Living in rural Fresno County these days means reading about the drought in the local newspaper every day, seeing reports about it on the local news and praying for rain. The Fresno area is smack dab in the middle of California’s fertile San Joaquin Valley. It is considered to be the “agriculture center of the world.” Valley farmers supply many of the nation’s fruit and vegetables. The Valley is also home to cotton, dairy and cattle ranches. As California enters its third year of drought, farmers are hit particularly hard. Lack of water means making tough decisions, and some farmers have to idle acres of land. Some ranchers have to sell off livestock. That will affect the economy of the Valley because farming is the area’s economy.
The drought will also have effects outside of the Valley and the state. Every American may soon see higher food prices at the grocery store. Paying more for food will be hard for many, as Americans are used to lower food prices. A California Farm Water Coalition study found that Americans spend 6.2 percent less for groceries than other high-income countries. As a blog post by CFWC points out, “When water supplies are reduced, then less acres are planted and the economic theory of supply and demand takes over for the consumer’s pocketbook.”
The current drought is a bad one. This is the third year of consecutive drought. This past January, the San Joaquin Valley experienced one of the driest and hottest Januarys on record. Normally, January is a cold month in the Valley when temperatures at night drop to freezing levels. Foggy mornings and nights are common. For most of this January, it was so warm that you could wear shorts and flip flops. We saw far too much of the sun. As of Feb. 6, Fresno’s total seasonal rainfall was 6.38 inches, which is 0.41 above normal, according to the Fresno Bee. However, Fresno’s rainfall for 2014 has only been 2.60 inches, which is 0.23 of an inch below average. If the rest of the rainy season, which lasts through May, bring less than average totals, the Valley will have experienced three of the driest years on record.
The drought is so serious that on Jan. 17, California Gov. Jerry Brown proclaimed a state of emergency because of it. The press release that announced the state of emergency proclamation stated that the state’s snowpack water content totals are 20 percent below the normal average for this time of year. The governor’s proclamation called for all Californians to reduce their water use by 20 percent. A few California towns, including one in the Valley, are instituting mandatory water restrictions.
Drought may become the new normal
This drought, this lack of rain in the Valley and snow in the mountains, might become the new normal. Two scientists, B. Lynn Ingram and Frances Malamud-Roam, recently released the results of their study – which found that this type of drought we are now experiencing last occurred in 1580. The scientists made this determination by looking at tree ring patterns.
Climate change is probably playing a big role. When asked in an interview if what we’re experiencing is consistent with climate change projections for California, Ingram answered in the affirmative. Climatologist James Hansen, the one who has long warned about climate change and its effects, told Think Progress, “Increasingly intense droughts in California, all of the Southwest, and even into the Midwest have everything to do with human-made climate change.”
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