The End of Ag? Chu Drops a Climate Bomb

arizona-drought-small.jpgHigher temperatures and drier conditions could destroy California’s vineyards by the end of the century if Americans do not act fast to slow global warming, Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu said Tuesday in his first interview since joining the Obama cabinet.  Chu, a California native, warned that increased water shortages in the West and a loss of up to 90 percent of the Sierra snowpack are likely to have a severe impact on the state’s agricultural industries as well as California’s cities.

“I don’t think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen,” Chu told the Los Angeles Times.  “We’re looking at a scenario where there’s no more agriculture in California.”

Californians may appreciate this kind of attention in Washington to what is shaping up as potentially the worst drought in the state’s history.  The California Department of Water Resources reports $308.9 million in agricultural losses last year due to drought in the state, and if January was any indication of what’s to come, that number will be even higher for 2009.  The Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports that grape growers in the counties of Sonoma and Mendocino are facing a difficult choice this month as they decide whether to use some of their reduced water allotments for frost protection. With such a rapidly dwindling supply, water used now could mean none for irrigation later in the season.

This morning on KQED’s Forum, California water experts discussed the direness of the situation and the probability of water rationing and other measures to deal with it.

The California Department of Water Resources website has extensive information about drought conditions and mitigation efforts across the state, including this fact sheet updated for January 2009.

Photo by Reed Galin