More than 80 percent of California is in extreme or worse drought, according to the latest Drought Monitor report. No drought improvement is expected through the end of October as the prospects of a mega El Niño fizzle.
The state’s agricultural industry is being hit especially hard by the drought.
A new study released last week put a hefty price tag on the state’s drought, which has cost the state’s agricultural industry an estimated $2.2 billion and put some 17,000 agricultural workers out of the job this year.
Scientists warn the worst of it may not even be over. The drought could last for several more years, even with the arrival of El Niño.
“Statistically, the drought is likely to continue through 2015 – regardless of El Niño conditions,” the report said. “A continued drought also increases the vulnerability of agriculture, as urban users with largely adequate supplies in 2014 will likely buy water from agricultural areas.”
Climatologist Brian Fuchs of the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska agrees the drought won’t be easy to break.
He explained in a Los Angeles Times article here California’s prolonged drought means it will be “harder to break the cycle,” much like some thirsty regions in Oklahoma and the entire state of Texas, which have been struggling with drought since 2010.
Additional dry years in 2015 and 2016 could end up costing crop farming in Central Valley an estimated $1 billion annually.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the financial losses point to a need to build new reservoirs in the state. Previous proposals to expand water infrastructure have been met with opposition from environmental and other groups
"One of the saddest things about the losses caused by the drought is that they could have been prevented," said Paul Wenger, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation.
Richard Howitt, a University of California, Davis professor emeritus of agriculture and resource economics, told the Associated Press it’s time for farmers to take a lead in managing groundwater to irrigate crops and sustain the state’s agricultural industry.
"My message to farmers is treat groundwater like you treat your retirement account," Howitt said in an interview. "Know how much water's in it and how fast it's being used."