Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 362–377 | Cite as

The 2014 drought and water management policy impacts on California’s Central Valley food production

  • Dan KeppenEmail author
  • Tricia Dutcher


Water is a scarce resource in the West, creating intense competition among user groups. The problem is compounded by climate change. During 2014 and 2015, California experienced one of the worst droughts in 160 years of record keeping. The US Bureau of Reclamation announced zero water allocation for Central Valley Project agricultural water service contractors—with a devastating impact on food producers. Many farmers have fallowed their fields because there was not enough water to meet their needs, and thousands of acres of citrus, almond, and other perennial crops have been ripped out. The reduction in irrigation water supply has forced farmers to draw on underground water, which is expensive and unsustainable. Water managers have to decide between supplying water for cities, agriculture, and environmental services (e.g., water flow through the San Francisco Bay-Delta). Farmers perceive the collapse of their water allocation as, in part, a “regulatory drought” brought on by political decisions about who should have the water. The growing demands of other sectors have been met at the expense of agriculture. Uncertainties in the current political process not only undermine the reliability of the agricultural water supply but also diminish the industry’s ability to make long-term adaptive decisions. The implementation of environmental laws and policies has been particularly distressing to farmers because of the large quantity of water designated for environmental use and the apparent weakness of scientific evidence to justify it. The realization of supposed benefits, such as restoration of endangered fish populations, has not been convincing. Moreover, information is lacking on alternative management options that might be more effective. Two recommendations are presented as a means to increase the resilience and reliability of the water supply for all user groups: (1) a mediated settlement generated by all stakeholders involved in water use sectors that bear upon the comprehensive and long-term management of the San Francisco Bay-Delta and threatened and endangered species that depend upon it and (2) an increase in water storage infrastructure to buffer future fluctuations in snowpack runoff.


California Drought Water Policy Regulations 



The author gratefully acknowledges the support provided by the Family Farm Alliance Board of Directors and Advisory Committee to dedicate time to this endeavor. The author is particularly indebted to the review time and data provided by Friant Water Authority, San Luis-Delta-Mendota Water Authority, and Westlands Water District.


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Copyright information

© AESS 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Family Farm AllianceKlamath FallsUSA
  2. 2.FernleyUSA

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