The assertion in a new report on California’s long-term water woes likely comes as no surprise to most Californians: A dry 2015 would have disastrous consequences for agencies and sectors up and down the state.
That ominous prediction is part of a “drought action report” released this week by the Association of California Water Agencies, whose members manage about 90 percent of Californians’ water. The document attempts to identify key vulnerabilities to the state’s water system and offers recommendations that its authors say could stave off the worst impacts of a protracted drought.
Hundreds of thousands of acres of annual and permanent crops throughout the state would be idled, the report goes on, affecting the growers, local communities, related industries and the statewide economy.
Specifically some Irrigation Districts, could likely run through all its water reserves just to get through this year.In a worst case scenario for the agricultural industry, cotton production in California’s San Joaquin Valley could cease completely, resulting in severe economic losses from crop revenue, employment, shipping and more. Even agencies with access to groundwater in 2014 would likely have to contend with an increasing number of challenges including reduced water quality, higher energy costs, and subsidence.
These kinds of projections loom especially scary since there’s no way to know what next year will bring. California has had multi-decade “megadroughts” in the distant past and weathered a six-year drought from 1987-92 — but that drought did not have the precipitous nature of this one. Three years into the current dry spell, the state has already logged its driest calendar year on record.
Another year like this one would almost certainly force some extreme countermeasures that officials hope to avoid. Earlier this year, plans were laid for a $30 million series of rock barriers, designed to keep saltwater from pushing deeper into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta — something that hasn’t been necessary since the epic drought of 1976-77. Officials shelved those plans when river flows perked up after some rains in February, but would most likely need to revive the plan if we have another dry winter.