The connections throughout the world have never been greater. What happens half a world away has an impact on your life.
The April snow pack in the mountains of California is only five percent of the average, and this is the fourth year of below average snow pack. California is in the midst of one of its worst droughts in its history.
How bad is it? The governor has ordered California’s first-ever mandatory water cutback, imposing a 25 percent reduction to force residents and businesses to significantly tighten up water use. This will affect golf courses and cities in a substantial way if this goal is to be achieved. Those green lawns might be a thing of the past.
California gets half of its fresh water from the melting snow pack in the mountains. No snowpack, no water. So how does this affect you? California produces roughly half of all the fruits, nuts, and vegetables consumed in the United States while exporting vast amounts to China and other overseas customers.
This agriculture consumes a staggering 80 percent of California’s developed water, even as it accounts for only 2 percent of the state’s gross domestic product. Most crops and livestock are produced in the Central Valley, which is, geologically speaking, a desert. The soil is very fertile but crops there can thrive only if massive amounts of irrigation water are applied.
Take almonds. The United States produces 80% of the world’s production, all in California. Last year’s drought decreased production from 1.41 million tonnes to .73 million tonnes. That was a 50% decline. That’s why the price of almonds is at a nine year high, with the sky as the limit. Last year, California had five times more snowpack.
Other crops might be affected, like rice and pistachios. The United States is the world’s second largest producer of pistachios, after Iran.
Some rice farmers in Northern California are skipping planting their crop this year and choosing instead to sell their water rights to Southern California.
All of this is spurring a drilling frenzy, not for fracking but for water. They drill deep for water today, between one and two thousand feet. Such a well can cost $300,000.
Pumping this additional water out of the ground comes with its own problems. Normally groundwater accounts for 40% of the water supply, and 60% during a drought. However the dropping water table indicates they can’t pump forever. As the water is pumped out, the ground settles. In some places in the Central Valley, land has dropped by a foot. This has damaged roads, pipes, and other infrastructure and has caused some canals to stop working.
As California farms and cities drill deeper for groundwater, they no longer are tapping reserves that percolated into the soil over recent centuries. They are pumping water that fell to Earth during a much wetter climatic regime—the ice age.
So, if you like Californian wines, almonds, tomatoes, and other food, you might consider praying for an end to the drought. Me? I’m going to buy a few bags of almonds and stick them in the freezer.
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