Today’s announcement that farmers in the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys will receive zero percent of their contracted supplies from the federal Central Valley Project is a tragic repeat of last year. In 2014 the state’s farm economy lost more than $2 billion and more than 17,000 jobs as a direct result of water shortages, according to a report by the University of California. Another zero allocation means impacts to California are expected to be as bad or worse this year.
The zero allocation is even more troubling because the amount of water available in past years has been similar to this year, yet farmers still received water on their federal contracts. In 1991 and 1992 Lake Shasta storage was slightly less than it is today and the Bureau of Reclamation delivered 25 percent of the contract allotment to farmers. Today, with a similar amount of water in Lake Shasta farmers will get a zero allocation. There is something terribly wrong with that.
$2.2 billion cost in 2014
Last year UC Davis economists reported on direct and indirect costs, with farmers, ranchers and dairy operators losing $1 billion in revenue. Additional emergency pumping and other economic costs pushed the total to $2.2 billion. Farmers fallowed 428,000 acres of productive farmland, an area almost one and a half times the size of Los Angeles, because they had no water to raise crops.. The economists also estimated 17,100 farm workers would lose their seasonal or full-time work on valley farms.
Those numbers will likely climb this year.
As rural Californians face an uncertain future, their communities will continue to struggle with mounting unemployment and economic hardship brought on by water supply shortages. Many counties, cities and civic groups will strain to meet the growing needs of the unemployed because significant parts of California depend on water that isn’t coming.
Unemployment continues to climb
Many communities are facing unemployment rates between 22 and 31%, while food banks in California’s farm regions have seen a rise in food box deliveries of nearly 925% between May of 2014 and January 2015.
The effects of an upcoming fourth year of drought will be heightened because state and federal regulations prevent existing water flowing through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to be stored south of the Delta for use later this year. The regulations are in place to protect endangered fish but after 20 years of water supply cuts to farms and cities, there is no evidence that they have helped. These regulations need to be rewritten with a common sense approach that benefits people and the environment.
Thousands of farmers and more than 2 million acres of farmland may be impacted by the cutback in water deliveries. That could force farmers to again take land out of production or seek alternate sources of water that too often come with a price tag greater than $2,000 per acre-foot, more than ten times the normal cost for untreated, agricultural water.