The California Drought: Economic Impact – Water Politics and Climate Change (2014)

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Published on Aug 2, 2014

The 2012-2014 North American Drought, an expansion of the 2010–2012 Southern United States drought, originated in the midst of a record breaking heat wave. Low snowfall amounts in winter, coupled with the intense summer heat from La Niña, caused drought-like conditions to migrate northward from the southern United States, wreaking havoc on crops and water supply. The drought has inflicted, and is expected to continue to inflict, catastrophic economic ramifications for the affected states. It has exceeded, in most measures, the 1988-1989 North American drought, the most recent comparable drought, and is on track to exceed that drought as the costliest natural disaster in US history.

The drought includes most of the US, parts of Mexico, and central and Eastern Canada. At its peak on July 17, 2012 it covered approximately 81 percent of the contiguous United States with at least abnormally dry (D0) conditions. Out of that 81%, 64% was designated as at least moderate drought (D1) conditions.[3] Its area was comparable to the droughts in the 1930s and 1950s but it has not yet been in place for as long. In March 2013, heavy winter rains broke a three-year pattern of drought in much of the Southeastern United States, while drought conditions still plague the Great Plains and other parts of the US, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Drought is expected to continue in parts of North America through 2013. Beginning in March 2013, improved rainfall across the Midwest, southern Mississippi Valley, and Great Plains began gradually alleviating drought in these areas, while drought continued to intensify in the Western United States. Heavy rains across previously drought-stricken areas resulted in widespread flooding in portions of the Midwest, a phenomenon which was named “weather whiplash”. By June 2013, approximately the eastern half of the United States was drought-free, while conditions continued to gradually improve across the Plains. Moderate to severe drought continues to impact and worsen throughout the western United States, with some portions of the United States being afflicted by the drought for over three years. Through the winter of 2013-2014, California continued to receive record low rainfall. For many locations, the calendar year of 2013 was the driest year in over 130 years. Some locations received less than half of their previous record low rainfall amounts.

The drought has cost more than $35 billion in the Midwest, and is predicted to reduce the gross domestic product by 0.5-1% of the US as a whole, equating to a loss of $75 to $150 billion.[16]

Crops, particularly strains grown in the most heavily affected regions (such as corn and soybeans), have been noted to be failing or yielding very low this year due to the drought’s presence in farming areas.[17] This increase in cost will most likely move up the feeding chain and result in raised prices for meat, dairy, and processed food products.

Food prices are expected to rise dramatically because the resulting supply shortfall.[18][19] The price of farm equipment, on the other hand, is expected to decrease as farmers are forced to sell off their equipment and machinery to cope with decreased incomes.[20]

Parts of the Mississippi water levels have plummeted, affecting trade and commerce.[21]

1,692 counties across 36 states in the US have been legally declared primary natural disaster areas as of August 17 as the drought continues to cover 62% of the contiguous US.[22] Hundreds of additional counties bordering the primary disaster areas are designated as “contiguous” disaster areas, and are also eligible for federal aid.

The number of cattle in the US has been decreased to the lowest in 60 years due to drought impacts, with 69% of cattle located in areas currently facing drought conditions.

Global Climate Change
Environment Ethics
Environment Justice

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