Climate + Water + Food = ?

drought-tractor I was relieved to learn that here in the greater San Francisco Bay Area we’re finally due for some rain. I haven’t been the only one concerned. After the driest spring on record and no rain since last March, our local paper ran a front page article entitled When Will It Rain?

With two successive years of below-normal rainfall, including the driest spring on record, North Coast water officials would love to see a good rainy season for a change…

“Even if there’s a torrential downpour in November people should use less water,” [Sonoma County Water Agency Spokesperson, Sherwood] said. “We have to save for the bad years because we don’t know what’s going to happen. The climate is fluctuating so much.”

Reservoir levels in Sonoma County aren’t actually that bad, compared to some other areas across the state.  But the State of California announced today that it would cut water deliveries to their second lowest level ever.

The Department of Water Resources announced it will deliver just 15 percent of the amount that local water agencies throughout California request every year. That marks the second lowest projection since the first State Water Project deliveries were made in 1962.

Farmers in the Central Valley say they’ll be forced to fallow fields, while cities from the San Francisco Bay area to San Diego might have to impose mandatory water rationing…

“We are anticipating drastically reduced water supplies, regardless of weather conditions,” Laura King Moon, assistant general manager of the State Water Contractors, said in a statement.

Farmers also are making decisions now on what to plant next year. Based on the state’s initial projection, Young, the Kern County farmer, said he will be forced to fallow a fifth of his 5,000 acres.

The little water coming to him will go to his permanent crops — pistachio, almond and cherry trees — while most of his tomatoes and alfalfa will not get planted.

Industrial agriculture consumes about 80% of California’s developed water supply.  While one hopes that farmers like Young will forego planting their most water-intensive crops–like alfalfa, which consumes almost a quarter of the state’s irrigation water–smarter planting will only be the tip of the proverbial drought iceberg.  The confluence of climate instability, depletion of fresh water, and industrialized agriculture makes for a scary picture.  If I knew how to do a rain dance, I’d be outside right now.

image source: Sydney Morning Herald

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