Southwest Drought Offers Key Lesson – Act Now to Reduce Drought Impacts

Posted on Thursday, October 13th, 2011 by

Climatologists predict that the current drought in the southwest could last up to 12 months or even continue into years to follow, posing deep challenges for the farmers and ranchers dependent on steady water supplies.

There are valuable lessons to be learned from our fellow southwest states, particularly Texas.

Drought losses for the agricultural industry in Texas are nearing $9 billion.  Without adequate water to care for their livestock, cattle ranchers are culling herds and facing significant loss of profits and rising cattle prices.

The Lubbock area, the state’s main cotton production area, faces $2.3 billion in losses from the drought.  Cotton farmers believe their industry will survive on irrigation, but cattle farmers will need a few years to recover from reduced herds.

The main lesson: Texas agriculture was not prepared for this extreme event.  Because the Federal Emergency Management Agency does not consider a drought a disaster, farmers can only receive limited aid from the federal government, making it an even tougher situation to deal with in the short and long run.

The detrimental effects of this disastrous event demonstrate the need for Californians to become aware of the potential harms that a severe water shortage could pose for farmers, ranchers and the state’s food consumers.  And as the saying goes – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

The climate models for California suggest that our state will see more extreme weather events, like intensified floods and droughts, in this century.

According to the California’s Natural Resources Agency’s 2009 California Climate Adaption Strategy report, California will face various challenges because of changing precipitation patterns in the coming years and decades, among them reduced water supply from our main water source, the Sierra Snowpack, and growing competition between urban, agriculture and environmental water users.

We need to act now.  California can take the lead in addressing these issues by providing resources for the state’s farmers and ranchers to use water stewardship practices on their operations that promote efficiency, groundwater recharge and conservation.

We also need to reinvigorate funding for the UC Cooperative Extension, which provides the backbone of technical assistance for the state’s farmers and ranchers on key concerns like water stewardship.  But Cooperative Extension budget cuts have meant dramatic cuts to services at a time when the issues facing producers are more complex than ever.

Let’s learn some lessons from our southwest neighbors and take action by investing in water stewardship now – it’s good for farmers, eaters and our environment.

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