Some recent satellite imagery from NASA shows the drought impacts on agriculture and the environment in the Sacramento Valley. The following images compare the summer of 2011 (a wet year) versus the summer of 2014 (the third year of drought) in the Central Valley. The green is land with water and the red is generally idled land without water. In the Sacramento Valley–the northern third of the Great Central Valley–you can see significant red around the outside of the Valley and sprinkled throughout the interior part of the Sacramento Valley. The red is farmland, wildlife management areas and other managed wetlands that were not irrigated last year. The pervasiveness of the red areas reveals both the economic and environmental impact to the region, including the communities that depend upon these lands being irrigated. It appears that the summer of 2015 will have less water in many parts of the Sacramento Valley, which will surely lead to a summer 2015 image with even more red.
As this year is looking more and more like another water short year for California, it is important to remember the many important uses for water in our state. The chart below, which is generated with information contained in the California Water Plan, shows the many and varied environmental water uses, as well as the proportion of water used by the urban and agricultural sectors in the state. As decisions are made in response to the drought, meeting these multiple uses needs to be part of the process.
Water in the Sacramento Valley is generally very high quality. As part of the ongoing efforts for regional sustainability, there are various programs that are working hard to improve water quality in the region. A good example of these efforts is the program on Walker Creek in Glenn County, where landowners, with assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), have developed a watershed management plan to prevent insecticides from entering the creek.
Recent comments by an economics Professor from the University of California Davis projects that “there’s going to be significantly more pain this year than there was last year” with respect to agriculture and the rural parts of the state. Last year, Dr. Howitt suggested that there would be a $2 billion economic impact—this year he “would be very surprised if the economic impact was less than $3 billion.” This will include a loss of more than 20,000 jobs as a result of the drought.