The Drought Is Drying Up California’s Economy: Who’s Responsible For Opening The Floodgates?

Cropless fields, fishless rivers, burning forests, empty reservoirs and powerless dams — either you’ve seen the headlines, or you’re living it. America’s West has run out of water.

For most of us, this is a reckoning moment. Water exists in abundance. It’s cheap, free-flowing and limitless. We’re quite literally swimming in the stuff.

But suddenly, that’s no longer true. California’s surging population and farming-dependent economy, coupled with sustained drought, means that demand has completely drowned out supply.

Crop Report-Top Crops-agriculture-San Diego County

Agriculture Tops $1.8 Billion in New SD County Crop Report

Agriculture values topped $1.8 billion for the first time since 2014 and just the third time in 30 years in the County of San Diego’s annual Crop Report that covers the 2020 growing season, overcoming decreases in many crop values and reported mixed effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The total value of all agriculture crops and commodities rose just 0.8% in the new Crop Report. But that was enough to push total values from $1,795,528,573 in 2019 to $1,810,326,411.

It was the fourth time in the past five Crop Reports that overall agriculture values increased, and the third time since 1990 that total values topped $1.8 billion in San Diego County. Values exceeded $1.8 billion in both 2013 and 2014.

Top crops

The overall increase in 2020 was boosted by gains from the two largest groups of crops grown in the county — Nursery & Cut Flower Products, which account for 70% of all crop values; and Fruit & Nut Crops, which account for 19% of all crop values.

Nursery & Cut Flower Products increased 2%, from $1.25 billion to $1.27 billion. Fruit & Nut Crops increased 0.7%, from roughly $342 million to $344 million.

A smaller agriculture group, Forest Products, which includes timber and firewood, increased 1.5% from $855,154 in 2019 to $868,398.

But the other four crop groups decreased ­— Vegetable & Vine Crops, Field Crops, Apiary Products and Livestock and Poultry.

The largest of those groups, Vegetable & Vine crops, which account for 7% of total agriculture values, decreased 6.3%, from roughly $131 million to $122 million. It marked the fourth decline for Vegetable & Vine crops in the past five reports.

The report stated that the effects of the coronavirus pandemic appeared to be mixed. Some growers reported labor shortages and business closures; others suggested the people staying home because of the pandemic may have increased demand for items such as bedding plants, perennials, and indoor flowering and foliage plants.

Crop Report-Cut Flowers-Ed Joyce photo-agriculture-San Diego County-Top crops

The overall increase in San Diego County 2020 agriculture values was boosted by gains from the one of the two largest groups of crops grown in the county: Nursery & Cut Flower Products, which account for 70% of all crop values. Photo: Carlsbad Flower Fields / Ed Joyce

Ornamental Trees & Shrubs

Among the individual crops, the county’s king of the annual Top 10 list continued to be Ornamental Trees & Shrubs despite a 3% decrease in total value.

Ornamental Trees & Shrubs decreased from $445 million in 2019 to $432 million, but still edged out the number two crop, Bedding Plants, Color & Herbaceous Perennials, Cacti & Succulents, at $431.8 million.

Avocados in 4th Place on Top 10 list

San Diego County’s most well-known crop, Avocados, remained in fourth place on the Top 10 list, increasing in value in 2020 by 9.2%, from nearly $140 million to nearly $153 million, after increasing nearly 16% in 2019.

The rest of the Top 10 crops remained relatively similar to past years. Oranges and Livestock and Poultry exchanged places, with Oranges falling from the seventh spot to eight, and Livestock and Poultry rising from eight to seven.

The annual Crop Report is compiled by the County’s Department of Agriculture, Weights and Measures and can be seen online. The report provides a yearly snapshot of an industry that remains a staple of the region’s economy despite challenges like drought, rising water costs, fires, freezes, pests and the pandemic.

County Board of Supervisors actions support agriculture

San Diego County’s Board of Supervisors has taken several actions over the years to boost agriculture, including creating a boutique winery ordinance to promote the creation of small wineries; approving a beekeeping ordinance that allows more beekeeping while protecting the public; adopting an agricultural easement program that preserves agricultural space; and streamlining regulations for things like cheese-making, agritourism and onsite horticultural sales.

Last year, the Board unanimously voted to help growers by deferring fees for export certification, direct marketing, and hazardous materials inventory, allowing growers use those funds for operation needs during the pandemic.

“Farming thriving”

Supervisor Jim Desmond represents the County’s Fifth supervisorial district, which is home to a lot of the county’s agricultural land.

“During the pandemic, we have seen how essential farming is in San Diego County,” Desmond said. “Despite a difficult past 16 months for everyone, it’s great to see farming thriving. It is an honor to be the supervisor of District Five, which has a diverse variety of agricultural crops ranging from flowers to strawberries and avocados!”

Other highlights from the report include:

  • Wine grapes decreased in total value by nearly 7%, from roughly 5.6% million to $5.2 million, after posting 21.5%, 19% and 28% gains the previous three years.
  • At $431 million, Bedding Plants, Color & Herbaceous Perennials, Cacti & Succulents accounted for 24% of the region’s total agriculture production.
  • The 9.2% increase in avocado’s value was fueled in part by a 46% increase in yield.
  • Although total citrus values decreased by 3%, grapefruit crop values increased by 14%.

Here’s a look at the 2020 Top 10 crops:

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(Editors note: This story by Gig Conaughton, County of San Diego Communications Office)

Opinion: Californians Will Adapt to Living With Drought, As We Always Have

Climate change is exacerbating droughts and accelerating the transformation and decline of California’s native forest and aquatic ecosystems.  As a state, we are poorly organized to manage these effects, which need extensive focused preparation.  We need to adapt (and we will make mistakes in doing so).  Our human, economic and environmental losses will be much greater, however, if we manage poorly because of delay, complacency or panic.

Drought Imperils Economy in California’s Farm Country

Sitting in a pickup truck on his almond farm 100 miles north of San Francisco, Tom Butler pointed to a withered grove he has been planning to bulldoze in order to save his little remaining water for younger trees.

“It’s not a decision any farmer wants to make,” the 42-year-old said last week. “We’re in survival mode.”

On Tap in California: Another Drought Four Years After Last

California’s hopes for a wet “March miracle” did not materialize and a dousing of April showers may as well be a mirage at this point. The state appears in the midst of another drought only a few years after a punishing 5-year dry spell dried up rural wells, killed endangered salmon, idled farm fields and helped fuel the most deadly and destructive wildfires in modern state history.

The City of San Diego's aggressive maintenance program has resulted in fewer water main breaks in 2020. Photo: City of San Diego

Water Main Breaks Decline in San Diego for Fourth Year in a Row

Increased maintenance efforts by the City of San Diego of its water system infrastructure is paying off for ratepayers. For the fourth year in a row, the number of water main breaks has decreased in the City of San Diego. Thirty-three water main breaks were reported in 2020, the lowest total in more than 15 years.

The City credits its aggressive multi-year program to replace aging pipelines for bringing the numbers far below the peak of 131 breaks in 2010.

“The City’s Public Utilities Department has worked very hard to improve the reliability of our water system infrastructure,” said Shauna Lorance, director of public utilities. “Our citizens benefit greatly from fewer main breaks because it means less water loss and lower emergency repair costs.”

Fifty-five miles of pipeline replaced in next four years

Crews replace old cast iron pipe with new PVC pipe along Park Boulevard. Photo: City of San Diego

Crews replace old cast iron pipe with new PVC pipe along Park Boulevard. Photo: City of San Diego

San Diego’s continuing program to replace old cast iron water mains has played a major part in the decrease in breaks. Some cast-iron pipes had been in service for more than a century. Since 2013, the city has replaced approximately 180 miles of water pipelines. By 2025, the last 55 miles of cast iron water mains are scheduled to be replaced with water mains made of durable polyvinyl chloride.

Water infrastructure maintenance programs also deliver a benefit to our region’s overall economy. According to the Economic Policy Institute, $188.4 billion spent on water infrastructure investments over five years would yield $265 billion in economic activity and create 1.9 million jobs.

“Improving and maintaining our water infrastructure is an important part of our commitment to serving our customers,” said Lorance. “We will continue to provide reliable water services our customers deserve.”

City of San Diego public utilities crew members replace an aging cast iron water pipe at 5th and Robinson in Hillcrest. Photo: City of San Diego water main breaks

City of San Diego public utilities crew members replace an aging cast iron water pipe at 5th and Robinson in Hillcrest. Photo: City of San Diego

City of San Diego public utilities crews routinely oversee preventative maintenance work to help determine potential leaks and breaks before they occur. Private contractors have completed the bulk of the pipeline replacement projects under the direction of the City’s Engineering and Capital Projects Department.

Opinion: 3 Critical Lessons California Offers to Improve Restoration of Land On a Global Scale

2021 presents opportunities for decisive and positive action, including the launch of the United Nations’ Decade on Ecosystem Restoration which reinforces the importance of healing degraded ecosystems around the world before it’s too late.  It gives us great hope to know that California is committed to leadership through investment and sharing lessons learned from decades of experience. Our diverse ecosystems, abundant natural resources and a mild climate have helped attract millions of residents and developed California’s world-class economy.

Many Scientists Now Say Global Warming Could Stop Relatively Quickly After Emissions Go to Zero

Parts of the world economy may have been on pause during 2020, dampening greenhouse gas emissions for a while. But that didn’t slow the overall buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide, which reached its highest level in millions of years.

If anything, research during the year showed global warming is accelerating. Symptoms of the fever include off-the-charts heat waves on land and in the oceans, and a hyperactive and destructive Atlantic hurricane season.

Can Biden Get an Infrastructure Deal Done Despite Capitol Hill Gridlock?

Presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama made infrastructure initiatives central goals of their administrations, as President-elect Joe Biden has similarly pledged to do, only to be stymied at delivering on those promises.

Industry watchers, politicians and public works contractors are all wondering if Biden will also hit a wall with his promised infrastructure package. The president-elect said his administration will invest $2 trillion into the economy, creating millions of jobs in infrastructure, housing, building construction and other projects.

Opinion: We Can Find Common Ground to Solve Challenging Water Issues

Despite a seemingly endless era of upheaval – a surging pandemic, contentious election cycle and racial strife – we still have the responsibility to address pressing issues that cannot wait for calmer times. The future of California’s water is one of those issues. While collaboration and relationship building have been made even more challenging due to distancing required by COVID-19, we believe that water is an issue where we can rise above party lines and entrenched perspectives.