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The cost of the California drought

April 7, 2015

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Via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

After four years in a row of drought, California is getting serious about tackling its water problem.

Last week, the state ordered usage to be cut by 25 percent, which is an unprecedented move in its history, NBC News reports. With state reserves down to what  only last about a year, here are a few things to know about the California drought and its impact on the state’s political and economic scenes.

It’s affecting all of the state’s businesses.

California’s Central Valley lost 17,000 jobs because of the recent drought, according to USA Today. The state has 1 million acres of idle land because of the dry conditions. The economic impact to the state this year is estimated to be as high as $3 billion, 50 percent higher than the $2 billion toll last year. And while the drought is taking its deepest toll on farmers, it hurts many of the state’s other businesses focused on tourism and recreation, like rafting companies and ski areas.

Even the wine industry is hurting. 

Even though the wine industry has been resilient thus far, the lack of water is starting to hurt vineyards and wine producers.

Because the drought is pushing up costs for producers, consumers won’t see as many cheaper wines on the market. Producers will skip shipping wines that cost less than $7 a bottle in favor of more-expensive ones. It can be a good thing for producers of more-expensive varieties, but those who try to keep costs down will struggle.

The state needs to find other ways than conservation.

The state’s per capita water consumption ranges between “about 60 gallons per person today to at least 300 gallons per person today,” according to Doug Parker, director of the California Institute for Water Resources at the University of California.

That means conservation alone might not be enough. One of the cruel ironies of the drought is that many Californians see a large body of water every day — the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, it’s filled with salt.

Still, that hasn’t stopped many in the state from trying to use that source, and desalination plants are coming to the forefront. The $1 billion Carlsbad plant is set to open up in 2016 south of Los Angeles. Other cities across the state are considering the same. The problem is that these plants can be expensive, use a lot of energy and have an environmental impact.

Drought tests the limits of California dreaming.

Everything about California is big. Its economy is one of the largest in the world, its industries are larger than life and some of the most innovative in the country. Now it has to deal with a harsh reality. As Mark Sappenfield writes for the Christian Science Monitor:

Amid a drought unprecedented in the state’s history, Gov. Jerry Brown is steward over not only 38 million Americans and the world’s seventh-largest economy, but also of a unique idea that has launched Disneyland and Apple and President Ronald Reagan.

Brown’s father helped shape the state by thinking big when he was governor fifty years ago. As Sappenfield notes, it’s going to take more big ideas and more innovation to keep the California Dream alive in the face of drought.

For story ideas, check the status of your local water supply and see what kind of steps are being taken where you live.


California teams up with Arizona

Drought Photos from The Weather Channel


  • Rian Bosse

    Rian Bosse is a PhD student at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. He earned his undergraduate degree in English from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 2012 and worked for a small daily newspaper, the Daily Journal, in his hometown o...

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