mauro Pezzotta/Shutterstock

For the first time in 15 years, all of the Golden State suffers from a water shortage, and while that's very bad for the region, it may also send food prices skyrocketing throughout the country.

The U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly map of drought conditions produced jointly by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Agriculture, and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says that the entire state suffers from conditions ranging from “abnormally dry” to “exceptional drought.” The heavy-population centers all suffer from “extreme drought” or “exceptional drought.” The latter designation, also known a as a D4, being the most critical.

It has also been reported that all of the state's reservoir levels are low, with one, the San Antonio Reservoir, which is in Alameda County and serves the Bay Area, being essentially dry since winter. Other reservoirs are reported to be near half capacity, and others are at less than half capacity.

The drought is hitting the farm industry and its workers particularly hard. The Central Valley, one of the world's richest food-producing regions, is up against what geologists are calling the 500-year drought. Fresno County, the heart of the Central Valley’s San Joaquin Valley farm belt—and the number one farming county in the nation—may lose up to a quarter of its orchards and fields this year for lack of water. Growers in Shasta Valley were expected to have only enough water to irrigate what equals a single irrigation on about half of their acreage.

The state's farmers will leave about 800,000 acres idle this year, according to estimates by the California Farm Water Coalition, which will negatively impact the state's entire economy. As a result, consumers can be expected to pay more at the grocery store for a wide range of staple foods. The Department of Agriculture warns that “major impacts from the drought in California have the potential to result in food price inflation above the historical average.”

Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in January when it became clear that 2013 closed out the driest year ever recorded for many parts of the state and the 2014 “water year”, which began October 1, had thus far been the driest in 90 years.

Some California municipalities are already having to enact water restrictions, with one city, Montague — which is located near the Oregon border — saying that it will run out of drinking water by the end of the summer. Officials are saying that this is the first time in more than 80 years that the city has suffered such a shortage. On the other end of the state, San Diego has reached “level one” water supply status, which means that there is a likelihood that there will be a shortage and a consumer demand reduction of up to 10 percent to ensure that supplies will meet anticipate demands over the next several months.

Droughts aren’t new to the state, there have been about nine in the last hundred years and it turns out that last century may have actually been one of the wettest in the last 7,000 years. Currently, the state is in the third year of a continuing drought, but this may be part of a much longer trend, one that could last decades, even centuries according to paleoclimatologist B. Lynn Ingram at the University of California at Berkeley. Part of that may have to do with human-induced climate change and part of it, she says, is caused by natural fluctuations that occur with changes in surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean.


Cliff Weathers is a former senior editor at AlterNet and served as a deputy editor at Consumer Reports. Twitter @cliffweathers.


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