The headline above sounds sensational, and some people claim that it is, but the warning comes from a respected NASA scientist. He says “As our “wet” season draws to a close, it is clear that the paltry rain and snowfall have done almost nothing to alleviate epic drought conditions. January was the driest in California since record-keeping began in 1895. Groundwater and snowpack levels are at all-time lows. We’re not just up a creek without a paddle in California, we’re losing the creek too.” You can read more about it here, in an article based on an Op-Ed published recently in the Los Angeles Times.
The scientist, Jay Famiglietti, also pointed out that this water deficit started long before the present drought as groundwater was pumped at unsustainable levels, especially during previous droughts when surface water allocations were cut as much as 80%.
Climatologists were hoping that the onset of El Nino might help to alleviate some of the drought that has plagued California for the last few years, but El Nino came late and weak, near the end of the rainy season in California, and is expected to bring very limited relief to the area.
That means that water supplies will become even more limited than last year, and local governments will have to make hard choices about who gets the water that is available. In the past year, local communities have been reluctant to fine people who were not following the watering restrictions, but that might have to change if water becomes even more scarce.
California is not the only area that is feeling a severe shortage of water. Sao Paolo in Brazil is so low on water that residents are fleeing the area. Dr. Marshall Shepherd, UGA professor, discusses some of the implications of these shortages in his blog here.
What does this mean for agriculture both in California and here in the Southeast? Clearly, with more severe restrictions on water, some crops are going to become too expensive to produce in California, and production of these crops is going to have to shift to other areas, either in the US such as the Southeast, or abroad.
The exact changes are difficult to predict without having a full accounting of the costs of moving production and transportation. Groundwater depletion is also occurring in other areas of the country, such as the Ogallala Aquifer in the central Great Plains, and will have impacts for future production of other crops as well.
Here are a few more links that you might find helpful in looking at drought:
The Western Governors’ Association has a variety of resources, including meeting summaries of several meetings on water and agriculture issues in the West.
Government drought portal.
EDEN drought resources.
Webinar on methods for measuring drought.
AgroClimate fact sheet on drought in the Southeast.