What Will California's Drought Do To Our Food Supply?

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California is in the middle of a crushing, and steadily worsening, drought. It's also one of our top agricultural producers. So just what does this drought mean for our food supply?

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Top image: California riverbed, post-drought / NOAA.

These twin infrared satellite images, taken three years apart of the same region in Northern California in 2011 and 2014 give some indication of what we might expect:

2011

Image for article titled What Will California's Drought Do To Our Food Supply?

2014

Image for article titled What Will California's Drought Do To Our Food Supply?

Though the red glow spread out over the land may look alarming, it's actually it's absence that is concerning. The red color indicates photosynthesis activity, and is a pretty good indicator of how agriculturally productive a region is.

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Interestingly, though most of the image shows native plant growth, there's also a region of the image in the lower lefthand corner that scientists identified as farmland. And that light pink area remained mostly unchanged both pre- and post- drought, which indicates that at least for the moment, irrigation practices are still keeping the crops growing in this farm.

Satellite images: NASA Earth Observatory image / Jesse Allen.

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DISCUSSION

By
Will-Ravel

As a Californian who's taking 5 minute showers, who's landscaping is dying because the water is turned off, and who's allowing his beautiful vegetable garden to die (other than my wonderful, stubborn tomatoes), I have to say there's a small glimmer of hope in this: the California drought could be the thing to finally make investing in desalination worth it. If California could start building desalination plants along the coast, it could not only prove solid technology, but drive down the cost to produce the plants elsewhere, perhaps in poorer coastal regions around the world. For the last few decades, desalination has been seen as being prohibitively expensive, but economies of scale have made the prohibitively expensive worth the investment so often in the past. I'm typing on a computer right now that would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and needed a small building, but because we were able to make more and more business and consumer computers, the cost dropped, and now they're basically a vital consumer product. Droughts may mean empty aquifers and less runoff from snowfall in the mountains, but the drought hasn't made the Pacific any smaller.