California’s untilled fields set to double amid water crisis in the state
07/19/2022 // Ramon Tomey // Views

More fields in California meant for growing food crops may become idle as the water crisis in the Golden State worsens.

According to Josue Medellin-Azuara, associate professor at the University of California, Merced (UC Merced), around 800,000 acres of farmland in California could be left untilled. This was double the size of unworked farms in 2021, and the biggest in several decades. If not for the water crisis, these fields would have been rife with food crops such as almonds, rice, grapes and more.

Medellin-Azuara's estimate was preliminary. An official estimate is set to arrive as researchers continue to look at satellite imaging and other data.

A February 2022 article by UC Merced elaborated on the impacts of the previous year's report. It cited an earlier report by Medellin-Azuara and his colleagues that touched on the damage caused by the 2021 drought on California's agricultural sector. According to the report, the drought cost the Golden State about $1.7 billion and 14,634 full- and part-time jobs.

It also mentioned that at least 395,000 acres of land were left idle due to drought-related water cutbacks. Of this amount, roughly 385,000 acres were located in California's Central Valley – which accounts for about a quarter of domestic food production.

"Should dry conditions persist throughout 2022, a higher tier of adaptation measures may come into play to reduce economic impacts on agriculture and communities that host thousands of households relying on agriculture for a living," warned Medellin-Azuara at the time.


"Warming has impacted seasonal water availability, namely through reducing spring snowmelt runoff and through increasing atmospheric thirst. These factors in concert have intensified drought severity and impacts in the state and increased the need for actionable solutions to cope with drought," said report co-author and climate expert John Abatzoglou.

The actual situation on the ground reveals the true extent of the drought on California farms. Mile after mile of farmland shows withered crops juxtaposed with lush green plants.

Water rights rules in California make matters worse

The ongoing drought in California has prompted the restriction of so-called surface water rights, as water reserves in the state are declining due to critically low snowmelt and depleted storage. The complicated system of water rights in California, which dates back from the Gold Rush era of the 1840s, made things worse. (Related: The ecological collapse of California: State hits 500-year record for drought.)

Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said: "What's really concerning is for the first time, we are fallowing at least 250,000 acres in the Sacramento Valley. Those are the most senior water rights holders."

Under current water rights laws, senior rights holders are the last to see their supplies restricted. Senior rights holders include companies, growers and cities with claims acquired prior to 1914 and landowners whose property borders a river.

However, some farmers were shocked to find their senior water rights restricted, thanks to the California State Water Resources Control Board. Back in August 2021, the board voted 5-0 to impose an emergency restriction of senior water rights throughout the Central Valley. The order only allowed for two exemptions – human health and safety and non-consumptive use.

Arbuckle, California almond grower Don Slausen said the restriction would only make procurement of water for his crops more difficult. With his surface water supply already curtailed, he has been trying to rely on water transfers for his almond trees.

"We're in trouble," Slausen lamented. "It means our future is pretty bleak unless we get rain this fall."

Watch the video below about how the ongoing drought depleted Lake Oroville in northern California.

This video is from the ZGoldenReport channel on

More related stories:

Catastrophic drought puts a strain on California's hydropower supply.

Lake Tahoe's water levels reach dangerous lows due to California drought.

Drought could force California power plant to shut down at hottest time of the year.

Sierra snowpack falls to one of lowest levels in 72 years, perpetuating California drought.

California ordering new water restrictions amid worst drought in state's recorded history.

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