published on March 3, 2020 - 12:57 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

A new study by University of California researchers anticipates drastic economic losses in the face of future restrictions on water available for San Joaquin Valley agriculture.

The study by economists David Sunding and David Roland-Holst at UC Berkeley examined the economic impact of two types of restrictions to water supplies for ag: on groundwater pumping as part of the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act and future reductions in surface water due to regulatory processes by the state and federal government.

Up to one million acres of farmland could be fallowed over the next 20 to 30 years — about one-fifth of all acres currently under cultivation in the San Joaquin Valley. Associated farm revenue loss would be about $7.2 billion a year.

On the labor side, the researchers anticipate 42,000 lost jobs, both direct farm jobs and ag service positions. Lost wages could total about $1.1 billion annually.

Adding indirect impacts to sectors such as transportation and food processing, water restrictions will result in as many as 85,000 lost jobs and $2.1 billion in lost wages annually.

Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties are expected to see the largest losses in employment and compensation.

“I have been at this a long time and the findings of this report are significant. Notably, the economic impacts are highly regressive and appear to have the greatest effect in disadvantaged communities,” stated Sunding.

The report was supported by the “Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley,” a coalition of local governments, academic institutions, water users and others working toward achieving balanced solutions that limit economic, community and environmental impacts. The group recognizes the need for cooperation between water stakeholders, including environmental groups and disadvantaged community groups, to develop and advance thoughtful solutions, according to a news release.

“This report is an attempt to further define the challenges we collectively face related to California water. Reaching collaborative solutions will not be easy but we are committed to trying to do so. This effort will likely require significant action, such as strategic multi beneficial land conversion. We encourage all stakeholders to join the discussion,” said Austin Ewell, the executive director of the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley.

A second phase of the study expected to be released later this year will identify the consensus reforms and infrastructure investments required to help mitigate community, environmental and industry impacts.

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