California – 5th largest economy in the world – should brace for 3rd straight year of drought

Forecasters predict little will alleviate the multi-year megadrought that blew reservoirs across the western United States, intensified wildfires and helped increase California’s breadbasket costs for the nation.

April to June, according to the NOAA Climate Prediction Center, part of the National Weather Service.

Special report: Western Drought Watch

At the same time, warmer than usual temperatures will affect much of the contiguous United States, with the exception of parts of the Pacific Northwest.

Scientists say the American West is experiencing its worst megadrought in 1,200 years, made even more intense by climate change.

“With nearly 60% of the continental United States experiencing mild to exceptional drought, this is the largest drought coverage we’ve seen in the United States since 2013,” said John Gottschalk, head of operational forecasting at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. .

The impact on California cannot be overestimated. The state’s GDP in 2021 was $3.35 trillion, or 14.6% of the entire US economy. If California were a country, it would be the fifth largest economy in the world, more productive than India and the UK.

Too promised?

California produces over 25% of the nation’s food. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, its agricultural sector is a nearly $50 billion industry that produces more than 400 basic commodities.

Drought-threatening annual agricultural sales in California in recent years have been estimated to be nearly $20 billion, as detailed in the Esri Drought Aware app, which collects layers of public data in one place to show how conditions have changed in the United States for two decades. and how many agricultural enterprises may be at risk.

The last time the state experienced a drought of the magnitude of 2014, food economists said consumers could expect prices to rise by about 3% directly due to water conditions. The post-pandemic inflationary recovery is also currently a factor.

But experts predict that the state’s agriculture could feel the residual impact for years to come. Last year’s severe drought has already reduced California’s agricultural sector by about 8,745 jobs and $1.2 billion in direct costs, according to a study published in Los Angeles, as water cuts force producers to leave land fallow and pump more groundwater from wells. once.

To read: As the drought ravages the West, any investor who doesn’t focus on climate risk is “really wrong,” says this portfolio manager.

On Friday, California water officials told state agencies they expect even less water from government supplies than the small amount they were promised earlier in the year as major reservoirs remain well below their normal levels.

California’s water use surged in January despite calls for water conservation, although Gov. Gavin Newsom halted a mandatory cut.

“The wiser we now use water, the more resilient we will be if the drought continues,” State Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot said earlier this week. “Water is a valuable resource, especially in the American West, and we need to move away from patently wasteful practices.”

Farms in the Central Valley have long pumped more groundwater during droughts, and water levels have been falling for decades. State legislators passed the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in 2014, during another major drought. He established a framework for groundwater management and required local agencies to develop plans to address chronic pumping problems.

However, dry conditions that began in 2020 require more protection as reservoirs such as Lake Oroville and Lake Shasta remain below historical levels and less water is expected to flow from the mountains this spring due to snowmelt. which is a consequence of climate change.

The state is currently projected to see about 57% of its historical median flow between April and July, Alan Haynes, a hydrologist in charge of NOAA’s California Nevada River Prediction Center, told The Associated Press.

Some officials told the AP that the state should plan for more droughts in the future, spending money to line canals to protect against water loss, improve groundwater pools, and give people even more financial incentives to make their properties more drought-resistant. The state’s plans to expand the water storage received support Thursday when the federal government said it would provide a $2.2 billion loan to build a new reservoir.

But critics of California’s water policy say the biggest problem is that the state promises more water each year than it needs to deliver. This has led to a permanent reduction in the supply of water to federal and state reservoirs, said Doug Obegi, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Basically, we have a system that basically failed because we promised a lot more water than we can actually deliver,” he told The Associated Press.

Great Lakes: from drought to flood

Above-average rainfall is very likely in parts of the Great Lakes, the Ohio Valley, the mid-Atlantic and the west coast of Alaska, according to NOAA.


There is a slight to moderate risk of flooding in much of the eastern half of the continental United States, including the southeast, the Tennessee Valley, the lower Mississippi Valley, the Ohio Valley and parts of the Great Lakes, the Upper Mississippi Valley, and the Middle Mississippi Valley. , shows the forecast.

“Due to late fall and winter rainfall, which has caused soil saturation and increased runoff, there is a high risk of flooding in the northern Red River in North Dakota and the possibility of “moderate flooding in the James River in South Dakota,” said Ed Clark. manager. , NOAA National Aquatic Center.

Spring snowmelt in the western United States is unlikely to cause flooding.

Associated Press contributed.

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