About 4 percent of the California agricultural economy - $1.8 billion - will be lost in 2015 due to the California drought, and combined with ripple effects in affiliated industries, will produce a $2.7 billion economic hit, reported the San Jose Mercury-News.
The downturn will be felt most sharply in the San Joaquin Valley, where five of the state's top six agricultural counties are situated.
"Tulare is taking the hardest hit," said the report's lead author Richard Howitt, a UC Davis professor emeritus of agricultural and resource economics.
Pumping groundwater has hepled keep some acreage in production. This study did not address the long-term costs of groundwater overdraft, such as higher pumping costs and greater water scarcity.
"The socioeconomic impacts of an extended ground (water use), in 2016 and beyond, could be much more severe," said Jay Lund of UC Davis, who lead the analysis.
The authors, Dan Sumner, director of the UC ANR Agricultural Issues Center, and Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, say the 80 percent figure doesn't account for water diverted for environmental purposes to rivers, lakes, streams, deltas, bays and, ultimately the ocean. The 2 percent figure doesn't account for ripple effects and multipliers placed in other categories, such as "transportation and warehousing" and "finance and insurance," which are connected to "every one of our 78,000 farms."
Besides, Sumner and Ross wrote, the state's unique capacity to produce healthful and desirable food is not found anywhere else in the United States.
"Food is central to California in more than just the nutritional sense," the authors said. "It contributes to nearly every aspect of our economy and our lives, an important point to keep in mind as we weigh what our water is worth during this drought, and the next one."
"You and I are going to drink more water in Bakersfield than in Colusa," said Daniel Sumner, director of the Agricultural Issues Center, a UC Agriculture and Natural Resources statewide program. "Plants can store up more water in the north."
A senior researcher at the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, Josue Medellin-Azuara, calculated that it takes 4 acre-feet of irrigation water to grow an acre of almonds or pistachios in the Tulare Basin, where nut orchards have expanded the most in the last decade. In the rest of the San Joaquin Valley, it requires 3.4 acre-feet. But in the Sacramento Valley, these nuts need only 2.4 acre-feet. That's a difference of roughly one acre-foot, or nearly 326,000 gallons, enough to supply two households for a year.
Skelton said that in past columns he has suggested that the state consider regulating crops based on their water demands and location, but Gov. Jerry Brown flatly rejects that notion, preferring to allow farmers to decide what they want to grow.
The regulating will happen indirectly anyway within the next generation when new groundwater controls are implemented, said Jeffrey Mount, a senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California and former director of the UC Davis watershed center.
"That can't happen soon enough," Skelton wrote.
If a drought in California stretched on for 72 years, it wouldn't be a complete disaster, reported Bettina Boxall in the Los Angeles Times. According to computer modeling research by a group of UC and CSU scientists, the California economy would not collapse and agriculture would shrink, but not disappear.
"The results were surprising," said Jay Lund, director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis. "California has a remarkable ability to weather extreme and prolonged droughts from an economic perspective."
Dan Sumner, director of the UC Agricultural Issues Center, said the state's 8 million acres of irrigated cropland could be cut in half. Farmers would grow less "low-value crops" like cotton and alfalfa and use reduced water supplies for growing fruits, nuts and vegetables.
Land that had been farmed would revert to scrub or be dry-farmed with wheat or other crops that were common before the federal government built a system to channel water to the valley.
"In a sense, we move back to the future," Sumner said.
Some farm communities would turn into ghost towns, the article said. "For a while, poor people would get a lot poorer throughout the Central Valley," Sumner said. "Then they'd move."
"It's a really big deal," Sumner said. "Some crops simply grow better here than anyplace else, and our location gives us access to markets you don't have elsewhere."
California is the United States' top dairy producer and grows half of the country's fruit. In 2012, almonds became the state's second-most valuable ag crop. The Washington Post reported that in the U.S., almond consumption has grown by more than 220 percent since 2005. In the late 2010s, almonds surpassed the long-running nut leader peanuts (not including peanut butter) in per capita consumption.
The Bloomberg article opened with the story the Fred Starrh's family farm in Kern County. The Starrh family was a prominent cotton grower for more than 70 years. The shifting global market and rising water prices prompted the family to replace more of their cotton plants with almonds.
"I can't pay $1,000 an acre-foot (of water) to grow cotton," said Starrh, 85.
California grows four-fifths of the world's almonds, the Bloomberg story said, using enough water to meet the needs of 75 percent of the state's population. An advocate for bigger water supplies for cities suggests in the story that farmers should be profitable, but it shouldn't come at the expense of urban water ratepayers.