While rain did finally fall last winter, the economic and agricultural impact of the previous four years of drought are still being felt, especially in the Central Valley, according to a recent report by UC Davis researchers. Those impacts include the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues, over 1,800 jobs and millions of acre feet in water supply.
In their report, "Economic Impacts of the 2016 California Drought for Agriculture," researchers Josué Medellín-Azuara , Duncan MacEwan , Richard E. Howitt, Daniel A. Sumner and Jay R. Lund forecast that 2016 will see an increase in crop fallowing, reduced revenues and employment, especially in areas without access to groundwater.
The researchers estimated that the 2016 drought will result in a $247 million loss of farm-gate revenues and 1,815 full and part time jobs statewide, with losses concentrated in the Central Valley. The numbers are even worse when the researchers considered other sectors that rely on agriculture, with an estimated total loss of $600 million and 4,700 full and part time jobs statewide due to drought.
Crop fallowing as a result of water shortage was estimated to be approximately 80,000 acres, relative to average water supply conditions, representing just below 1 percent of all irrigated area in California. About 90 percent of land fallowed due to drought was in the Central Valley.
In 2016, drought conditions will likely result in surface water supply losses of about 2.6 MAF, of which 1.9 MAF will be replaced with additional groundwater pumping. The researchers also noted that drought effects to agriculture in 2016 were driven largely by low water availability south of the Delta and restrictions on ability to move water across the Delta.
Stanislaus County Farm Bureau Executive Director Wayne Zipser said that while 2016 was a much better year for agriculture locally than the previous four years of drought, it's still going to take some years to get back to "normal" conditions.
"We definitely have seen an improvement this year, with a positive effect on our situation in regards to the drought...Last year was a little bit of catch up, but we have a long ways to go," he said. "This year is going to be critical."
While agriculture remains strong locally and statewide, the drought is contributing to other economic factors.
"Some commodity prices dropped greatly over the last couple of years, like milk prices and almonds are half of what they were a year ago," said Zipser. "There are areas where it's not profitable to farm right now and that has an economic impact as well."
How water resources are managed in the future will also have an impact on agriculture in the Valley.
"We have great irrigation districts which have carried us for 125 years, but it's also what we can keep behind the reservoirs as well," said Zipser.
Looking ahead, Zipser had one comment: "Still pray for rain."
The full UC Davis report can be found at: https://watershed.ucdavis.edu/droughtimpacts