California Agricultural Production, California Department of Water Resources (DWR), California Drought 2020-2021, California’s Drought State of Emergency 2021, Climate Change, Colorado River Basin, Los Angeles/California/USA, U.S. Drought Monitor California
I was so consumed with the COVID-19 pandemic that I paid no attention to the lack of rainfall in the early months of 2020 and 2021. To tell the truth, I enjoyed the dry winter months. I got to spend more time gardening. Cold and damp days kill the joy of being outdoors. Then, on May 10, California Governor Newsom grabbed my attention when he placed 41 counties, 30 percent of our state’s population, under a drought state of emergency.
“With the reality of climate change abundantly clear in California, we’re taking urgent action to address acute water supply shortfalls in northern and central California while also building our water resilience to safeguard communities in the decades ahead,” said Governor Newsom. “We’re working with local officials and other partners to protect public health and safety and the environment, and call on all Californians to help meet this challenge by stepping up their efforts to save water.”
Learning that water storage in Lake Mead and Lake Powell has now fallen to about 35 percent of their capacity is also alarming. America’s two largest reservoirs, created by dams along the Colorado River, provide water to 40 million Americans and irrigation for more than 4 million acres of farmland across California and six other states—Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Twenty-nine Native American Tribes also depend upon the Colorado River Basin for their water supply and preserving fish and wildlife habitats. The Bureau of Reclamation has forecast that the Lake Mead reservoir will hit a historic low of 1,065 feet by the end of 2021. The future of this reliable water resource is now at risk.
Periodic drought is a part of life in our sunshine state. Since moving to Los Angeles, we have already faced periods of drought during 2007 to 2009 and 2012 to 2016. But the climate crisis worsens our plight. Extraordinarily warm temperatures turned the period May 2020 to April 2021 into the driest-ever 12-month period on California’s record. While the Los Angeles County and other six counties in Southern California are not yet under a state of emergency, we all have the responsibility of pulling together once again to save water. After reducing our family’s water consumption during the five-year drought, I remain vigilant in wise water use. I can always do more.
During the 2012-2016 drought, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) enacted several programs, still in effect, for managing our water supply. In a press release on March 23, 2021, DWR Director Karla Nemeth said:
“We are now facing the reality that it will be a second dry year for California and that is having a significant impact on our water supply. The Department of Water Resources is working with our federal and state partners to plan for the impacts of limited water supplies this summer for agriculture as well as urban and rural water users. We encourage everyone to look for ways to use water efficiently in their everyday lives.”
Drought directly impacts California’s agricultural production. In 2019, 69,900 farms operated in America’s top state economy. Land devoted to farming and ranching covered 24.3 million acres, an area larger than the State of Indiana. Over a third of our country’s vegetables and two-thirds of our country’s fruits and nuts are grown in California. The state is also the sole producer (99 percent or more) of almonds, artichokes, celery, figs, garlic, grapes and raisins, kiwifruit, melons (Honeydew), nectarines, olives, peaches (Clingstone), pistachios, plums (including dried), sweet rice, and walnuts.
The stakes are high. With nearly 32,000 members statewide, the California Farm Bureau joined a national coalition of concerned stakeholders to urge our leaders on Capitol Hill to address the region’s aging water supply infrastructure. Other coalition members include the Association of California Water Agencies, Family Farm Alliance, National Water Resources Association, and Western Growers. In a joint release on June 9, 2021, to Chairman Senator Joe Manchin and Ranking Member John Barrasso of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the coalition emphasized that federal investment in a diversified water management must be included as essential infrastructure in the next legislative package.
“This funding will assist in addressing critical safety needs, develop new infrastructure, invest in smart water technology and conservation, and improve forest and water ecosystems. Additionally, it will spur economic recovery and prepare us to meet the water needs of the next generation in the face of a changing climate,” the coalition letter said.
When our livelihoods and well-being of our families are threatened, we the stakeholders can work together to find solutions for our shared interests.
Summer is here. In the City of Los Angeles, temperatures are already on the rise. I have to stay cool and drink plenty of water. I will also have to cut my outdoor gardening time to only two hours in the late afternoon from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. At this time of year, sunset is shortly after 8:00 p.m. A little rain would be good.