Friday, January 29, 2016

Artichokes, Rain & California

Non-Californians might want (need) to read this post more than anyone who lives out here on the western edge of civilization.

I've been back in California for a week now, one big storm was moving through as I arrived and another is just beginning to pour over us today. This is the wet season here and for the first time in four years it's wet, really wet. 

Like many out here I check the snowpack levels as the storms roll through. Much of our water comes out of the snow that accumulates in the Sierra Nevada. Right now we are at somewhere around 115% of normal for this date and 65% of normal for the end of the rainy season in April. Several reservoirs have risen 50 feet or more in the last month. The small catchments are full and are releasing excess water downstream, much to the delight of spawning fish, snail darters and kayakers.

Those in the known tell us that we would need about 150% of April normal to really put a big dent in the drought. Sure the reservoirs will fill and refill with an above average amount of spring snow. Unfortunately and short-sightedly we've been draining the deep underground aquifers to support agriculture and the snow won't replenish those any time soon (meaning not for several hundred years).

So why is this of concern for those of you in the rest of the country?

"The Calfornia Cental Valley, which stretches 450 miles between the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Coastal Range, might be the single most productive tract of land in the world. From its soil springs over 240 varieties of crops so diverse that their places of botanical origin range from Southeast Asia to Mexico. It produces two thirds of the nation's produce. If you've eaten anything made with canned tomatoes, there's a 94% chance that they were planted and picked in the Central Valley." []

Add 51% of all fruit produced in the United States, 81% of carrots, 91% of strawberries and 99% of artichokes. Estimates go as high as 70% of all 'home grown' produce that hits American tables.

In the future this production will need to shift away from here to more locally grown food. The fields of cotton in the water rich South, will be converted from that outdated and less profitable white fluff to edible crops. Smaller, local food farms will need to be encouraged and tax incentivized, just like Big Oil and Big Coal.

But for now, watch the skies. Those deep, grey clouds hanging over our heads out here, mean you get to have extra sauce on your pizza tonight. 

Oh and one more thing -- the El Nino weather pattern that is soaking the West Coast this winter is historically followed by a dry LA Nina period, which might well mean no artichoke dip in the future for you.

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