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Monday, August 25, 2014

The Impact of California's Drought

Megan McArdle writes concerning the drought:
California is suffering an epic drought. It’s not the worst drought the state has ever had, but it’s certainly the worst drought the state has ever had while housing tens of millions of residents and containing a significant fraction of U.S. agricultural production. And there’s some suggestion that this may be the new normal -- not just because of global warming, as you’ve probably already read, but also because California’s natural condition is “extra dry.” An expert interviewed by Tom Philpott of Mother Jones says that the 20th century, which saw California’s rise as an agricultural powerhouse, was an unusually wet period for the state. Merely reverting to "normal" would mean having about 15 percent less water -- and the state is still growing. 
That does not mean that California will become an uninhabited desert, scattered with wind-scoured ruins providing a silent and reproachful testimony to Man’s hubris. California has enough water to support quite a lot of population growth -- if it cuts out a lot of that agriculture. It may even be able to support most of the agriculture -- if people start leaving. The problem is, it may not be able to manage both unless the rains return or it finds some clever way to reclaim low-cost potable water from the sea.
She thinks (probably rightly so) that agriculture will lose out to the cities. And why not? Agriculture has already lost out to the environmentalists that live in those cities. Only the wealthy and their golf courses seem exempt from the water restrictions. If I were a betting man, I would bet that the water situation in California will become even worse. Not because of less rain or snow fall, but because environmentalists will push to destroy more dams, just as they hope to do in Northern California.

Before I get further off track, back to McArdle's article. She predicts the following result as far as food prices and availability:
If California’s agriculture has to scale back, the first and most obvious effect is that the quality of food would decline to something closer to, though still at least somewhat better than, what you get in a major urban area in the Mid-Atlantic states. The second and almost as obvious effect would be on the rest of us: Much of the produce in your supermarket would become dramatically more expensive, especially in the winter. The Midwest could basically take over the job in the summer, and imports from South America could probably make up some of the remaining difference, but most of us would be relying a lot more on frozen fruit and vegetables, and a lot less on fresh.
(H/t Instapundit).

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