California Drought Update-May 2014

By: Christopher C. Burt , 7:36 PM GMT on May 02, 2014

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California Drought Update-May 2014

The water season (July 1-June 30) has, for all practical purposes, come to an end for California. Although May and June may see some additional precipitation (especially in the far north) it is unlikely that anything will happen to improve the prospect of a catastrophic drought this year for the state. Here is a monthly update.

The final snow survey in the Sierra Nevada was taken on May 1st and the statewide snowpack was just 18% of average for the date. This compares to 32% as of April 1st. The situation in the northern section of the survey area was just 7% of normal. This is the 2nd lowest snowpack figure for May 1st (May 1, 1977 being the lowest on record).



Snow-water content of the Sierra snow pack for each region compared to average (blue shaded area), maximum on record (purple line), lowest on record (red line) and this year (deep blue line). California Department of Water Resources.

Although April rainfall was close to normal for most of the state, the snow that fell in the Sierra melted quickly following each storm due to the warm April sunshine. The California Department of water resources has set this year’s water allocation at 5% of requested amounts (requested by agricultural and other public water agencies). This is the smallest such allocation in the 54-year history of the State Water Project operated by the Department of Water Resources.



Above is a chart of SWP (State Water Project) allocations since 1999. Not shown is the 5% allocation set for 2014, the lowest on record (for the past 54 years). Graph from California Department of Water Resources.

The state’s reservoirs are at critically low levels for this time of the year.



State reservoir capacities as of May 1st. Overall, the total capacity of all the water in all the reservoirs is currently about 50% of normal for this time of year. California Department of Water Resources.

So far as actual drought conditions and precipitation amounts as of May 1st, the latest drought monitor report (below) shows that there has been further deterioration in conditions since the report that was issued on April 1st.





California Drought Monitor reports for April 1st (top map) and May 1st (bottom map). For the first time since these reports were issued 15 years ago, the entire state of California is now experiencing drought conditions. NOAA et al.

Rainfall in April was actually close to normal for most of the state as one can see in the tables below. The worsening of the drought conditions, however, is that the strong April sunshine is increasing evaporation rates.



Total seasonal precipitation to date (July 1, 2013-May 1, 2014 top table compared to July 1-April 1 bottom table) for select California cities. The cites are arranged in geographical order from north to south.

The bottom line is that the rainy season is over and the next six months are going to be a severe test of the state’s ability to manage its meager water resources. We will probably see (and already are) clashes between agricultural concerns and urban consumers. The specter of an horrific fire season also looms over all this. It has been 37 years since a drought of this severity has affected the state and since the drought of 1975-1977 the population of California has almost doubled (from about 20 million to 38 million). The consumption of water resources by the agricultural industry has also dramatically increased. The only mitigating affect of these changes is that per capita water consumption has decreased thanks to a number of conservation innovations and regulations.

Christopher C. Burt
Weather Historian

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31. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
6:06 AM GMT on May 07, 2014
Thanks jerseycityjoan.

Indeed I plan to post regular monthly updates on the CA drought situation for the rest of the year. We can all check back in again when I post my June report (at least on my blog). All in all, a great discussion from everybody and I look forward to picking this conversation up again next month. I really appreciated ALL comments, not a single one was without merit!


Quoting 29. jerseycityjoan:

My thanks to Christopher Burt and the commenters for all the facts and thought provoking discussion presented here.

I hope we return to this topic (I am sure we will) and to see other posts that dig into a topic get the same kind of good response this one did.
Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 299 Comments: 279
30. joshuah
1:47 PM GMT on May 06, 2014
Quoting 27. weatherhistorian:

One year ago 100% of the state was "abnormally dry" which is not in the drought categories.




Oh! I guess I was assuming since "Nothing" was at 0% and D0+ was at 100% that 100% was in some level of drought, not realizing that D0 is not "drought" even though it's also not "nothing" either. Thanks!
Member Since: March 14, 2014 Posts: 3 Comments: 1
29. jerseycityjoan
10:36 AM GMT on May 06, 2014
My thanks to Christopher Burt and the commenters for all the facts and thought provoking discussion presented here.

I hope we return to this topic (I am sure we will) and to see other posts that dig into a topic get the same kind of good response this one did.
Member Since: September 29, 2001 Posts: 0 Comments: 175
28. WunderAlertBot (Admin)
7:19 PM GMT on May 05, 2014
weatherhistorian has created a new entry.
27. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
6:02 PM GMT on May 05, 2014
One year ago 100% of the state was "abnormally dry" which is not in the drought categories.

Quoting 24. joshuah:
"For the first time since these reports were issued 15 years ago, the entire state of California is now experiencing drought conditions."

If this is true why do the screenshots show "One Year Ago" dates of 4/2/2013 and 4/30/2013 as also having 100% drought? It looks like state has been fluctuating 95-100% for at least a year.
Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 299 Comments: 279
26. pintada
5:19 PM GMT on May 05, 2014
Quoting weatherhistorian: "One thing, I did not say is that 80% of the 'nation's' water consumption was via agriculture, just California. I'm not sure how much of the national water consumption is used by agriculture but am sure it is much less than 80% (industry in the the eastern third of the U.S. probably consumes more water than agriculture."

You are correct - and incidentally, i would have agreed with you even if Physicistretired had not done the research for us. :-) (There are some very high quality posters here ... i struggle to keep up sometimes.) I was going from my experience in Arizona where the statistic is about the same as CA. Still the ideas are valid: farming takes a lot of water (your point as I understand it), and it always will (my point).

Quoting weatherhistorian: "However, as we know, fruits and vegetables can be grown and imported from virtually anywhere in the world. Corn in Iowa is being produced largely for bio-fuel production not animal feed or human consumption and the production of such is heavily subsidized (for the bio fuel aspect ). So your argument that corn can't be produced elsewhere in the world for the same finacial results doesn't hold water (pun intended--although Iowa normally gets enough water from rainfall to make the crop viable)."

And this is where we have a disagreement - and an important one - me thinks:
Yes, it is possible to produce broccoli in Mexico, and in CA thats obviously true, but that is not what I'm getting at. The point that I am making, (poorly) is that the arable land in Mexico is currently utilized - or more accurately - over utilized. If the broccoli crop from CA fails consistently there is no viable * unallocated/unused * location to take up the slack. The point is the same for rice: can be grown in CA - can be grown in Japan - but if the CA crop fails and there is no bumper crop somewhere else in the world, the price of rice must jump. If you are very poor, you will starve.

Another way to say it is the drought stricken part of CA is a major bread basket. In a world where every farmable acre is farmed to supply an ever less sufficient amount of food, one cannot simply loose the production there without letting someone go hungry.

Most regulars here have seen this, but for the casual reader: the FAO food price index, and Brown, Lester R. "Full Planet, Empty Plates"

Quoting weatherhistorian: "Corn in Iowa is being produced largely for bio-fuel production not animal feed or human consumption ..."

These are small points, but: 1. I believe that the corn mash is fed to livestock after alcohol production, so that corn (sans sugar) does go to feed eventually.
2. According to the ethanol lobby (LOL) only ~20% of the corn crop actually does go to make ethanol.
Member Since: July 15, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 234
25. Physicistretired
1:39 PM GMT on May 05, 2014
Quoting 20. weatherhistorian:

One thing, I did not say is that 80% of the 'nation's' water consumption was via agriculture, just California. I'm not sure how much of the national water consumption is used by agriculture but am sure it is much less than 80% (industry in the the eastern third of the U.S. probably consumes more water than agriculture







Thermoelectric power generation: 41%

Irrigation (for agriculture and horticulture): 37%

Domestic or Residential uses (indoor & outdoor): 8.2%

Industrial, Commercial (businesses, hotels, etc.) & Other Uses (including system losses) from Public Supply: 5.4%

Industrial Uses (for manufacturing and producing food, paper, chemicals, etc.) from Private Supply: 4.7%

Aquaculture (raising of fish & shellfish): 2%

Mining: 1%

Livestock: 0.7%

Source. From 2005, no newer source found.
Member Since: December 21, 2013 Posts: 0 Comments: 230
24. joshuah
1:37 PM GMT on May 05, 2014
"For the first time since these reports were issued 15 years ago, the entire state of California is now experiencing drought conditions."

If this is true why do the screenshots show "One Year Ago" dates of 4/2/2013 and 4/30/2013 as also having 100% drought? It looks like state has been fluctuating 95-100% for at least a year.
Member Since: March 14, 2014 Posts: 3 Comments: 1
23. PatrioticThinking
12:00 PM GMT on May 05, 2014
Well say thank you to the Geo-engineers and there continued daily campaign off the pacific coast with there persistent contrail spraying. They create this continued  white hazy/milky sky line all day all year and since the stratospheric winds primarily start off the western coast and travel eastward this is the ideal way to blanket cover the U.S. Don't believe me NOAA keep Sat. images and its been close to 6 years now that the western seaboard has recieved the worse of this human made blanket of heavy metal spray at micro/nano particle size. And since this actively uses water vapor to stay aloft the rains you guys so badly need does not recollect till after the Mississippi river hence the heavy extreme water fall the east has had for multiple years. Again don't believe me? America like typical is the only country that does not have active protesters crying out to stop Geo-engineering. This agenda of modification has cause a 70 yr. spike in the time-frame of climate change in just 14 years of them playing Zeus, Sadly they continue to play and try and play again and again. Too bad our oceans and soils cant handle that amount of acidification from the aluminum oxide and many more metal particles.  But don't worry about our food Monasato the worlds largest food/seed company just created a bank of seeds Alumina and heavy resistant ? at a cost of 282 billion in EUROS Hmm why do we need such a resistant seed? All I need to say is for those who know and care CONTINUE to let others know since amazingly enough most do not know what they have been doing for years. I personally miss Dark blue sky's like it was 15 yrs ago. Oh one more thing sorry,  those things called persistent contrails only started back in 2001 before that it was called a contrail and why the need for a new name because its not just water vapor in those lines in the sky anymore. The horizon to horizon is not supposed to turn milky white from airplanes, Germans invented the Jet engine during WW2 and the contrail was coined and Geo-engineers have operated actively since the yr 2000. Kind of convenient the new term they needed was coined persistent contrail less than a year later. Thanks you for listening.   Dustin from South Jersey, where they spray us 4-5 days a week now, it used to be only 2-3.. 
Member Since: December 11, 2013 Posts: 0 Comments: 11
22. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
6:12 AM GMT on May 05, 2014
What do mean by "eww"? Did you think Jeff Masters, Ricky Rood, and the other featured bloggers work for free (like Huffington Post)?

I'm very thankful to WU to be a stand up company that compensates its pivotal (meaning those that post blogs on an almost a day to day basis year around) content providers.

Quoting 21. Astrometeor:

You're required to post a certain number of blogs per week? Eww...

Edit: At least all of your blogs have been quite informative, thanks for that, btw.
Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 299 Comments: 279
21. Astrometeor
2:46 AM GMT on May 05, 2014
You're required to post a certain number of blogs per week? Eww...

Edit: At least all of your blogs have been quite informative, thanks for that, btw.
Member Since: July 2, 2012 Posts: 100 Comments: 10277
20. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
2:00 AM GMT on May 05, 2014
And thank you Pintada for your comments. One thing, I did not say is that 80% of the 'nation's' water consumption was via agriculture, just California. I'm not sure how much of the national water consumption is used by agriculture but am sure it is much less than 80% (industry in the the eastern third of the U.S. probably consumes more water than agriculture.

So far as 'if we don't grow it here than where will it come from' (paraphrased from your comment). Good question, Alfalfa, as you pointed out is largely for dairy production) and that is a product that can not be imported financially in any viable form (in a fresh form). However, as we know, fruits and vegetables can be grown and imported from virtually anywhere in the world. Corn in Iowa is being produced largely for bio-fuel production not animal feed or human consumption and the production of such is heavily subsidized (for the bio fuel aspect ). So your argument that corn can't be produced elsewhere in the world for the same finacial results doesn't hold water (pun intended--although Iowa normally gets enough water from rainfall to make the crop viable).

Anyhow, I have much enjoyed our conversations (all commentators) and will be moving on to a less interesting topic on Monday as per my contract with WU requires (i.e.. a certain number of blogs per week). Nevertheless, I would like to continue our interesting debate so even if you see the message "weather historian has posted a new blog'" please ignore and let's keep this conversation going!


Quoting 17. pintada:

Thank you Mr. Burt for a good article and for participating in what has turned out to be a great discussion. I have a couple things:

Quoting Mr. Burt: "Yes, of course, urban/suburban Californians should constrict their water consumption as much as possible, but these residents comprise only a tiny fraction of the overall water consumption (even though they comprise a majority of the state's population). The vast majority of water use (I think about 80%) is consumed by agriculture."

What do these two statements have in common?
1. Steven Hawking can't even wipe his own butt.
2. Farmers use ~80% of all water consumed in the nation.

Well, of course, both are true. Both make me cringe. And both are meaningless. Dr. Hawking will always be the preeminent physicist of our time, and it will always take water to grow food. On the other hand water used to grow Kentucky blue grass (or any other f(*&(^g lawn) in the desert is completely and totally wasted.

Someone mentioned drip irrigation (as someone always does) and it is a good technology. But, it only works if the water is not hard and if the soil is of the correct type. I knew a farmer that raised 10000 acres of cotton south of Phoenix using drip. They would have a few (3-5) good years, then a hard pan would form which would force them to chisel the field 2-3 feet deep to break up the accumulated salts. The chiseling process made it possible to raise the cotton again, but it also brought much of the salty and very hard material to the surface which acted to reduce yields. In the long run, it was quite simply a mining operation.


Quoting Mr. Burt: "So, frankly, I think they have even a greater responsibility so far as controlling their water consumption, and that means growing crops that are not water-guzzlers .

If the farmers in CA did not raise those crops (alfalfa, cotton, rice, etc.), who would?

Alfalfa is a unique crop since it is used (nearly exclusively) in the production of milk. So if it was not raised in CA it would have to be trucked in from somewhere else, or, the dairies would need to be relocated and the milk then trucked in. Either way, the price of milk in LA would skyrocket.

The other thing that makes Mr. Burt's statement worry me is that it implies that the crop would be grown somewhere else. Where? Not Iowa, they have corn planted fencerow to fencerow. There is no room for anything else. Name another farming area - the land is utilized to the max by farmers, or it is being subdivided for McMansions, or there is insufficient water. If those crops are not grown in CA they will NOT be grown. Full Stop.

Quoting doctorbits: "There is no time to build pipelines to redirect treated waste water into the agricultural areas for this year and I have not heard of any plans to build them in the near future. "

Besides, it is a drop in the bucket (LOL) anyway.

Quoting doctorbits: "None of these solutions will be in place this summer, but for years, future-minded politicians have been calling for
a) statewide water recycling,
b) reverse osmosis treatment of recycled water, polluted well water and sea water,
c) more aqueducts (possibly to the American River in California and the Columbia River in Washington)."


Yup, and those mega-engineering projects will not be approved, and/or they will be failed boondoggles for two reasons:
1. There isn't enough money in the federal budget to make them happen.
2. There isn't enough energy available to make it happen, and even if there was, it would be electricity made from coal which would exacerbate the AGW (and the drought) problem.

Quoting spbloom: "Central valley farmers are massively amping up groundwater extraction far beyond any hope of sustainability. If drought remains persistent, and there's every expectation that it will, this key reserve water resource will cease to exist in many places. Unfortunately, if drained and kept drained, aquifers have a tendency to compact, resulting in a permanent loss of capacity"

Completely true. (Well, actually, the aquifers to which spbloom refers are not renewed in human timescales anyway compaction or no.)

Now the 800 pound gorilla in the room: If the CA drought does not abate (and to a slightly lesser amount even if it does), domestic food prices will go up and stay up. There will be substitution in the US, but our ability to export food will diminish. That will lead to fewer exports and probably to starvation in the country that used to get that rice, wheat, or what-have-you that was exported but is now needed here. That starvation will destabilize governments. If the federal budget is balanced in part by further cutting food stamps there will be rioting in the US.

Sure, the farm subsidies that started out reasonable (e.g. the fact that there was no substantive domestic production of rice was considered a security issue when the subsidy was invented) are now corporate welfare. Sure some farmers could be better stewards of their water. But what the people of Southern California had better figure out soon is that they need to learn how to raise their own food, and at a minimum, that lawn and the equally pointless decorative trees have got to GO!

Global warming is not a esoteric meaningless thing about which we converse on-line for giggles. It is real and it is starting to take a bite right now. The drought in question has AGW fingerprints.

Are you ready?
Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 299 Comments: 279
19. Astrometeor
1:37 AM GMT on May 05, 2014
@pintada

My AP Environmental Science textbook mentioned Duckweed as an alternative to alfalfa. According to the textbook, "up to 35% of its dry mass is protein about twice as much as alfalfa, a popular animal feed." Duckweed is being used as an alternative to sewage treatment operations in developing countries, offering a low-cost solution to a massive problem.

My textbook is called "Environmental Science: A Global Concern-Tenth Edition", written by William P. Cunningham and Mary Ann Cunningham.

P.S. My AP test on Environmental Science is tomorrow at 8 A.M. CDT. *crosses fingers*
Member Since: July 2, 2012 Posts: 100 Comments: 10277
18. bell32ndst
1:19 AM GMT on May 05, 2014
Quoting weatherhistorian:
Thanks for this great comment.

However, I tend to disagree with a couple of points.

1) The vast majority of U.S. agricultural subsidies (forget about CA rice for the moment) are for production of grains for export or use in the bio-fuels market. It is hard to argue that these subsidies "are a transfer of wealth from the wealthy to the poor". The corporations that oversee the U.S. grain markets (from production to processing) are not composed of "poor" people. They do, of course, employ many hundreds of thousands of people but the vast majority of these are not median income occupations.


Speaking of California rice, 30-40% of CA rice is exported to Japan and about 50% is used domestically for beer and rice crispy products. Only about 10-15% is actually consumed by Americans in 'rice' form. (Anheuser Busch is the largest single domestic purchaser of California rice for the production of Budwieser Beer). The exports help our overall current account balance but this doesn't mean the profits from such trickle down to the "poor", they are simply used to help balance our trade deficit. Which is fine. But I don't think that farm subsidies are some sort of social welfare program in any meaningful way.

2) As for the Sacramento Delta issue: yes, in wet or normal precipitation years the Sacramento Delta region is perfectly suited for rice production. But what happens when an extended period of drought occurs? That water in the Delta suddenly becomes an 'issue'. This is where we stand today.

Also, given the globalization of commodities (like food stuffs) markets, the costs of one ag product or another moving elsewhere in the world has little impact on retail prices , so prices will not rise as a result of this (they may rise for a variety of other reasons however).

The best point you made was how the urbanization of CA is creating a very real conflict between the city (or suburban) folks and the farmers. Water use, of course, is at the heart of this issue.



Some perspective. The California economy generates about $2 trillion in economic activity annually. Agricultural output is about $45 billion annually. Approximately 5*10**10 / 2*10**12, or 2 1/2% of California's economy. The subsidy amounts we are talking about are $2 1/2 billion over approximately 20 years. In 2009, the rice subsidy was $73 million. Let's round it up to $100 million. That means it was 1*10**8 / 2*10**12, or .005% of the California economy, or .2% of agricultural output.

The profits don't trickle down to the poor, but the rice they purchase is cheaper than it would otherwise be.

It seems that California cotton and rice growers benefit from the strong agricultural block in Congress supporting 5 commodity crops of the Midwest and South. Corn, cotton, wheat, rice, and soybeans.

The GDP number for California is from Wikipedia. GDP is an inaccurate measure, but it's what we have, and close enough for government work.

California agricultural production
California summary subsidy information
PDF lambasting the subsidies misallocation in California

Farm subsidies definitely lower food costs for the poor. All those animals eating cheap corn. And all that cheap high fructose corn syrup. They distort the market so that more output is produced than would be produced without subsidies, and thus lower prices. Like oil, food is a global commodity. So, every tonne extra produced lowers the global price. Hard on small scale export farmers in Africa, but beneficial to the poor in America. Now, about 80% of the corn crop goes for ethanol production. I recently saw a research report that found that ethanol actually is detrimental to air quality when all factors are considered. But, of course, it is now a constituency, has lobbyists, and support in Congress. Good luck getting rid of it. Without that diversion of corn, meat costs in particular would be much lower, and so would global corn prices.

More importantly, subsidies stabilize the food supply, so we don't have the booms and busts that are classically associated with predator-prey models, but also apply to agricultural commodities.

Just my opinion, but I think subsidies are probably more efficient than direct payments to the poor to subsidize their food costs. Even with all the side effects. YMMV.

EDIT: By the way the price of short grain brown rice has shot up in the bulk section, the market is assuming that there isn't going to be a lot of rice produced in California this year. It was $.78/lb, it's now $1.12/lb.

EDIT2: When I mentioned this to the guy at the store, he said that was nothing. That pistachios went from $6.99/lb to $13.99/lb.
Member Since: November 29, 2010 Posts: 133 Comments: 31
17. pintada
10:09 PM GMT on May 04, 2014
Thank you Mr. Burt for a good article and for participating in what has turned out to be a great discussion. I have a couple things:

Quoting Mr. Burt: "Yes, of course, urban/suburban Californians should constrict their water consumption as much as possible, but these residents comprise only a tiny fraction of the overall water consumption (even though they comprise a majority of the state's population). The vast majority of water use (I think about 80%) is consumed by agriculture."

What do these two statements have in common?
1. Steven Hawking can't even wipe his own butt.
2. Farmers use ~80% of all water consumed in the nation.

Well, of course, both are true. Both make me cringe. And both are meaningless. Dr. Hawking will always be the preeminent physicist of our time, and it will always take water to grow food. On the other hand water used to grow Kentucky blue grass (or any other f(*&(^g lawn) in the desert is completely and totally wasted.

Someone mentioned drip irrigation (as someone always does) and it is a good technology. But, it only works if the water is not hard and if the soil is of the correct type. I knew a farmer that raised 10000 acres of cotton south of Phoenix using drip. They would have a few (3-5) good years, then a hard pan would form which would force them to chisel the field 2-3 feet deep to break up the accumulated salts. The chiseling process made it possible to raise the cotton again, but it also brought much of the salty and very hard material to the surface which acted to reduce yields. In the long run, it was quite simply a mining operation.


Quoting Mr. Burt: "So, frankly, I think they have even a greater responsibility so far as controlling their water consumption, and that means growing crops that are not water-guzzlers .

If the farmers in CA did not raise those crops (alfalfa, cotton, rice, etc.), who would?

Alfalfa is a unique crop since it is used (nearly exclusively) in the production of milk. So if it was not raised in CA it would have to be trucked in from somewhere else, or, the dairies would need to be relocated and the milk then trucked in. Either way, the price of milk in LA would skyrocket.

The other thing that makes Mr. Burt's statement worry me is that it implies that the crop would be grown somewhere else. Where? Not Iowa, they have corn planted fencerow to fencerow. There is no room for anything else. Name another farming area - the land is utilized to the max by farmers, or it is being subdivided for McMansions, or there is insufficient water. If those crops are not grown in CA they will NOT be grown. Full Stop.

Quoting doctorbits: "There is no time to build pipelines to redirect treated waste water into the agricultural areas for this year and I have not heard of any plans to build them in the near future. "

Besides, it is a drop in the bucket (LOL) anyway.

Quoting doctorbits: "None of these solutions will be in place this summer, but for years, future-minded politicians have been calling for
a) statewide water recycling,
b) reverse osmosis treatment of recycled water, polluted well water and sea water,
c) more aqueducts (possibly to the American River in California and the Columbia River in Washington)."


Yup, and those mega-engineering projects will not be approved, and/or they will be failed boondoggles for two reasons:
1. There isn't enough money in the federal budget to make them happen.
2. There isn't enough energy available to make it happen, and even if there was, it would be electricity made from coal which would exacerbate the AGW (and the drought) problem.

Quoting spbloom: "Central valley farmers are massively amping up groundwater extraction far beyond any hope of sustainability. If drought remains persistent, and there's every expectation that it will, this key reserve water resource will cease to exist in many places. Unfortunately, if drained and kept drained, aquifers have a tendency to compact, resulting in a permanent loss of capacity"

Completely true. (Well, actually, the aquifers to which spbloom refers are not renewed in human timescales anyway compaction or no.)

Now the 800 pound gorilla in the room: If the CA drought does not abate (and to a slightly lesser amount even if it does), domestic food prices will go up and stay up. There will be substitution in the US, but our ability to export food will diminish. That will lead to fewer exports and probably to starvation in the country that used to get that rice, wheat, or what-have-you that was exported but is now needed here. That starvation will destabilize governments. If the federal budget is balanced in part by further cutting food stamps there will be rioting in the US.

Sure, the farm subsidies that started out reasonable (e.g. the fact that there was no substantive domestic production of rice was considered a security issue when the subsidy was invented) are now corporate welfare. Sure some farmers could be better stewards of their water. But what the people of Southern California had better figure out soon is that they need to learn how to raise their own food, and at a minimum, that lawn and the equally pointless decorative trees have got to GO!

Global warming is not a esoteric meaningless thing about which we converse on-line for giggles. It is real and it is starting to take a bite right now. The drought in question has AGW fingerprints.

Are you ready?
Member Since: July 15, 2012 Posts: 0 Comments: 234
16. doctorbits
6:03 PM GMT on May 04, 2014
The problem is worse than stated in the article. The local aquifers are also at low levels in most parts of the state. In past droughts, the cities have been able to increase well water usage, but there is less well water available this year. We also cannot increase water use from the Colorado river, because the river is almost dry (due to increases in population in Arizona, California and Nevada).

Some cities have been recycling waste water for landscaping and local agriculture. Most cities still dump (treated) waste water into rivers. The problem is that new water mains have to be installed to move the water from the waste treatment plants to the locations where it is needed. This water is not considered potable, so it cannot be used for any household use (including lawn watering). Household automated sprinkler usage will probably be restricted or banned in most of the state (in the late 1970's green pavement or gravel replaced some lawns).

The drought will hit hardest in the agricultural areas of the California San Joaquin and Central valleys. They rely on the State Water Project for most of their water. There is no time to build pipelines to redirect treated waste water into the agricultural areas for this year and I have not heard of any plans to build them in the near future. Almost all agriculture in these areas still use traditional plowed fields, rather than drip irrigation or covered ground. Unless governments subsidies are available for the changeover, many farms may close. Organic farms using mixed crop production (ground cover crops around produce and trees) might fare better, due to reduced evaporation.

The California drought will have far reaching effects. Expect nationwide increases in the price of fresh produce. Along with other produce, most of the nation's lettuce, strawberries, and grapes are grown in California. Also expect poor California wine production (and lower quality) for at least 2013 through 2015. Also expect an increase in the price of cotton (a large percentage of domestic cotton is grown in California). The price of beef will also continue to increase as the drought will continue the price increases for cattle forage West of the Mississippi.

None of these solutions will be in place this summer, but for years, future-minded politicians have been calling for
a) statewide water recycling,
b) reverse osmosis treatment of recycled water, polluted well water and sea water,
c) more aqueducts (possibly to the American River in California and the Columbia River in Washington).

Farm subsidies are really not related to the drought. However, in general, federal contracts and subsidies increase the local economy by three times the federal contribution. However, federal investment in infrastructure (such as pipelines, and water processing plants) can have a much higher impact on the local economy (averaging five times). In fact, most of the infrastructure for the State Water Authority was built with federal money or matching funds.
Member Since: May 7, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 1
15. rod2635
11:41 AM GMT on May 04, 2014
Quoting 14. weatherhistorian:

The entire Central Valley from Orland to Bakersfield receives 6"-22" of average annual precipitation (with points from Orland to Redding in the far north getting 20"-27", but this area comprises only a small fraction of valley ag production--80% of the Valley receives less than 20". In the Palins States, the 20" line is what separates "must be irrigated" land from what can get by from rainfall. So, in fact, at least 80%-90% of Central Valley agriculture depends upon irrigation. That irrigation, of course, comes from the Sierra snow melt, reservoirs, wells/aquifers, or canals. All of these sources are in demand by not only the agricultural industry (as you pointed out). My issue with rice production in the Delta is not so much that it is unsuitable for that location but that it is HEAVILY subsidized. If the Delta was such a wonderful place to grow rice then why have we (tax payers) had to underwrite them to the tune of $2.6 billion dollars since 1995?

Yes, of course, urban/suburban Californians should constrict their water consumption as much as possible, but these residents comprise only a tiny fraction of the overall water consumption (even though they comprise a majority of the state's population). The vast majority of water use (I think about 80%) is consumed by agriculture. So, frankly, I think they have even a greater responsibility so far as controlling their water consumption, and that means growing crops that are not water-guzzlers .




Two things emerge as I read this exchange of posts regarding subsidies and crop suitability:

1. What is the leverage effect of the subsidies. Does 2.6 billion in subsidies translate into say 5.2 billion of gain, in effect paying for the subsidy and giving a 'profit' on top, whether it is decreasing the trade deficit, employing others, etc. Or is the subsidy something that just trades dollars, or worse, a losing proposition. I do not have the stats to say one way or the other, but I imagine someone does.

2. If agriculture is the big elephant in the room via water consumption, ie 80%, then perhaps matching crops with sustainable water availability makes sense. It does not deprive any region of an agricultural industry. It just recognizes that some areas are more feasible for certain crops than others. One might consider that a crop could be designated 'feasible' if it was viable within 1.5 or 2 standard deviations of the mean annual precipitation for the area or some other quantifiable basis. Allowances would need to be made for sustainable groundwater usage and snowmelt.

3. Inside the feasible zone, subsides could be considered if there was a genuine leverage effect meeting certain multiplier criteria for return on investment. Outside the zone, you take your own risk as a business, no handouts.

4. I realize that a statistical basis for anything opens the door for creative number crunching, but its a start. In the end, I would think the greater good would be achieved by an array of sustainable agriculture in the right place, where all could be winners, as opposed to a scenario where inappropriate crops result in many losers and huge outlays of taxpayer dollars to support an infeasible use of the land.
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14. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
7:03 AM GMT on May 04, 2014
The entire Central Valley from Orland to Bakersfield receives 6"-22" of average annual precipitation (with points from Orland to Redding in the far north getting 20"-27", but this area comprises only a small fraction of valley ag production--80% of the Valley receives less than 20". In the Palins States, the 20" line is what separates "must be irrigated" land from what can get by from rainfall. So, in fact, at least 80%-90% of Central Valley agriculture depends upon irrigation. That irrigation, of course, comes from the Sierra snow melt, reservoirs, wells/aquifers, or canals. All of these sources are in demand by not only the agricultural industry (as you pointed out). My issue with rice production in the Delta is not so much that it is unsuitable for that location but that it is HEAVILY subsidized. If the Delta was such a wonderful place to grow rice then why have we (tax payers) had to underwrite them to the tune of $2.6 billion dollars since 1995?

Yes, of course, urban/suburban Californians should constrict their water consumption as much as possible, but these residents comprise only a tiny fraction of the overall water consumption (even though they comprise a majority of the state's population). The vast majority of water use (I think about 80%) is consumed by agriculture. So, frankly, I think they have even a greater responsibility so far as controlling their water consumption, and that means growing crops that are not water-guzzlers .

Quoting 12. siocdubh:

This statement assumes that California is homogenous, which it very much isn't. California has wetland areas, which are well-suited for growing rice. As I live in Sacramento, the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area comes to mind. This area serves as wildlife habitat, agricultural area, and flood control for the Sacramento area. Now, if someone wants to argue that there are areas in California which shouldn't be growing rice, or which should be growing less rice, I'd like to hear their argument. But simply stating that California shouldn't be growing rice because, overall, the state is mostly arid, is simply nonsense. Yes, we grow rice in California. We're also noted for our vineyards, although nobody would argue that all areas of the state are capable of growing grapes.

In short, while the majority of California -- including the Central Valley -- may be arid, it isn't universally so. Now, if one wants to discuss water wastage, we could have a conversation about SoCal, (Southern California,) which insists upon maintaining its lawns and fountains, despite the fact that their water supply can't sustain them, and thus has to be massively supplemented by diversion from NorCal, not to mention all the way from the Colorado River. One would think that restricting water and mandating low-water-use landscaping (as is done in Las Vegas and other arid cities) might be well worth discussing before talking about ending rice production throughout the state.

Believe me, I'm an urbanite, and the Agriculture Lobby in California annoys me at times, too, but let's look at the entire issue, not just one facet of it.


Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 299 Comments: 279
13. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
6:44 AM GMT on May 04, 2014
Thanks for this great comment.

However, I tend to disagree with a couple of points.

1) The vast majority of U.S. agricultural subsidies (forget about CA rice for the moment) are for production of grains for export or use in the bio-fuels market. It is hard to argue that these subsidies "are a transfer of wealth from the wealthy to the poor". The corporations that oversee the U.S. grain markets (from production to processing) are not composed of "poor" people. They do, of course, employ many hundreds of thousands of people but the vast majority of these are not median income occupations.


Speaking of California rice, 30-40% of CA rice is exported to Japan and about 50% is used domestically for beer and rice crispy products. Only about 10-15% is actually consumed by Americans in 'rice' form. (Anheuser Busch is the largest single domestic purchaser of California rice for the production of Budwieser Beer). The exports help our overall current account balance but this doesn't mean the profits from such trickle down to the "poor", they are simply used to help balance our trade deficit. Which is fine. But I don't think that farm subsidies are some sort of social welfare program in any meaningful way.

2) As for the Sacramento Delta issue: yes, in wet or normal precipitation years the Sacramento Delta region is perfectly suited for rice production. But what happens when an extended period of drought occurs? That water in the Delta suddenly becomes an 'issue'. This is where we stand today.

Also, given the globalization of commodities (like food stuffs) markets, the costs of one ag product or another moving elsewhere in the world has little impact on retail prices , so prices will not rise as a result of this (they may rise for a variety of other reasons however).

The best point you made was how the urbanization of CA is creating a very real conflict between the city (or suburban) folks and the farmers. Water use, of course, is at the heart of this issue.

Quoting 11. bell32ndst:

From an economics perspective, taxpayer subsidies to agriculture are a transfer of wealth from the wealthy to the poor.

The top 10% of taxpayers pay ~70% of income tax. And the bottom 50% of taxpayers pay ~10% of tax.

But everyone has to eat. And eating, food, comprises a much larger share of the budget for the poor than for the wealthy. So when taxes are used to subsidize agriculture, food production, the cheaper food that results is of greater benefit to the poor than the wealthy, and the wealthy are mostly paying for it. i.e. it's a transfer of wealth

As far as rice goes, I saw a post from someone here on WU that the Sacramento Delta is basically a swamp, and is entirely suited to growing rice. I think you won't find any rice being grown near Bakersfield or Redding. Edit: Before I saw that comment, I thought the same thing; why are they growing rice in California?

In the long run, since people pay much more for water than agriculture, and farmers are such a small part of the voting population, the agriculture in California will move elsewhere. This will raise food costs somewhat in California as food is shipped farther, but there will be enough water for the coastal cities until they run up against population constraints again.

Like someone else noted, I see a lot of produce from Mexico in local grocery stores. Would probably see a lot more without trade restrictions to protect domestic producers.

Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 299 Comments: 279
12. siocdubh
5:28 AM GMT on May 04, 2014
This statement assumes that California is homogenous, which it very much isn't. California has wetland areas, which are well-suited for growing rice. As I live in Sacramento, the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area comes to mind. This area serves as wildlife habitat, agricultural area, and flood control for the Sacramento area. Now, if someone wants to argue that there are areas in California which shouldn't be growing rice, or which should be growing less rice, I'd like to hear their argument. But simply stating that California shouldn't be growing rice because, overall, the state is mostly arid, is simply nonsense. Yes, we grow rice in California. We're also noted for our vineyards, although nobody would argue that all areas of the state are capable of growing grapes.

In short, while the majority of California -- including the Central Valley -- may be arid, it isn't universally so. Now, if one wants to discuss water wastage, we could have a conversation about SoCal, (Southern California,) which insists upon maintaining its lawns and fountains, despite the fact that their water supply can't sustain them, and thus has to be massively supplemented by diversion from NorCal, not to mention all the way from the Colorado River. One would think that restricting water and mandating low-water-use landscaping (as is done in Las Vegas and other arid cities) might be well worth discussing before talking about ending rice production throughout the state.

Believe me, I'm an urbanite, and the Agriculture Lobby in California annoys me at times, too, but let's look at the entire issue, not just one facet of it.

Quoting 2. weatherhistorian:

They actually grow rice in California, one of the most water-hungry crops that exists. Yet they continue to garner state and Federal subsidies to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year! In no way should a near-desert region, like the Central Valley of California, be growing rice.


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11. bell32ndst
4:17 AM GMT on May 04, 2014
From an economics perspective, taxpayer subsidies to agriculture are a transfer of wealth from the wealthy to the poor.

The top 10% of taxpayers pay ~70% of income tax. And the bottom 50% of taxpayers pay ~10% of tax.

But everyone has to eat. And eating, food, comprises a much larger share of the budget for the poor than for the wealthy. So when taxes are used to subsidize agriculture, food production, the cheaper food that results is of greater benefit to the poor than the wealthy, and the wealthy are mostly paying for it. i.e. it's a transfer of wealth

As far as rice goes, I saw a post from someone here on WU that the Sacramento Delta is basically a swamp, and is entirely suited to growing rice. I think you won't find any rice being grown near Bakersfield or Redding. Edit: Before I saw that comment, I thought the same thing; why are they growing rice in California?

In the long run, since people pay much more for water than agriculture, and farmers are such a small part of the voting population, the agriculture in California will move elsewhere. This will raise food costs somewhat in California as food is shipped farther, but there will be enough water for the coastal cities until they run up against population constraints again.

Like someone else noted, I see a lot of produce from Mexico in local grocery stores. Would probably see a lot more without trade restrictions to protect domestic producers.
Member Since: November 29, 2010 Posts: 133 Comments: 31
10. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
1:39 AM GMT on May 04, 2014
That question is off topic but certainly worthy. The landslide in Afghanistan this past week is obviously the deadliest natural disaster since ST Haiyan last November. Unfortunately, the Pamir region of Afghanistan has no, or very sketchy, climate data.

I plan to investigate this next week. Perhaps there are some satellite or reanalysis data we can look at.


Quoting 8. ColoradoBob1:

Christopher -
It would be interesting to know just how much rain caused this :

Afghanistan Landslides Kill More Than 2,100

Link
Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 299 Comments: 279
9. rod2635
12:53 AM GMT on May 04, 2014
Thank you for the details of the 'cash flow' involved in that specific farm subsidy situation. I'm sure its replicated in other areas of our economy and in other states. It blithely assumes that resources are endless and can be transacted this way, and if not, the problem kicked down the road until the road ends at a cliff. And it seems California, whose resources, like most, are finite, are being leveraged beyond reason, much like the 16 trillion in national debt that represents a lien on our economy for the next 50 years. Perhaps the only good to come out of this desperate drought will be a reckoning leading to change. Seems that is the only way we change in this country. For an interesting contrast, there is a video out there on the mayor of Mississaugua a rather decent sized Canadian city. She is 88, has been mayor for 31 years and the city has NO DEBT. Something to learn there.
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8. ColoradoBob1
12:11 AM GMT on May 04, 2014
Christopher -
It would be interesting to know just how much rain caused this :

Afghanistan Landslides Kill More Than 2,100

Link
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7. ColoradoBob1
11:57 PM GMT on May 03, 2014
Quoting 6. BriarCraft:

Good update on the CA drought conditions. Even better and more enlightening are the comments! Thank you both.


Hear, hear !
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6. BriarCraft
8:14 PM GMT on May 03, 2014
Good update on the CA drought conditions. Even better and more enlightening are the comments! Thank you both.
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5. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
7:49 AM GMT on May 03, 2014
Here is Warren Hills LLC's subsidy history.

Quoting 4. weatherhistorian:

P.P.S. The farm subsidy programs in California are basically political paybacks. For instance Republican Representative of the state's 49th district, Darrell Issa (the guy who made his fortune in what must be the most useless and annoying invention of all-time: car alarm systems) paid out $533,851 in 'farm subsidies' to a company called Warren Hills LLC of San Clemente (part of Issa's San Diego County district) in 2008. That was a tough election year for Issa and he just barely won his 5th term that year. Warren Hills LLC is apparently in the avocado and citrus business. The company's front people are a couple of Iranians listed as 'Mac Sohrabi' and 'Farhad Hadjibabaie'. For some reason 2008 was the only year Warren Hills LLC received such largesse. Hmm..


Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 299 Comments: 279
4. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
7:37 AM GMT on May 03, 2014
P.P.S. The farm subsidy programs in California are basically political paybacks. For instance Republican Representative of the state's 49th district, Darrell Issa (the guy who made his fortune in what must be the most useless and annoying invention of all-time: car alarm systems) paid out $533,851 in 'farm subsidies' to a company called Warren Hills LLC of San Clemente (part of Issa's San Diego County district) in 2008. That was a tough election year for Issa and he just barely won his 5th term that year. Warren Hills LLC is apparently in the avocado and citrus business. The company's front people are a couple of Iranians listed as 'Mac Sohrabi' and 'Farhad Hadjibabaie'. For some reason 2008 was the only year Warren Hills LLC received such largesse. Hmm..

Quoting 1. spbloom:

Thanks for the post, Chris.

Two other things worth a mention:

In recent years central valley agriculture has moved away from short-rotation crops like vegetables and into much higher-profit tree crops like almonds. Fields used for the former can simply be fallowed but not the ones used for the latter (or the trees, which typically take years to mature enough to yield a profitable crop, just die). As a long-time consumer of vegetables, I've noticed the shift over the years; the majority of the vegetables I see in local markets now come from Mexico rather than California.

Central valley farmers are massively amping up groundwater extraction far beyond any hope of sustainability. If drought remains persistent, and there's every expectation that it will, this key reserve water resource will cease to exist in many places. Unfortunately, if drained and kept drained, aquifers have a tendency to compact, resulting in a permanent loss of capacity.

Both of those issues have gotten a fair amount of media coverage here in CA, although there's really no good statewide data on either (although at the large scale GRACE data shows a clear groundwater depletion trend) since the farmers don't see it in their interest to be forthcoming.

Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 299 Comments: 279
2. Christopher C. Burt , Weather Historian
3:48 AM GMT on May 03, 2014
You are absolutely right spbloom.

While urban water consumers have been forced to make sacrifices over the past 20 years (so far as water consumption is concerned) the agriculture industry in California has not only made no concessions but have aggravated the water resource problem (as you pointed out in your comment). To add insult to injury the ag sector is heavily subsidized by our tax dollars. They actually grow rice in California, one of the most water-hungry crops that exists. Yet they continue to garner state and Federal subsidies to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars a year! In no way should a near-desert region, like the Central Valley of California, be growing rice. Leave that to Louisiana or SE Asia. These 'farmers' in the Central Valley are not mom and pop operations but large corporations backed mostly by Republican representatives in Congress. Oops! I thought the Republicans were all against Federal assistance? But, to be fair, even the Democrats in CA bow to the ag lobby here.

Quoting 1. spbloom:

Thanks for the post, Chris.

Two other things worth a mention:

In recent years central valley agriculture has moved away from short-rotation crops like vegetables and into much higher-profit tree crops like almonds. Fields used for the former can simply be fallowed but not the ones used for the latter (or the trees, which typically take years to mature enough to yield a profitable crop, just die). As a long-time consumer of vegetables, I've noticed the shift over the years; the majority of the vegetables I see in local markets now come from Mexico rather than California.

Central valley farmers are massively amping up groundwater extraction far beyond any hope of sustainability. If drought remains persistent, and there's every expectation that it will, this key reserve water resource will cease to exist in many places. Unfortunately, if drained and kept drained, aquifers have a tendency to compact, resulting in a permanent loss of capacity.

Both of those issues have gotten a fair amount of media coverage here in CA, although there's really no good statewide data on either (although at the large scale GRACE data shows a clear groundwater depletion trend) since the farmers don't see it in their interest to be forthcoming.

Member Since: February 15, 2006 Posts: 299 Comments: 279
1. spbloom
10:15 PM GMT on May 02, 2014
Thanks for the post, Chris.

Two other things worth a mention:

In recent years central valley agriculture has moved away from short-rotation crops like vegetables and into much higher-profit tree crops like almonds. Fields used for the former can simply be fallowed but not the ones used for the latter (or the trees, which typically take years to mature enough to yield a profitable crop, just die). As a long-time consumer of vegetables, I've noticed the shift over the years; the majority of the vegetables I see in local markets now come from Mexico rather than California.

Central valley farmers are massively amping up groundwater extraction far beyond any hope of sustainability. If drought remains persistent, and there's every expectation that it will, this key reserve water resource will cease to exist in many places. Unfortunately, if drained and kept drained, aquifers have a tendency to compact, resulting in a permanent loss of capacity.

Both of those issues have gotten a fair amount of media coverage here in CA, although there's really no good statewide data on either (although at the large scale GRACE data shows a clear groundwater depletion trend) since the farmers don't see it in their interest to be forthcoming.
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About weatherhistorian

Christopher C. Burt is the author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book'. He studied meteorology at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison.