California’s Central Valley: A drought-damaged economy, climate-induced water scarcity

California drought pits farmers vs. cities. But neither is the biggest water victim of climate change.

In January, the water crisis in California got a fresh, long-simmering shot in the arm when then-Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed state legislation designed to raise the flow of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River through what’s known as the water gap. The river’s level dropped in the last few years following drought, and as rain has begun falling again, the gap has slowly swollen, with Sacramento farmers and farmers along the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta taking the brunt of the damage.

But don’t look too close at what’s happening to the water gap—it’s nothing compared to what’s happening to the region’s farmers and cities.

California’s farmers and cities and the state capital’s central region all depend on the same resource: water. In fact, the entire state is dependent upon the same river.

And both are getting slammed with the same reality: Climate change is taking its toll.

California’s Central Valley: A drought-damaged economy, climate-induced water scarcity

Farmers living near the agricultural end of the Central Valley are facing the very same crisis.

The valley’s agricultural economy is largely dependent on irrigation.

The water flowing from the massive Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is critical to farming operations, which account for 50 percent of California’s gross domestic product (GDP).

The Delta’s water flow comes from the river’s last drops, of varying elevation and pressure.

A drought-stricken Delta, as it turns out, is the perfect storm for California’s farmers.

The growing state’s population and economy are both growing, and many farmers are looking for ways to grow their businesses without sacrificing any of the land they’re responsible for.

Farming is about water.

“The water that you use to grow food is a finite resource,” said Michael P. Peevey, head of Peevey Consulting Group and an irrigation water specialist. “The agriculture economy in the Central Valley is basically agriculture and water.”

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