Drought picture looks bleak for Lodi-area agriculture

Published on January 16th, 2015

Joe Guzzardi
January 16, 2015
As seen in:
Lodi News-Sentinel

During the many years I lived in Lodi, I was a regular at the Thursday evening farmers market. In fact, I made a point to get to as many of California’s farmers markets as I could: Stockton, Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Luis Obispo.

Since moving away, I’ve supported local farmers through my Internet purchases. Whatever I can do to support California’s farmers, especially during these dry times, I’m eager to do.

One area grower told me that the sustained drought of the last several years made last May through September the most challenging he’s experienced in the last 33 years.

Like others in agriculture, last year he got only about 70 percent of the water required for a completely successful summer season. Typically, his company irrigates every 14 days in the summer, but because of the lack of rain and snow, it had to stretch out its watering cycle to 21 to 23 days. The reduced water caused stress and occasionally early defoliation of deciduous trees, which in turn could cause lower than usual quality fruit in 2015.

Even though rainfall to date is above average, growers may face difficult challenges.

Through a series of color-coded maps, NASA images released in October 2014 show the extent of California’s ever-greater water shortages during the last decade. Between 2002 and 2014, the most severe losses, indicated by changes from green to orange to a blistering, deep red hue, occurred in the Sacramento and San Joaquin River basins, including the Central Valley. A team of research scientists found that 11 trillion gallons of water would be needed to replenish the water supply to normal levels. Readers can view the stunning images on the NASA Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) website.

As of early January, conditions have improved somewhat, but not enough. As Jay Lund, UC Davis civil engineering professor and the director of the Center for Watershed Sciences, puts it: “Rain has arrived, but the drought has not yet left.”

Although Gov. Jerry Brown’s conservation program has had modest success, Lund points out that neither the San Joaquin Valley nor the Tulare Basin have accumulated precipitation as fast as other regions with, respectively, 65 percent and 67 percent of the annual average precipitation.

California will need more than merely average rainfall to accommodate its projected population growth. According to the Department of Finance, the state’s population will increase by 11.5 percent by 2020 or an estimated 4.3 million people. Significant gains are expected in the vulnerable San Joaquin Valley as well as in parts of Sacramento and the Bay Area. One variable that could alter population projections would be domestic migration if residents continue to leave California to relocate in other states.

But assuming the DOF estimates are correct and that there will be 4.3 million more residents within the next five years, if sustained rain doesn’t fall, the newcomers better bring their own water with them. The U.S. Department of the Interior estimates that the average person consumes about 80 to 100 gallons per day.

California running dry is closer to a reality than many are willing to admit.

Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. He’s currently a Californians for Population Stabilization senior writing fellow. Email him at [email protected].

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