Sunny California Could Still Use a Lot of Rain

Photographer: Meg Roussos/Bloomberg
Avocados hang from a tree during harvest in California on Feb. 11, 2014. California, the country's largest producer of avocados, will get as much as $14 million in federal funding to improve water management and conservation as the state faces its driest year on record.

How bad is the 2014 California drought?

Well, Governor Jerry Brown called it “an unprecedented, very serious situation.” That was Jan. 17.

Soon after that he started talking up a plan for two interstate-highway-size water tunnels that for $15 billion would help bring water from northern to southern California.

“This isn’t a coming crisis,” the state Water Resources Department director said in February. “This isn’t an evolving crisis. This is a current crisis.” The same month President Obama promised California millions of dollars in aid.

By March the state was trucking salmon to the Pacific Ocean in water tanks because the rivers were too low for them to swim there. In the first four months of 2014, state fire authorities responded to 1,250 wildfires, more than twice the average.

This week, the California State Water Resources Control Board voted to adopt a new fine for overusing water. That’ll be $500 if you leave your sprinkler or hose on for too long, enforced by police.

All of California is under “severe drought.” Nearly 80 percent is seeing “extreme drought.” More than 36 percent is experiencing “exceptional drought.”

The U.S. Drought Monitor for July 8 shows all of California in "severe drought," nearly 80 percent in "extreme drought" and more than 36 percent in "exceptional drought." Source: Anthony Artusa/NOAA/NWS/NCEP/CPC

The U.S. Drought Monitor for July 8 shows all of California in "severe drought," nearly 80 percent in "extreme drought" and more than 36 percent in "exceptional drought." Source: Anthony Artusa/NOAA/NWS/NCEP/CPC

For a single sentence to focus the mind, think about the top conclusion from a new report from the University of California, Davis, about the drought’s economic impacts on agriculture. Emphasis added: “The 2014 drought is responsible for the greatest absolute reduction to water availability for agriculture ever seen, given the high agricultural demands and low stream flows and reservoir levels.”

Every time you have an almond, artichoke or avocado, chances are it might come from California. And that’s just the A’s.

“The supermarket of the world” has a strained produce department, with the drought potentially costing the state $2.2 billion, according to the report.

A California drought may seem far away for many people, but it's really as close as your stomach.

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