As the height of California’s harvest season approaches, the full impact of water shortages on farms and ranches will become increasingly apparent—and a study released today by the University of California, Davis, estimated those impacts could include loss of 17,100 jobs and $2.2 billion in economic damage.
California Farm Bureau Federation President Paul Wenger said the report underscores the need for the state to take swift, decisive action to address its long-term water problems.
“One of the saddest things about the losses caused by the drought is that they could have been prevented,” Wenger said. “California has spent 35 years pursuing a conservation-only strategy that has proven disastrous. When we last built a new reservoir to capture rain or snowmelt, in the late 1970s, California’s population was 23 million. Now, we have more than 38 million residents, on the way to 44.3 million by 2030. We must build additional and expanded water storage if we are going to be prepared to handle drought periods, to accommodate population growth and capture the warmer, flashier storm runoff linked to climate change.”
Among the drought’s consequences, Wenger noted, has been a draw-down of groundwater supplies, as farmers have used wells to make up for part of the reduction in surface water. That, in turn, has led to calls for statewide groundwater management.
“Farm Bureau has long supported groundwater management at the local level,” he said. “Statewide regulation certainly won’t fix our groundwater needs, just as it has failed to provide solutions to surface water needs.”
Ironically, Wenger noted, current state regulations don’t consider use of surface water to replenish groundwater as a beneficial use, which complicates the ability to recharge underground aquifers.
“The increasing pressure on groundwater has come from an antiquated surface-water system that’s inadequate in the face of continued urban growth and ineffective environmental regulation, combined with our inability to create new and expanded water storage and our inability to manage existing reservoirs effectively to provide water during drought periods,” he said.
“Rather than seizing on the drought to impose a rushed and poorly designed set of so-called groundwater reforms, we should see the drought as a prediction of what California will continue to experience if we don’t improve our water storage system,” Wenger continued. “Otherwise, we’re destined not only to repeat, but to increase losses suffered by California farmers, their employees and the millions who depend on them for nutritious, local food, and to ensure water shortages that harm every resident and industry in our state.”
The California Farm Bureau Federation works to protect family farms and ranches on behalf of nearly 78,000 members statewide and as part of a nationwide network of more than 6.2 million Farm Bureau members.