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California Water Shortages Force Tough Choices for Farmers

'We believe the state could see as much as 691,000 acres taken out of production this year,' coalition president says
Photograph: Courtesy of California Farm Water Coalition

Severe drought conditions continue to force tough decisions for California farmers, according to an agriculture trade group in the state, with farmers leaving some acreage unplanted and opting for hardier crops on land they do plant. Crops such as strawberries, citrus fruit, peaches, broccoli, rice and tomatoes, in particular, are being greatly affected by insufficient water supplies, the group noted. 

"New estimates are emerging on the number of acres without enough water to grow food, and it doesn't look good," said Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition, in a news release. "We believe the state could see as much as 691,000 acres taken out of production this year, a 75% increase over last year and 151,000 acres more than the previous high in 2015."

According to information provided by the California Farm Water Coalition, it is also estimated that up to 40% of California's irrigated cropland will receive little or no surface water this year.

“When people talk about taking millions of acres of California farmland out of production, those are just numbers. To put that into perspective, every acre that is left unplanted because of a lack of irrigation water is the equivalent of 50,000 salads that will not be available to consumers,” Bill Diedrich, president of the California Farm Water Coalition, said in a statement.

Another concern is the number of jobs on the state’s farms that could potentially be lost. The number could approach 25,000,with an economic hit to the state of about $3.4 billion. According to the USDA, 80% of U.S.-produced fruits, nuts and vegetables are grown west of the Rockies.

California's climate, in particular, is unique in the U.S., Diedrich noted, with most other states seeing more-significant weather extremes, and in some cases, too much water.

“Immediate action is necessary because by the time the grocery shelves are empty it will be too late."

But California has failed to adapt to changing weather patterns, Diedrich said, although both federal and state governments have allocated money for water infrastructure, funding has moved too slowly.Also, the water policy has failed to adapt, he said, and remains mired in "outdated science and cumbersome bureaucracy." He cited the not yet realized Sites Reservoir project, conceived as a way to capture stormwater flows from the Sacramento River for release in dry and critical years. “If it (Sites Reservoir) was in place now, 2022 would not look so bleak,” Diedrich said.

“We are not asking people to choose between a domestic food supply and a clean environment—we need both, and that is achievable if we make the necessary adjustments,” Diedrich continued. “Immediate action is necessary because by the time the grocery shelves are empty, it will be too late.”

 

 

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