This year it will be worse
By Tim Johnson
Looking around a room of growers, millers and warehousemen in the rice industry, the concern is easy to see. Last year, faces expressed shock and frankly anger that the state was considering the complete elimination of all water to grow crops. This year, you see the beginnings of bone-tiring worry of what a fourth straight year of drought may bring.
Almost certainly, there will be less water than last year. While agencies and water managers have done a better job keeping more water behind the dams, the snowpack is much lighter this year.
What will a second severely dry year mean this year in the Sacramento Valley?
For our farms, it means another year of reduced revenue. Employees you hoped to hire back after last year will have to wait it out. Neighboring orchards will be looking hard over the fence, hoping you will part with some of your water to keep their trees alive. To be neighborly and generate revenue to offset the many acres they can’t plant to a crop, some will. Discussions with bankers will be strained with cash flow concerns, as everyone struggles to estimate how many acres will be planted and at what cost.
For our small towns, it will include long idled storefronts still standing empty even as new businesses thrive in cities a few miles away. County tax rolls will shrink and services will be strained and likely cut.
For the wildlife that shares our fields, it will be a time of want. The shallow amount of standing water of rice fields will be scant. The food they find, some 300 pounds of rice per acre, will be in short supply. Similarly, resting and nesting places will be at a premium.
So when you read a headline about this forth year of drought or see a story about farmers potentially selling a small portion of their water, know that the impact this year will be real and it will be personal. It will be very unlike the dry lawns and empty pools we will suffer through in the cities where the economy is diversified and on a strong rebound.