David Dayen runs through what it means for residents, farmers, and the rest of the country:
The conditions have created impossible, Sophie’s Choice-type dilemmas. The State Water Project, which supplies water to agencies serving 25 million residents, announced they would make no deliveries this month for the first time in history. Seventeen California communities and water districts, primarily in the Central Valley, may not have drinking water in the next 60-90 days. Residents in these cities are being asked to cut their water usage by as much as 30 percent.
Farmers may have to leave half a million acres fallow this planting season, a record loss that could cost more than $2 billion. They must choose between watering perennially thirsty almond and cherry trees and planting annual crops like tomatoes and lettuce. Any choice will result in lower yields and increased food prices across the country. Migrant workers won’t get hired to cultivate crops, leading to unemployment that could top 50 percent in some Central Valley towns. The state has banned fishing in several rivers to protect thinning populations. The dry conditions create breeding grounds for wildfires, which started this year as early as January. Ranchers have been forced to sell off their calves at half their usual sale weight because of a lack of grass, a predicament that has even faced rancher and Congressman John Garamendi, who has sold one-third of his herd. “It’s going to affect everything that goes on in the state,” Garamendi said.
Alex Park and Julia Lurie add:
Even though some rain has finally come, it would be nearly impossible for California to make up the water it needs. According to the Department of Water Resources, the state would need to experience heavy rain or snowfall every other day from now until May in order to achieve average annual precipitation levels. Dr. Peter Gleick, codirector of the water-focused research nonprofit the Pacific Institute, explained that because California’s reservoirs are already depleted from a dry past two years, “We need a really, really wet rest of the season. And that’s statistically unlikely.”
Earlier Dish on the drought here.
(Map from the US Drought Monitor)