Info Graph – What can the 2015 drought tell us about the impacts of a drought in 2021?
Taking a look back at a similar water year can help us understand what might be in store for us through the rest of this year and possibly beyond.
California is in a critically dry year, the same as in 2015. Water will be extremely tight for thousands of farmers around the state, and many of them have already received notice that their water supplies are being cut by up to 95 percent.
In 2015, water supply cuts of that magnitude led to over half a million acres of land taken out of production. Had there been sufficient water supplies in 2015, the amount of land that was fallowed could have produced:
- 8.6 billion heads of lettuce, or
- 594 million cartons of melons, or
- 54 million tons of grapes, or
- 27 million tons of tomatoes.
Instead, because no water was available, those fields produced nothing but weeds.
California is the No. 1 farm state in the nation with tens of thousands of agricultural jobs, with wages at all income levels covering all 58 counties. When farms aren’t growing food for people, it affects jobs, personal income, and their quality of life. In addition, farm-related jobs contribute hundreds of millions of dollars annually to state and local tax revenue which provide services local communities value, like police, firefighters and teachers.
In 2015, a total of 21,000 jobs were lost with an economic impact of $2.7 billion across the state.
Preparing for Drought
Farmers have been preparing for another drought and have invested heavily in water use efficiency projects, including drip and micro-sprinkler irrigation systems, soil moisture monitoring, and computerized irrigation controllers. But the savings achieved by those investments haven’t been enough to avoid wide-scale land fallowing due to the massive water supply shortages farmers are experiencing again this year.
Info Graph – Long Term Impacts on California From Water Supply Cuts
Looking long-term, continuing water shortages will have a devastating effect not only on California farms but also on the farm related jobs throughout our economy.
The Blueprint Economic Impact Report, available HERE, indicates that over the next 30 years, water supply cuts will lead to the permanent loss of 1 million acres of productive farmland.
Fewer healthy foods will be available from California farms. The report estimates that California will permanently lose:
- 86,000 acres of vegetables,
- 130,000 acres of fruit-producing trees,
- 129,000 acres of wine and table grapes,
- 327,000 acres of nuts, and much more.
These reductions translate into the permanent loss of 85,000 jobs, half of which are off the farm, such as food processing, transportation, wholesale, retail, and ports. They also mean the permanent loss of over $535 million in tax revenue which, again, is used to provide the services local communities value, like police, firefighters and teachers.
Actions, including better flood management for groundwater recharge, improved conveyance to move water to potential groundwater banking areas, new and enlarged storage projects, and regulatory reform designed to improve in-stream flows for ecosystem benefits while protecting agricultural water supplies can help minimize the effects described above. Federal investments toward improving water supply infrastructure is essential to providing a secure water future to sustain the nation’s food supply, meet urban and suburban needs, and provide for a healthy environment throughout California.