Since moving out to Oregon my favorite joke has been, “Whoever said that it rains in Oregon is a liar”. Not the greatest joke I realize but the reality of the situation we are facing out west is not so funny. The drought we are experiencing is of epic proportions and the effect it is having on our neighboring state, California is one we have to be aware of. This is California’s driest year on record.
I read a sobering article recently about the California drought of 2014 that put things into perspective quickly. It is being compared to the Dust Bowl of 1936, think Grapes of Wrath.
An excerpt: “You look around, and you feel sick. It’s hard to believe we are so dry out here when other parts of the country are so damn wet,” Taylor said. “I think about what my mother and dad went through, how hard that time was… You see what’s happening to the land [now], and you can’t help but worry. How bad is this beating going to be?” – Bob Taylor
A quick snapshot of the situation and the impact it’s having on our food system:
- Over 80% of the state of CA is experiencing extreme drought
- Of that, 58 percent of the state is in an “exceptional drought” — the driest conditions possible —Record-low rainfall has sent rivers, lakes and water reservoirs to their lowest levels in decades — threatening the water supply of many cities
- The unusually dry conditions have increased the risk of wildfires, which have already ravaged parts of the state — most recently an area near Yosemite National Park
- California isn’t alone. Portions of 11 states have been declared disaster areas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture
- California reservoirs have dropped to 60 percent of their average and researchers report the lowest snowpack water content since records have been kept
- Oregon is experiencing extreme or severe drought in more than 75 percent of the state as is about 80 percent of Nevada
- The impact of the situation is far too great to go into in just a single post but our food system is one of the greatest issues. Here are some things to note:
- Half or more of our nation’s fruits and vegetables come from California’s central valley alone so yes; prices are going to rise
- California grows more than 80% of our nation’s artichokes, celery, broccoli and cauliflower. Prices on these crops could rise at least 10%
- Lost revenue in 2014 from farming and related businesses such as trucking and processing could reach $5 billion, according to estimates by the California Farm Water Coalition, an industry group
- Already, small towns, like Mendota, Calif., where the population is made up primarily of farm laborers, are warning unemployment rates could hit 50 percent in coming months because there will be no crops to harvest
The above points are just a couple but the list is long and the situation goes well beyond economics.
Not to state the obvious here but California, built the nation’s top farming industry, and the epicenter of our IT industry in a semi-arid environment. So how did anyone ever think it could meet the water needs of over 38 million people? I thought this excerpt summed it up nicely as well:
The bottom line, the entire country needs to wake up and change the way it thinks about water. “We are at that point the risks for the future are really significant,” said Peter Gleick, president of the Oakland-based Pacific Institute, a nonpartisan research organization. “We have to fundamentally change the way we manage water.”
Honestly, I think water will be the issue of our generation and we all have to change the way we think about it.
I hate delivering bad news without a proposed solution but I will attempt to end on a high note and say that awareness is always a great first step. Also, I promise to cool it on the rain jokes.