As the state recovers from a three-year drought and copes with a deteriorating water infrastructure, the nation’s food supply just got a boost.
Farmers in California’s fertile Central Valley region—known as the greatest garden in the world—will get more water from federal sources thanks to a series of late spring storms and swelling state water reservoirs. As a result, more fresh produce is expected from the region, which produces up to one-fourth of the nation’s food supply.
In February, the federal government promised to supply just 5 percent of the water requested for the Central Valley’s arid southwest region. But in June, after a series of spring storms boosted precipitation levels in the Sierras, the Interior Department raised the figure to 45 percent.
The region received just 10 percent of its requested water allocations last year.
The announcement “means more water and more jobs for our Valley,” said Congressman Jim Costa, D-Fresno.
But the good news for the local farmers may signal a reprieve rather than an end to the region’s water woes as well as statewide chronic water shortages. California has suffered a three-year drought that lingers in some areas, despite having above-average rainfall and several nearly full reservoirs this year.
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency due to the drought in 2008 and has not lifted that decision. As the Los Angeles Times reported, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWA), has seen its regional water reserves reduce by half because of drought and legal protections for threatened fish species that limit how much water can be pumped from waterways. The MWA provides drinking water to more than 18 million people in the Los Angeles region.
“We’re trying to prepare the consumer for the fact that this isn’t just a short-term thing—if it’s wet or dry. This may be every year,” Debra Man, MWA assistant general manager, told the Times. “We’re facing more than just weather.”
California’s aging water infrastructure won’t be improving soon either.
On Tuesday, the governor and legislative leaders announced a plan to postpone a November vote on a $11 billion water bond measure to overhaul the state water infrastructure. They cited political opposition and the state’s economic crisis as reasons to postpone the vote until 2012.