Get ready for higher food prices this summer as the California drought has forced the agricultural industry in the Central Valley to spend more money to produce more food.
The California Farm Water Coalition estimates that the ongoing drought could cut $5 billion dollars out of the agricultural industry coffers which bring in upwards of $45 billion annually to the state. Farmers may have to leave an estimated 500,000 formerly productive acres empty while they wait for rain. Agriculture takes up 77 percent of state water, therefore food imported from the region could rise as high as 20 percent this summer.
Already, production of broccoli, lettuce and bell pepper are drastically down. The drought is having a lasting effect on fruit, olives and nuts as farmers have allowed some crops and vines to wither and die in order to save other parts of their orchards and vineyards. Meat and dairy prices are expected to go up because many of the livestock pastures are brown and dry; hay prices are much higher this year.
California is in its third year of drought, a recurring nightmare for persons old enough to remember the prolonged dry period from 1987-1991, and the previous record-setting drought from 1976-1977. In January, Gov. Jerry Brown asked the state’s 38 million residents to voluntarily cut their water use by 20 percent. Two weeks ago the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains was at 12 percent of normal coverage and for the first time in its 54-year history, the State Water Project announced that it cannot deliver water to agencies that serve 25 million people as well as irrigating 750,000 acres of farmland.
This week CalTrans has posted messages on its electronic billboards encouraging Californians to save water. According to Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska, two-thirds of California is experiencing “extreme” drought conditions, with 10 percent suffering an “exceptional” drought. Despite the heavy rainfall experienced early this week in the Sierra Nevadas—whose runoff is critical to Northern California and the Central Valley—the state is woefully dry as are 15 western states which are experiencing abnormally dry conditions.
With 19 million people and little water of its own, Southern California could be the part of the state’s most vulnerable water shortages. Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), which wholesales water to the six counties here, said there will be enough water to last the year even without more rain.
“We’re taking an aggressive approach to lowering water use because Southern California must lead by example and take a statewide approach to this challenge,” Kightlinger said. “California is one state. We all have an obligation to do our part and conserve water.”
This week, the MWD declared a “water supply alert” throughout its 5,200-square-mile service area as part of a set of comprehensive actions to address the drought. Along with urging cities, counties, local public water agencies and retailers to achieve higher conservation, the board doubled its annual conservation and outreach budget from $20 million to $40 million. The increase will provide additional rebate incentives for Southern Californians to purchase water-saving devices.