Monday, January 9, 2017

Rain, Snow, Drought and the Economic Impact on Valley Ag

It’s a New Year and Valley farmers are busy preparing for the 2017 season.

Some might have been looking toward the sky for some insights.

In fact, many probably were following the series of storms that swept across the North State, dumping lots of snow.

As we mentioned last month, the burning question around these parts remains water. As in how much water will be available and how much the water will cost.

This has been the most critical issue this decade because of the prolonged five-year drought that has had a stronghold on the Golden State. For Valley agriculture, the water crisis has had a dramatic economic impact.

The five-year drought forced farmers to leave fields fallow.
In an economic report released last fall by the Westlands Water District – the big water provider in our area – the lack of water allocations has forced farmers to resort to more expensive groundwater to cover the shortfall, take prime ag land out of production and switch their crop mix, often to those that command higher prices such as almonds. The increased use of groundwater also has boosted salinity levels in the soil, which in turn affects the crops.

The loss in acreage has cost 5,200 farm jobs and an overall loss of $650 million in economic output, according to the report called “The Economic Impact of the Westlands Water District on the Regional and Local Economy.”

While a drought-busting rainy season is unlikely under La Niña, everyone is hoping for Mother Nature to deliver some relief with a wet winter.

State Water surveyors check water content. (DWR photo)
However, the news was less than encouraging last Tuesday after crews from the state Department of Water Resources (DWR) traveled up the Sierra Nevada range near Echo Summit and checked the water content of the snowpack.

Surveyors reported the snow water equivalent of 6 inches, some 5.3 inches less than the averageearly-January measurements taken since 1964. January and February are the state’s wettest months. Frank Gehrke, the state’s snow survey chief, described the results as “a little gloomy.”

Shasta Lake is brimming with water from the rains and snows.
More telling is DWR’s electronic readings of 105recording stations across the Sierra. Those measurements indicated the water content was 68 percent of the average for this time of year.On the positive side, officials do point out that Shasta Lake , the state’s largest reservoir, currently is at 118 percent of its average.

Weekend rains and more wet weather predicted for the coming week are positive signs and could bolster the snowpack by the end of this month.

“Precipitation and storage are doing quite well compared to the past 5 years of historic drought conditions,” acting DWR Director Bill Croyle said in a statement. “That makes us cautiously optimistic about water conditions.”

We certainly hope so.

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