Saturday, September 23, 2023
Homeweather and natural disastersCalifornia's 2-year drought—it's what's for dinner

California’s 2-year drought—it’s what’s for dinner

Hot temperatures. Dry winds. No rain.

Sounds like September in Los Angeles. Instead, it's January.

California seems to be in a perennial drought, but 2013 may have set a new standard. It was the driest year on record, going back 160 years. So far in 2014, geologists say the Sierra snowpack—a crucial source for state water—is only 20 percent of normal.

California's worst drought in decades is forcing the state's cattle ranchers to downsize their herds because two years of poor rainfall have ravaged millions of acres of rangeland used to feed their cows and calves.AP

"We think there will be more than a third of the district laying fallow this year," said Mark Borba, a farmer in the San Joaquin Valley. Borba grows everything from almonds to tomatoes to lettuce, and he, like many of his neighbors, depends on groundwater plus an allotment from the federal government through the Sacramento Delta. So far, he said, it looks like his allotment this year will be "zero."

California has the nation's largest farm economy, worth $45 billion, according to the state farm bureau. Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday declared a drought state of emergency for California and directed state officials to "take all necessary actions to prepare for these drought conditions."

(Read more: A cure for antibiotic overuse in livestock: Pay extra?)

Now that there's an official declaration, water can be reallocated in favor of permanent crops at the expense of seasonal ones, according to the California Natural Resources Agency. That means Borba's nut trees will have more priority than his lettuce and tomatoes. Since most of the nation's salad bar is grown here, produce prices could rise. He's conserving cash.

"This year we had four John Deere tractors ordered, and they were in excess of $800,000," Borba said, standing on dusty ground. "When the bureau announced it was likely a zero water allocation for the year, I went to the dealer and said, 'Sorry, but I'm not going to be able to take them.'… If you can't predict where you're headed, you better kind of gather up your acorns and find out how to survive."


Most Popular