Water availability is now only one third of normal for California crops

groundwater pump in California

UC Davis scientists released an extensive forecast of the drought’s worsening impact on California agriculture at a news conference in Washington D.C., July 15, 2014.

LISTEN: Audio of National Press Club news conference featuring study authors UC Davis agricultural economist Richard Howitt and Center for Watershed Sciences director Jay Lund, along with Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

WATCH: Video of National Press Club news conference.

Key findings:

  • The 2014 drought is responsible for the greatest reduction in water availability for California agriculture ever seen, about one third less than normal.
  • The total statewide economic cost of the 2014 drought is $2.2 billion.
  • The loss of 17,100 seasonal and part-time jobs related to agriculture represents 3.8 percent of farm unemployment.
  • 428,000 acres, or 5 percent, of irrigated cropland is going out of production in the Central Valley, Central Coast and Southern California due to the drought.
  • The Central Valley is hardest hit, particularly the Tulare Basin, with projected losses of $810 million, or 2.3 percent, in crop revenue; $203 million in dairy and livestock value; and $453 million in additional well-pumping costs.
  • Agriculture on the Central Coast and in Southern California will be less affected by this year's drought, with about 19,150 acres fallowed, $10 million in lost crop revenue and $6.3 million in additional pumping costs.
  • Overdraft of groundwater is expected to cause additional wells in the Tulare Basin to run dry if the drought continues.
  • The drought is likely to continue through 2015, regardless of El Niño conditions.
  • Consumer food prices will be largely unaffected. Higher prices at the grocery store of high-value California crops like nuts, wine grapes and dairy foods are driven more by market demand than by the drought.
  • Groundwater management in California is a "slow motion train wreck."


ShowerCap app fights drought at home

shower head

Want an easy way to fight the drought and cut down on your water use this summer? 

There’s an app for that. 

It’s called ShowerCap, a creation of UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences researcher Nick Santos. The free app keeps track of your shower times, and helps set goals for water savings. 

Navy shower anyone?

UC Davis researcher Robert Meese with blackbird

Drought partially to blame for decline in tricolored blackbird

A survey in California coordinated by UC Davis staff researcher Robert Meese found a loss of more than 255,000 birds since 2008.

The tricolored blackbird has faced breeding challenges during this time due to a variety of factors, and also has been indirectly hurt by the drought which has dried up nesting habitat in wetlands.

Genome sequencing helps boost drought and disease resistant beans

UC Davis plant scientist Paul Gepts is developing beans that thrive with less water.

“If you can grow the same amount of beans with less water…that’s a big contribution.”

Will California’s drought extend into 2015?

What are the chances the drought will continue into next year?  What impact will a possible El Niño have?  UC Davis researchers take a peek behind the numbers with their drought prediction in the California Waterblog.  Center for Watershed Sciences Director Jay Lund says dry conditions can lead to more of the same: 


Drought forcing many to drill for water

Kern County farmer Greg Wegis spent more than $1 million this year digging four wells on his property.

Hear his story in our Voices From the Drought series, produced by the UC Davis Department of Plant Sciences.

See also: Drought drives drilling frenzy for groundwater in California. (WBZ)

UC Davis plant sciences research aims to boost California wheat output

Professor Jorge Dubcovsky is leading 13 graduate students to develope grain varieties that are more drought tolerant and resistant to disease.

UC Davis professor Jorge Dubcovsky in wheat field

Voices from the drought

cattle rancher riding in front of brown, dry California hills

Hear how cattle ranchers are coping with the water shortage in our podcast series, Voices From the Drought.

Produced by the Rangeland Watershed Laboratory, UC Davis Plant Sciences Department.  

Water shortages take toll on state's alfalfa yields

Alfalfa growers expect fewer cuttings and corresponding lower yields this summer.

Blaine Hanson, UC Davis irrigation specialist, has some tips on how alfalfa farmers can cope with less water.

Is giving fish less water during drought good for water users?

"Progress in California water management and policy will require stakeholders to move beyond habitual conflicts and look toward their common long-term interests — for both water deliveries and the environment."  More in the California WaterBlog produced by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences.

Why California's agriculture needs groundwater management

The state's agricultural prosperity increasingly depends on groundwater availability during drought.

UC Davis researchers from the Center for Watershed Sciences explain the key issues for groundwater sustainability in this California WaterBlog post.

Drought may cost $740 million in crop losses, more than 14,500 jobs in Central Valley

More than 410,000 acres of crops could be fallowed according to a UC Davis study.

Drought cheat sheet

How dry are we? How can we manage the effects of the drought?  

More in the California WaterBlog produced by the Center for Watershed Sciences.

Water bonds can't do it alone

Researchers with the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences and the Public Policy Institute say it's time to consider not only which areas are most in need of bond dollars, but also which other sources of funds and reforms are needed to keep California's water system financially afloat.  

Watershed Sciences director Jay Lund explains:

More in the California Waterblog.


Quenching the psychological thirst

Mark Lubell, UC Davis professor of Environmental Science and Policy, thinks our response to drought should be focused on building a cushion to be prepared for the next time it happens.

Dairies, water-use and the drought

Veterinarian Mike Payne with the Western Institute for Food Safety outlines the dairy industry’s approach to saving water during the drought.

New online series explains water management and agriculture challenges

Check out this water and drought video series produced by the University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Learn about irrigation strategies for fruit and nut crops, rice and tomatoes, plus groundwater management under drought conditions.

Extreme drought may predict plant responses to climate change

A team from the Department of Environmental Science and Policy and the Department of Plant Sciences is working to predict how plants respond to extra dry conditions now and in the future.

Fruit and Nut Center helps growers optimize irrigation


Researchers are using a pressure chamber system and a new interactive website to help pinpoint ideal watering schedules.

Future supply of California groundwater focus of Central Valley water technology conference

Tom Tomich, director of the UC Davis Agricultural Sustainability Institute, told attendees it is certain that population growth will continue and competition for fresh water supplies will intensify.  However, "if society figures out how to manage systems-water, soil, pollinators-we'll be fine," Tomich said.

UC Davis water researchers challenged by drought

Three straight years of extremely dry conditions can make a river scientist pretty thirsty for data.

Sarah Yarnell hasn’t had a drop in five months on her stream-monitoring project-in a rainforest, no less.

She’s leading a team of researchers with the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences that has been watching and waiting for sediment movement in a coastal stream in the redwoods near Fort Bragg.