If running the tap while brushing your teeth is a bad habit of yours, Professor Richard Howitt, department chair in the field of agricultural economics, explains how water-rationing will put an end to it.
How is our current weather affecting the California agricultural business?
Very severely. This is shaping up to be one of the worst droughts on record and now we have restrictions on how we can move water around due to the Endangered Species Act. The Endangered Species Act has been invoked because of two types of fish: the delta smelt and a type of salmon. So, pipes have been shut down and we can not shift the water south [to Southern California] to offset the drought.
What will happen if it does not start raining soon?
Water supplies will be cut very severely. We’ll be water-rationing in major cities; this is just something that California will have to live with. We’ve had droughts like this in the ‘90s, ’70s and early ’30s and ’20s. We live in a Mediterranean climate and we have to deal with it.
With the economic situation being what it is, how will this drought affect California’s steadily declining economy?
This will just be another downward push. It will especially affect employment opportunities for people who work in crop harvesting and processing. Those jobs will be severely cut; we could lose up to 40,000 jobs.
You estimated that 40,000 jobs could be lost due to this drought; which jobs are in danger?
I’ve estimated 40 to 45,000 jobs could be in danger; it could go as high 60,000 [jobs]. The hardest hit will be the farmers; packing plants will also be hit. This [drought] will generally roll through the communities; people will start to feel the effect of the dollar, [for example] truckers won’t stop to buy a sandwich at local stores and people won’t buy sprays and equipment for gardens. This drought will further the downward trend of our economic situation. California also has the highest unemployment rate, this will only further that.
How much rainfall do you estimate is needed in order to prevent a drought?
Things are so dry in the dams right now that even if we get some good storms from now on, we’ll still be in a bad drought, regardless of the weather in February.
Is this drought the result of a lack of rainfall this year?
This is the result of two years without adequate rain. One year without adequate rainfall, you are set to ride it out with the dams, easily. But with two years [of inadequate rainfall], it’s going to cause a drought. We have actually had a bad three years.
Are there other means of procuring water for California crop-growers?
They can pump additional water from groundwater underneath their farms if they have it, but a lot of farms don’t have water underneath them.
That is a short-term solution, not a long term. Farmers can sell water to each other, and they will have to adjust their crop paths in order to work as efficiently as possible.
How will this affect water costs? In other words, are students going to see an increase in utilities fees?
In Davis, we probably will see an increase in fees in the next few years because we have a switch-off system between above and below water ground levels. We will see water rationing in the bigger cities. Bottled water costs won’t change, bottled water will stay the same high price.
How is water-rationing enforced?
The first step in water rationing is that people will be told that they are only allowed to water their gardens and lawns on alternate days, then not at all. Then you’ll be encouraged to install low-flow showers, low-flush toilets have already been implemented. Landscaping will be the first to be hit, as it should.
What can we do in order to help conserve water?
Just basic conservation action. Be aware that water is valuable; be sensible in its use. For example: Don’t leave the tap running while you’re brushing your teeth. Also, it’s better to wash your car at a car wash because they recycle water, if you do it at home, [the water] just goes down the drain.
MEGAN ELLIS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.