I’m guessing people in parts of the country currently digging themselves out from record snowstorms may have trouble sympathizing with those of us here in Northern California complaining of the unseasonably dry, warm winter we’re going through. Last Thursday here in Sacramento we broke the record, last set in 1884, of continuous number of days in winter without snow or rainfall. That same day, the temperature in Sacramento reached an all time high of 79 degrees, just two degrees short of the hottest place in the country, an area just south of Fresno where it was 81 degrees Fahrenheit in the dead of winter.
I can just hear those of you bogged down elsewhere by snow and slush sarcastically exclaiming, “Oh boo hoo, California! You have it so bad. Why don’t you try walking a mile in our snowshoes?
I might have shared that reaction myself before I moved here, but now that I’m living in the middle of my first ever honest-to-goodness emergency drought, I’m beginning to understand why the locals are suddenly so concerned. What really caught me up short was seeing this photograph in the Sacramento Bee of an overhead shot of Folsom Lake.1
Folsom Lake is a massive basin where all the snow runoff from the Sierra mountains accumulates, and where we get most of our water for drinking and irrigation. This is our third straight year of drastically low rainfall, and this photo shows what three years without sufficient rain and runoff has meant to the region. In the photo you can see a parking lot that sets on the edge of what is normally a marina where boats are docked at the edge of the water. But the actual edge of the water has now receded to a distance that looks to be the equivalent of several city blocks away.
Even where the water line finally begins, there isn’t much of a lake anymore. Large islands of land are now visible in the middle of the lake as water levels have plunged. As I previously wrote, locals are now able to walk right out onto the dry lake bed and explore the remains of an old mining town that until now had been completely underwater.
Before you think I’m fishing for sympathy, none of us here are likely to go thirsty for the time being. There’s still plenty enough water for drinking -as long as this drought doesn’t continue into next winter.
What should be of concern to both you and me is what this drought will do to the cost of groceries in the next several months. And I’m not just talking about the cost of my food, but yours as well. If you thought rising prices due to the Fed’s inflationary policies wasn’t painful enough, brace yourselves for an even bigger shock. Inflationary prices will continue to climb, of course. But now this drought will make things even worse.
Much of the rest of the nation depends on California for a large amount of its produce, and all those crops depend upon irrigation to grow. Much of the water that was normally used for irrigation is now being conserved for drinking, and farmers are already announcing a drastic cutback in the number of crops they will be able to bring to harvest.
With no rainfall, cattle ranchers are unable to feed their herds. As one rancher recently reported, “When you have no water, you have no grass. And when you have no grass you have no meat.”2
Every Tuesday my mail brings the supermarket ads announcing sales for the following week, and I have ads for the three supermarkets serving my area in front of me now. I notice that today there are fewer produce specials featured than I normally see. I can understand why. There is nothing “special” about Oranges costing $1.99 a pound and broccoli at $2.99.
There is a saying to the effect that “as goes California, so goes the nation.” Our drought will affect food prices all over the country, as food shortages here will mean less food available to the market overall. Less food means higher prices. Not just in California, but everywhere.
Get ready for it.
1 “Sacramento Breaks 130 Year Old Record For Low Rainfall” http://www.sacbee.com/2014/01/23/6097443/sacramento-breaks-130-year-old.html
2 “Cattle Ranchers Feel Brunt” http://www.sacbee.com/2014/01/26/6101551/cattle-ranchers-feel-brunt-of.html