Gary Kazanjian/AP
Almond farmer Dusty Gicone points to a water well and pump that he installed last
summer to aid in delivering water to his trees in Mendota, California.

California Drought Persists Despite Wet Weekend

February 23, 2009 03:45 PM
by Isabel Cowles
The rainfall over the past few days will probably not end the three-year drought plaguing California, a crisis with enduring economic and social ramifications.

California Dries Up

This past weekend, California saw steady rainfall across the state that helped bring precipitation levels up to normal, and more rainfall is expected this week. However, the recent rainfall may not be enough to curtail the three-year long drought that has plagued California, taking a dramatic toll in some areas.

The economy of California’s Central Valley specifically depends on agriculture and the financial and social fabric of the region has been severely damaged by the drought. According to The New York Times, the faltering farming economy has created massive unemployment, with rates at three or four times the national average. Drinking, drug use and violence have also reportedly risen in the area.

In addition to economic issues facing farmers nationwide, such as tight credit and rising food costs, California estimates that 2008 drought losses totaled more than $300 million. Economists say that the damage could ultimately exceed $2 billion, including the loss of 80,000 jobs.

On Friday, California farmers were dealt another blow when federal water managers announced plans to temporarily cut off water to thousands of California farms, MSNBC reports.

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials said that surface water deliveries will stop for two weeks starting on March 1—a measure that has not been taken in more than 15 years. Shortages are so severe that most California cities will make water rationing mandatory this summer, asking residents to reduce consumption by 20 percent. 

Consumers across the U.S. will also experience the drought’s effects—as higher prices at the grocery store. California is the primary producer of much of the nation’s fruits and vegetables, including lettuce, olives, avocados, almonds, tomatoes, strawberries and peaches.

Reference: California and the drought

To help residents cut back on water waste, California’s Department of Water Resources has developed a Web site dedicated to residential drought management. The informative page also provides news on the current drought and a look at historical droughts across the state. It also provides pictures and videos that illustrate the severity of the situation.

Related Topic: Dealing with drought worldwide

California is not alone in its water crisis. Drought has become a global issue, affecting U.S. states like Wisconsin and Georgia as well as international regions that rely on water from the dwindling Ganges, Jordan, Nile and Yangtze rivers.

MIT professor Sara Slaughter argues that the implications of increasing water shortages could be even worse than problems wrought by the energy crisis, calling water “the next oil.”

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