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California's farm economy "ruined"

Unemployment rates in El Centro and Yuma — over 20% — blamed on drought

June unemployment rates for the nation came out today (July 2), showing there are only two metropolitan areas out of 387 with unemployment rates of more than 20 percent. Both are agricultural areas within San Diego's orbit: Yuma, Arizona, at 23.1 percent; and El Centro, 21.3.

Other California agricultural metro areas have an unemployment rate of 10 percent or above: Bakersfield, 10; Yuba City, 10.1; Visalia-Porterville, 11; Merced, 11.1; and Hanford-Corcoran, 10.3.

"Nothing will change the high jobless rate of California's interior valley; the farm economy will stay ruined because of lack of rain," says Douglas A. McIntyre of 24/7wallst.com.

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June unemployment rates for the nation came out today (July 2), showing there are only two metropolitan areas out of 387 with unemployment rates of more than 20 percent. Both are agricultural areas within San Diego's orbit: Yuma, Arizona, at 23.1 percent; and El Centro, 21.3.

Other California agricultural metro areas have an unemployment rate of 10 percent or above: Bakersfield, 10; Yuba City, 10.1; Visalia-Porterville, 11; Merced, 11.1; and Hanford-Corcoran, 10.3.

"Nothing will change the high jobless rate of California's interior valley; the farm economy will stay ruined because of lack of rain," says Douglas A. McIntyre of 24/7wallst.com.

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The problem is that rainfall in California over the last 150 years has been higher than average compared to the last several thousand years. We're not waiting for rainfall to return to normal. It has returned to normal.

"Scientists studying long-ago California climate have realized that the 20th century was abnormally wet and rainy, according to researcher Lynn Ingram, professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at UC Berkeley."

“The past 150 years have been wetter than the past 2,000 years,” Ingram said. “And this is when our water development, population growth and agricultural industry were established.”

July 2, 2015

Ponzi: This is a frightening conclusion of paleo-climatologists. They suspect that the 20th century was aberrationally wet compared with previous centuries. But the West's water infrastructure is based on a 20th century model.

Some have said for years that the West, particularly the Southwest, is overpopulated, given long-term water availability. Scary thought. Best, Don Bauder

July 2, 2015

The problem is that we are withdrawing more from the (fluctuating) resource than is being put in.

July 6, 2015

Twister: Can't argue with that. The question is whether this imbalance will last year many years or decades. Best, Don Bauder

July 7, 2015

I have to quibble about the use of language here. "Ruin" suggests a permanent destruction of something. California agriculture is highly resilient, and when the water comes back, it will come back. So, while it is hurtin', it ain't ruined. About 15 years ago, the wheat belt in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Montana and North Dakota was suffering through its second or third year of little-to-no rainfall, and the growers were ready to assume that the situation was permanent. The most recent three years in that region have produced record-breaking bumper crops of wheat, and the biggest complaint from the growers is that the railroads of the region cannot haul it away to market fast enough. Weather comes and goes, the rain comes and goes, and right now we're in a fix. Permanent changes in water use and distribution are necessary. But let's not jump off the balcony because we're having a drought. It will end, and there will be breathing room, and time to get ready for the next dry spell.

July 2, 2015

Visduh: You are suggesting that a guy writing for a Wall Street publication doesn't know diddly about the West. You could be right. The word "ruined" suggests permanency. Maybe his choice of words was ill-advised. Best, Don Bauder

July 2, 2015

Ill-advised is putting it mildly. He just doesn't know the definition of "ruin", or if he does, is guilty of gross hyperbole.

July 2, 2015

Visduh: If so, he won't be the first Wall Streeter guilty of gross hyperbole. Every day, I hear some gross hyperbole coming from both the longs and the shorts. Best, Don Bauder

July 3, 2015

What will all those illegal aliens do? The farmers have been using and abusing them for decades. The migrant workers will migrate on as they own nothing and have no dog in the fight. Some migrants will move elsewhere in the US and other will return to Mexico and South America.

July 3, 2015

AlexClarke: Yes, one hears of both legals and illegals going back to their Latin American homes because of lack of work on this side. Also, one hears of them going to other U.S. locations and going into completely different jobs, such as meatpacking. Best, Don Bauder

July 3, 2015

There are several robotic machines being developed that pick crops. There are already machines that pick lettuce, apples, grapes. Plus hydroponics in greenhouse environments is replacing the field cultivation of crops. There are going to be few jobs in the fields in a decade or so.

July 3, 2015

Ponzi: Yes, and that suggests further problems ahead. Best, Don Bauder

July 3, 2015

Here's a handy chart from the SD Water Co. http://www.sdcwa.org/annual-rainfall-lindbergh-field From 1965 thru 2014 only 18 years have had equal to or above the average amount of rainfall as measured at Lindbergh field. If that is part of the wet period then we really are in trouble. Not to worry though, the next time we have an average or slightly above average rainfall there will be calls to remove all the restrictions, plant grass and build a pool.

July 3, 2015

Dennis: And if it looks like the drought will last 50 years, San Diego leaders will take two bold steps: you won't get a glass of water in a restaurant unless you ask, and you won't be able to wash your car more than seven times a week. Best, Don Bauder

July 3, 2015

The definition of when a drought ends certainly needs to be revised. The notion that one average year breaks a drought is insane.

July 3, 2015

Dennis: True. If San Diego gets doused by a good-sized El Nino, some will say the water worries are over. It won't be so, and it will be dangerous to assume that. Best, Don Bauder

July 3, 2015

There is no standard definition of "drought".

In my opinion the term has been overused in the past and has been a crutch for officials to not fix the problems with water supply, delivery, and regulation in CA. It's easier for a state official to just shrug their shoulders, say "well it's a drought I can't do any thing about it so everyone should just take shorter showers" than to actually solve difficult problems - like trying to modernize ancient water agreements and regulations.

July 3, 2015

There is no standard definition of "drought".

In my opinion the term has been overused in the past and has been a crutch for officials to not fix the problems with water supply, delivery, and regulation in CA. It's easier for a state official to just shrug their shoulders, say "well it's a drought I can't do anything about it. Everyone should just take shorter showers" than to actually solve difficult problems - like trying to modernize ancient water agreements and regulations.

July 3, 2015

ImJustABill: I don't know whether "drought" is a scientific term, but I do know scientists have used it. Best, Don Bauder

July 5, 2015

I long ago gave up posting to my own blog because it (and other non-staff blogs) is invisible to Reader readers, but I may soon write a longer piece on it, due to the space limitations here.

Briefly, y'all are quite right about "drought" being misused, primarily as a device to blame poor water-supply management on God or Nature. What we have here is a failure to communicate. Or a determination to mis-communicate?

July 5, 2015

Twister: But there are long periods of dryness, followed by long periods of wetness. Yes, governments should plan for the dry periods, just to be safe. But in how many areas do governments have downside planning? Best, Don Bauder

July 5, 2015

Rex Lesicka: Try emailing [email protected] Best, Don Bauder

July 6, 2015

Re: Don Bauder July 5, 2015 @ 9:13 p.m.

It doesn't require "downside" planning, per se, only planning per se, which includes comprehensive. What we have here is a failure to plan, or at best, incomplete or faulty planning. At worst, it is intentional deception, unfortunately the most likely case.

However, I do not doubt that there are staff people who know what they are doing, and probably doing it well. But they dare not reveal the truth due to threats to their jobs and effectiveness. Silent heroes who know that whistle-blowers are "iced." Find out what bar they go to on TGIF, and buy them a drink. Then listen.

July 6, 2015

Twister: With some, it may take three or four stiff drinks to get them to sing. Best, Don Bauder

July 7, 2015

With respect to "ruin," the fact is that the Great Central Valley was a paradise of wild game which, if managed "sustainably," have supplied the actual protein NEEDS for a large population. Agriculture ruined that first, then proceeded to ruin the river systems, and now is depleting (by pumping at a much higher rate than the recharge rate, thus converting it from a sustainable resource to a finite one) the aquifer under it so much that major subsidence already has occurred. How that might affect earthquake faults remains to be seen.

July 6, 2015

Twister: Ah, semantics. Someone -- you -- sticking up for the word "ruin." Best, Don Bauder

July 7, 2015

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