No Real Relief For California Drought. Next Up: Wildfires.


Smoke rises behind Pfeiffer Ridge, CA.

California’s mountain snowpack, critical to the state’s water supply and $45 billion agricultural economy, is at less than one-third of normal and unlikely to rebound, according to data released on Tuesday by the Department of Water Resources.

While the 32 percent of average measurement is significantly better than the 12 percent at the end of January, California’s mountain precipitation season is drawing to a close. “We can hope that conditions improve, but time is running out and conservation is the only tool we have against nature’s whim,” water resources director Mark Cowin told the Wall Street Journal.

The state’s persistent drought is contributing to a new forecast from the National Interagency Fire Center that California will have above normal potential for significant fires in the southern part of the state in April, and throughout much of the state in May, June and July.

The driest year on record in California will also modestly hurt job growth, according to the UCLA Anderson Forecast. Senior Economist Jerry Nickelsburg said that while the drought has been a drag on the state’s economy, particularly its agricultural sector, “Overall the state is not likely to be greatly impacted” but would see about a .2 percent decline in job growth rates over the next few years.

Elsewhere in the West, the Boise-based fire center predicts higher than normal significant fire danger in western Alaska and the southwest in May, and in Nevada, and southern Great Basin in June and July.

Even with recent snowfall in the mountains, California’s agricultural industry has recently increased its prediction of crop losses and their economic impact. The California Farm Water Coalition estimated in mid-March that the state’s farmers will idle 800,000 acres this year, up from 500,000 acres, and that that will mean an economic loss to the state of about $7.5 billion, a 50 percent increase from previous forecasts.

Nearly the entire state of California, 99.8 percent, is in drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, with 23 percent in exceptional drought, the highest measure. A new report from the U.S. Drought Monitor will be released on Thursday.