Drought Hurting Economy

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cutting out crops and laying off workers. That’s what farmers told the state Board of Food and Agriculture they’re being forced to do in the face of scarce water supplies.  Stuart Woolf owns farmland in Fresno County. 

  “You know we’ve already scaled back roughly six thousand acres of our operation—by planting this dry land wheat.  We don’t process the wheat, we’re probably not going to harvest it…”

Woolf says the wheat is there largely to keep the weeds down—ordinarily those fields would be planted with crops like tomatoes.  Statewidewater supplies are uncertain.  That’s because of dry weather conditions and environmental concerns— that have limited pumping in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to protect fish.  Woolf uses water managed by the federal government—and just learned recently he probably won’t get any in the near future.  He says he’s had to scale back his employees’ hours-- other farmers say they’ve laid off workers.   Richard Howitt is a Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics at U-C Davis. He says continued dry conditions through this year could make the lay off situation much worse.  He says roughly nine percent of the jobs related to the Ag Industry in the Central Valley could disappear. 
Well the current projections can be summed up by saying 40-thousand jobs and one-point-one five billion in income—that’s not farmers. This is the income that goes throughout the Central Valley community.  It’s the workers, it’s the truck drivers, it’s the restaurant workers.”

 The head of the State Department of Water Resources can’t offer any silver lining to those dry clouds.  Director Lester Snow says 2009 is shaping up to be another dismally dry year—the third in a row.  Snow is pushing for more water storage—but lawmakers have been unable to come up with a deal on that.  Snow says in the meantime Californians must conserve more—or face the potential for widespread water rationing.